Commander-In-Chief Cheney's Quiet Moment

07.29.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | National Affairs | 4 Comments
OK, class: Please turn to pages 40 and 41. That’s where George, Dick and Condi lie to the commission while the president’s catatonia on 9/11 lost precious minutes the nation did not have to spare.

You’ve done the reading, haven’t you?

What do you mean, you haven’t even started The 9/11 Commission Report?!  You won’t learn anything if you just read the Executive Summary, class. You might as well read the Cliff’s Notes, or wait for the TV movie. Go to a bookstore and spend the ten bucks, or download it for free here.

No, it’s not boring. The abuses of the powerful never are. Are we all on page 40? Then let’s look at how a bipartisan commission that reached unanimous consensus informs us, ever so delicately, that the president, vice president and national security adviser tried to B.S. the  commission — and got caught.

Here’s the question that inspired the lies: When the vice president gave the order to shoot down Flight 93 (the one that crashed in Pennsylvania), did he have the authority to do so? Or did the man so powerful people tell the same joke we had for Hillary during Clinton’s first term — “If Cheney dies, Bush becomes president” — arrogate to himself the powers of Commander-In-Chief?

You, in the front row, would you please read the first two paragraphs for us?

“The Vice President remembered placing a call to the President just after entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence about when the Vice President arrived in the shelter conference room. We have concluded, from the available evidence, that the Vice President arrived in the room shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58. The Vice President recalled being told, just after his arrival, that the Air Force was trying to establish a combat air patrol [CAP] over Washington.

“The Vice President stated that he called the President to discuss the rules of engagement for the CAP. He recalled feeling that it did no good to establish the CAP unless the pilots had instructions on whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the President signed off on that concept. The President said he remembered such a conversation, and that it reminded him of when he had been an interceptor pilot. The President emphasized to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft.”

Now, class, would anyone like to point out the first sign the president was lying?

Yes, Timmy, very good: The president likely would have remembered this conversation, had it happened, because he was making the wrenching decision to kill innocent Americans, not because it reminded him of  defending Texas against the North Vietnamese.

A liar often uses detail to add verisimilitude, but this detail is grotesque. As the facts in the report show, the president did not know of, let alone authorize, the order to shoot down planes until more than an hour and a half after the attacks had begun and a quarter hour after he’d finally limoed to Air Force One and gotten airborne, delayed by the need to finish “My Pet Goat.”

In that hour and a half, rather than dealing with the yet-unknown number of planes still in the sky and possibly in the hands of terrorists, he instead worked on a statement to the nation.

Would you like to read the next two paragraphs for us, Timmy?

“The Vice President’s military aide told us he believed the Vice President spoke to the President just after entering the conference room, but he did not hear what they said. Rice, who entered the room shortly after the Vice President and sat next to him, remembered hearing [Cheney] inform the President, ‘Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they’re going to want to know what to do.’ Then she recalled hearing, ‘Yes sir.’ She believed this conversation occurred a few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room.

“We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15. Among the sources that reflect other important events of that morning, there is no documentary evidence for this call, but the relevant sources are incomplete. Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the Vice President’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note a call between the President and Vice President immediately after the Vice President entered the conference room.”

Lynne Cheney and Libby were taking notes, and neither noted or recalled that Mr. Cheney conferred with the President about shooting down commercial airliners? Here’s where things start to get interesting. You’ll all notice, class, that the second sentence of the second paragraph contains a curious phrase.


Yes, Timmy, the phrase is “but the relevant sources are incomplete.”  The commission appears to be saying the White House call logs are as swiss-cheesey as the President’s military records and that the telephone call might have taken place regardless of there being “no documentary evidence” of it. But the references in the report’s extensive footnotes (which refer to the White House’s “secure switchboard logs”) don’t support that reading.

What is “incomplete,” in commission unison-speak, might otherwise be termed “incomplete cover for the President’s inner circle’s phony version of events.”

And what’s that you say, Sheila?

Oh, extra credit for that one! Yes, Condi’s quoting the vice president using “sir” in every sentence is another tell. Her dialogue sounds like her own deferential tone, not Cheney’s gruff and minimalist approach to etiquette.

Since you’re paying such good attention, Sheila, why don’t you please skip the next two paragraphs about how no one in command knew Flight 93 had already crashed, and how the vice president reconfirmed the order to shoot down the crashed plane without so much as a by-your-leave from the Commander-in-Chief, and continue from there?

“At the conference room table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. Bolten watched the exchanges and, after what he called ‘a quiet moment,’ suggested that the Vice President get in touch with the President and confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the President was told that the Vice President had executed the order. He said he had not heard any prior discussion on the subject with the President.

