Jewish World Review May 22, 2002 / 11 Sivan, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
A school of thought in law enforcement holds that
when a police officer is killed in the line of duty, the
officer did something wrong. The intent is not to
blame the victim, but to figure out what the next cop
might do differently to avoid being killed.
The same approach should be applied to Sept. 11.
It would help, however, if the joint Senate and House
Intelligence Committee investigation of what went
wrong came without gratuitous slaps at the good
Consider the words of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.,
referring to the New York Post headline "Bush
Knew." She said, "The president knew what? My
constituents would like to know the answers to that
and many other questions. Not to blame the
president or any other American, but just to know."
What bunk. "Just to know" is Clintonese for: The
senator doesn't have the brass to come out and
blame Bush, so she hides behind the dishonest pose
of just asking questions.
Of course, Bush knew. Clinton knew. Before Sept.
11, anyone who read the paper knew. Islamic
terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
Authorities arrested an Osama bin Laden foot soldier
named Ahmed Ressam, who planned on blowing up
Los Angeles International Airport for the millennium.
There were warnings for Americans traveling abroad
that summer. (I remember well. I traveled despite
In public testimony in February, CIA chief George
Tenet said of bin Laden: "Everything we have learned
recently confirms our conviction that he wants to
strike further blows against America."
Recently, Americans learned a few new specifics. A
savvy FBI agent in Phoenix wrote a memo last July
suggesting that bin Laden's operation might enroll
terrorists in American flight schools. In August, a
presidential daily briefing used the term hijack -- a
word not used in briefings for Intelligence Committee
members such as the highly credible Rep. Nancy
Pelosi, D-San Francisco, according to her
August is also when the FBI arrested Zacarias
Moussaoui -- the reputed 20th hijacker -- on a visa
According to the CIA, the FBI sent some of the
names in the Phoenix memo to the CIA as
information, but never disclosed why. There are some
who believe that if the Phoenix memo and CIA
briefings were disseminated to the right people, some
smart operator might have connected the dots and
possibly prevented the Sept. 11 attacks.
A Newsweek poll reports that 55 percent of
Americans think Bush should have issued hijack
warnings. No matter that the hijacking mentioned in
the briefing was supposed to be part of an effort to
free Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman -- which means, it
was wrong. And it's easy to forget that presidents
routinely learn of potential national security threats.
When the ash was still thick over lower Manhattan, I
remember wondering how long it would be before
some Americans started looking for other Americans
to blame for this very un-American attack.
In the weeks after the terror, Americans understood
that the attack was made easier because we were
living in blissful denial. There had been warnings,
but Americans had better things to do than live in fear
of a remote, undefined danger.
Time has abetted the human need to blame other
people. Besides, if we can blame Washington for not
being vigilant to a point that most would have
considered paranoid in August 2001, we can craft a
fiction that government preparedness can save us
from evil people who will attack anyone
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate