All of us who were alive eleven years ago and more than two or three years old at the time will remember the shock, horror, and anger aroused by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia. It is quite proper that on each anniversary, in particular, we honor those who were victims and especially those who lost their lives or damaged their health trying to rescue the victims, most of all those brave passengers on the United Airlines flight that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the attacks on the United States which receives little attention on these anniversaries: they could have been prevented and they should have been prevented. I explained in detail why I came to that conclusion in Chapter Eight of Superpower Illusions. President George W. Bush and his closest advisors were warned repeatedly that Al Qaeda was planning a direct attack on the United States and also were told that there had been attempts to use hijacked aircraft as weapons. They did absolutely nothing to warn the industry, or to take steps that would make it impossible for hijackers to take control of an airplane (such as locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors).
Instead, they allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to continue to instruct pilots to follow the hijackers’ demands if their plane was hijacked! (Hey—I’m not making this up! Check with any pilot who was flying commercial aircraft in 2001. They will confirm that these were the instructions in force, even though there had not been a hijacking for more than a decade just to take the hijacker to another destination, such as Cuba.)
Not only did Bush and Cheney and their staffs not warn the airlines about the threat, they didn’t even warn law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI! And then they tried to avoid providing the CIA warnings to the 9/11 Commission, which got some of these reports declassified, but by no means all.
For this reason, I find it proper that The New York Times carried an op-ed today by Kurt Eichenwald entitled “Deafness Before the Storm.”
He recounts the warnings received by President Bush even before the one of August 6, 2001, that was declassified in 2004. It is clear that the president and his staff ignored repeated warnings and failed even to pass them on to federal law-enforcement officials.
Now, incompetence is not the same thing as complicity. I find the rumors that keep cropping up in some circles that there is evidence of “government complicity” in the September 11 attacks baseless and, indeed, contemptible, since they are so easily refuted by the facts. No, neither the Bush Administration nor any American official was in any way complicit in the attacks.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the president was the “decider” with both the authority and duty to see that the federal government did all it could to protect the American people. He failed in that duty and then tried to blame it on a “world that changed” rather than his own willful ignorance of the change that had occurred. Unfortunately, the American people and most leaders of the Democratic Party let him get by with this absurd excuse.
Karl Eichenwald ends his op-ed with the conclusion that “We can’t ever know” whether prompt action by the President could have prevented the attacks. Of course, we cannot be a hundred-percent certain of any variant in the past that did not actually happen. However, if the FAA had instructed pilots to lock cockpit doors and not to allow would-be hijackers to take control of the plane, it is difficult to see how any of the attacks could have taken place, even if the planes had been hijacked–which, of course, also could have been prevented.
If fact, if such instructions had gone out, they probably would have leaked, been publicized, opposed by the airlines, but nevertheless Al-Qaeda would have been compelled to revise its whole plan of action. A hijacker cannot fly a plane into a building unless he gains access to the cockpit.