“The Vice President was logged calling the President at 10:18 for a two-minute conversation that obtained the confirmation. On Air Force One, the President’s press secretary was taking notes; Ari Fleischer recorded that at 10:20, the President told him that he had authorized a shootdown of aircraft if necessary.”

Can anyone explain the immense significance of these paragraphs?

You’re absolutely right: One man in that bunkered conference room, who worked for the president, sat in silence as the power of the presidency was usurped twice before finally speaking up and reminding the veep that he was, if effect, leading a brief coup d’etat.

And here again, we see how bipartisan agreement seems to have shaped the report’s phrasing: “The Vice President was logged calling the President at 10:18.” If a few paragraphs earlier, the report had been this assertive, it would read, say, “The White House logs showed no call to the President had been made prior to the shootdown order, despite the claims of the President, Vice President, National Security Adviser and the Vice President’s military aide.”

(Remember, the Democratic vice chair of the commission, Lee Hamilton, is the man who chaired a panel that refused to get to the drug-dealing core of the Iran-Contra scandal and closed down another looking into the October Surprise — the successful GOP plot to convince Iran not to release 52 hostages in 1980 — when G.H.W. left office, which may well have kept the senior Bush and some of his friends out of jail.)

Over an hour and a half after the attacks had begun, an hour and a quarter after Andrew Card had told the President the nation was under attack, and 15 minutes after VP Cheney had already given the order, the VP deigned to bring the president into the loop.

Had the President pulled his nose out of “My Pet Goat” when first alerted the nation was under attack, and taken on these responsibilities himself - big “ifs” to be sure - Flight 77, not 93, might have been the object of these discussions and could conceivably have been eligible for “shootdown,” before it knocked out a chunk of the Pentagon and killed scores of federal employees.

If the President’s interceptor pilot’s instincts had really been evoked, he would have put down the book, strolled out of the room, and scrambled to his limo, on the phone, to do whatever was necessary to respond, immediately, to the ongoing attack. By 9:10 at the latest. Not 10:20! Which would have left over 20 minutes before the Pentagon was hit.

But for some, the ultimate question will be utilitarian: Were we in good hands with Cheney giving orders?

The 9/11 Commission Report notes that his shootdown order included another unidentified aircraft: The medevac helicopter attending the wounded at the Pentagon. Fortunately, it was ID’d in time.

Your assignment for next week: Half the class, finish the report, thinking for yourselves, not the direction the text tries to coax you toward.

The other half, design a bumpersticker that says: IN CASE OF ATTACK, CONTINUE READING “MY PET GOAT”

Strange that the New Partisan seems so hostile toward Bush and so loyal to Israel. A bit hard to square, to my mind.

This seems like a lot to hinge on a missing phone record, and the author seems to consider the absence of proof as itself prrof of guilt. The "my pet goat crack" at the end seems to me proof of the author's animating animus.
07.30.2004 | Randolph Williams
It's no leap of inference to suggest that a call for which there is no record did not occur, given that the White House maintains secure logs.

What better proof could there possibly be that the President, VP and NSA lied to the commission? How about if loyal staff and family members, taking contemporaneous notes, said the call did not occur? Well, that happened too. How else can one possibly prove a non-occurrence?

Suggest another way. Please!

I very much like the phrase "animating animus." I'm going to use that.

Yes, I am animated by animus toward a President so cluelessly incompetent, so utterly unqualified for his position, that given notice that his nation is under attack -- the very most "animating" words a President could ever hear -- it did not occur to this alcoholic simpleton that those words meant RESPOND IMMEDIATELY, COORDINATE ALL LEVELS OF CIVILIAN AND MILITARY RESPONSE INSTANTLY.

As for "loyalty to Israel," you will notice great differences of opinion at New Partisan. Read, for example, my recent comment following this week's article accusing Ralph Nader of hate-mongering for mocking the current state of US-Israeli relations.

As for huffing about my anti-Bush bias, what part of the word "Partisan" do you not understand?
07.30.2004 | David L Steinhardt
This article really got to me. I knew that a poor job had been done on 9/11, but, until now, I had not realized the depth of the failure and the magnitude of the cover-up. Thank you for the insight.

On another note, please beware of using the catchy phrase "animating animus". I looked up these individual words and found that the meaning was "animating animating force or underlying purpose" Isn't that like a "really, really big show?"

Be assured I will keep reading on The New Partisan.
08.3.2004 | Stephen T. Fox
Thanks so much for the comment, Mr. Fox.

"Animating animus" need not be redundant; animus also refers to animosity, so the meaning I assumed Mr. Williams intended was my "angry disapproval that motivates" me.
08.3.2004 | David L Steinhardt

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