Monday, February 20, 2006

Because It Would Be Irresponsible Not to Speculate 

Courtesy of our distinguished colleague Laura Rozen, a much-discussed excerpt from Newsweek's cover story on the "dark, secretive mind-set" of Dick Cheney:
Around 9:35 on the morning of 9/11, Cheney was lifted off his feet by the Secret Service and hustled into the White House bunker. Cheney testified to the 9/11 Commission that he spoke with President Bush before giving an order to shoot down a hijacked civilian airliner that appeared headed toward Washington. (The plane was United Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after a brave revolt by the passengers.) But a source close to the commission, who declined to be identified revealing sensitive information, says that none of the staffers who worked on this aspect of the investigation believed Cheney's version of events.

A draft of the report conveyed their skepticism. But when top White House officials, including chief of staff Andy Card and the then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, reviewed the draft, they became extremely agitated. After a prolonged battle, the report was toned down. The factual narrative, closely read, offers no evidence that Cheney sought initial authorization from the president. The point is not a small one. Legally, Cheney was required to get permission from his commander in chief, who was traveling (but reachable) at the time. If the public ever found out that Cheney gave the order on his own, it would have strongly fed the view that he was the real power behind the throne.
Now imagine an even bleaker scenario: what if the public found out that Flight 93 had been shot down by American jet fighters, acting on an order Dick Cheney was not authorized to give?

Is anyone here absolutely convinced that it wasn't?

Newsweek, you will note, scrupulously avoids making a causal connection between the brave passenger revolt and the crash of the airplane.

We're just sayin'.

SIDEBAR: And while we're on the subject, can anyone tell us exactly where Dandy Don Rumsfeld spent the morning of 9/11? In June of 2001 a 20-year-old protocol was changed so that requests for "potentially lethal support" (i.e., shootdown orders) had to come explicitly from the Secretary of Defense. The change left commanders in the field "unable to respond to hijackings in any meaningful fashion."

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