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We Can Handle It

The time has come for our government to tackle the unanswered internal questions surrounding Sept. 11--and to make the findings public.

By Ted Rall

ONE YEAR HAS passed since Sept. 11. Yet we, the American people, still don't know exactly what happened. There are still no plans for a public investigation of how more than 3,000 Americans lost their lives, of what could have been done to prevent such attacks or reduce their impact.

Secrecy has been the watchword of the Bush administration. Without a doubt, military intelligence requires secrecy, but there is no conceivable national security interest in keeping Americans in the dark about Sept. 11. United We Stand bumper stickers aside, the terrorists have managed to turn us against each other: citizen against immigrant, Republican against Democrat, Christian against Muslim. Secrecy only deepens those divisions.

To hell with closed-door congressional hearings. America needs a full, open, publicly televised investigation into 9/11, and it needed it last October. The best way to avoid alienating the public from its public servants is to keep an investigation 100 percent transparent.

As American citizens and taxpayers we deserve--and should demand--honest answers to the following still-unanswered questions:

Before the Attacks

What did Bush know and when did he know it?

A few months ago it was revealed that, while vacationing in Crawford, Texas. on Aug. 6, 2001, Bush had received an "analytical report" warning from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that a terrorist attack was imminent. What was the exact nature of that warning? How detailed was it? Should Bush have cut short his vacation and headed back to Washington? The administration has stonewalled on this issue, but it can only allay suspicions of a September Surprise by coming clean about the briefings he received before 9/11.

Did Echelon cough up the 9/10 warnings?

The National Security Agency acknowledges that it "intercepted" two messages (one said "tomorrow is zero hour") from terrorists indicating that the next day, Sept. 11, would be the date of a major attack. Unfortunately, those messages weren't processed and evaluated until Sept. 12. A former NSA director told the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur that Echelon, the United States' sophisticated voice- and keyword-recognition program, uses automation to monitor every phone call, fax transmission, email and wire transfer in the world. Did the 9/10 warning come from Echelon? Is there any way to speed up the rate at which the NSA processes important intercepts?

The September Surprise

Did our Air Force consider shooting down the hijacked planes?

Air traffic controllers lost contact with all four aircraft within minutes of takeoff. Two were off course and ignored air traffic controllers for more than an hour and a half. Did overworked air traffic controllers fail to notice the errant planes? How long did it take them to get the word to military authorities? Did the Air Force react quickly enough?

Why were only 12 jets patrolling U.S. airspace?

According to The New York Times, only 12 Air Force National Guard planes, most of them on the ground, were assigned to patrol the entire continental United States at the time of the attacks. Whose judgment determined that this level of protection was adequate? What would happen in the event of a nuclear first strike against the United States? Would an increased budget have increased that number, and what is our current field strength?

Was United Flight 93 shot down over Pennsylvania?

The Pentagon has neither denied shooting down Flight 93 nor confirmed that its heroic passengers caused the flight to crash while trying to wrest its controls from the hijackers. We do know that the flight was airborne some 2 1/2 hours before crashing outside Shanksville, leading many to speculate that it was fired upon to protect the White House or other likely targets in Washington. If there is a cockpit voice recording of a struggle between passengers and terrorists, why not release it and other 9/11 flight information to the public? And it's time for the military to indicate whether or not it, rather than the passengers, brought down the jet.

Why didn't federal law require reinforced cockpit doors?

This common-sense proposal had been adopted by carriers in other countries years earlier, but not in the United States. Did the airlines lobby against the move because of increased costs? If so, which airlines? And which federal officials and/or members of Congress allowed this safety omission to occur?

Who locked the roof doors at the World Trade Center?

During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, hundreds of workers escaped smoke by going to the roofs. On Sept. 11, hundreds died when they went up dozens of flights of stairs only to find those same roof doors locked. Why did city fire officials order those doors locked between 1993 and 2001, and more importantly, why didn't they post notices through the World Trade Center complex to advise that roof doors would no longer be open?

Who skimped on FDNY communications?

Scores of New York firefighters died in the stairwells of the World Trade Center after they'd been ordered to evacuate the buildings--because they couldn't hear those orders on their antiquated radio system. The fire department had requested up-to-date equipment years earlier. Which city officials refused to allocate the necessary funding, causing firefighters to die needlessly? Do the FDNY and other urban fire departments now have better communications?

How much asbestos was released by the World Trade Center collapse?

The World Trade Center was one-third completed when builders stopped using asbestos fire retardant, which means that the equivalent of four normal-width 60-story skyscrapers full of a banned carcinogen was pulverized and released in a cloud that blanketed lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Environmental Protection Agency has not made an assessment, and New Yorkers deserve to know the extent of their exposure.

Why was the Pentagon so vulnerable?

Not only did Department of Defense employees perish at the Pentagon, the attack revealed that even the headquarters of American military power can be successfully targeted. Does the Pentagon have a surface-to-air missile system that could avert similar catastrophes in the future?

What about the other knives?

After American planes were grounded, investigators found box cutters attached under seats on Delta flights out of Boston's Logan Airport and from Atlanta bound for Brussels. Was anyone ever arrested in connection with would-be hijackings of these other flights? What were the intended targets of those aborted hijackings? Were those box cutters--and those on the four hijacked flights--placed there by personnel who service aircraft ("These look like an inside job," a U.S. official told Time magazine) or were they smuggled aboard through lax security checkpoints by would-be hijackers?

Aftermath: The War on Terrorism

When did the United States really decide to invade Afghanistan?

As recently as April 2001, the Bush administration funneled millions of dollars in aid to the Taliban in order to reward the hard-line Islamic regime for virtually eliminating opium production. By June, however, relations had cooled noticeably, and invasion plans were being prepared. Would we have invaded Afghanistan if Sept. 11 hadn't happened? Were there any discussions between future Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and the Bush administration before or immediately after 9/11?

Where was Osama bin Laden on 9/11?

Afghans told reporters that bin Laden and his entourage fled Afghanistan for Kashmir on Sept. 10, yet military officials were saying as late as January that the world's most-wanted man was holed up in the Tora Bora region. Did the United States really know where Osama was on 9/11, and if so, where was he? Why weren't American commandos inserted into Afghanistan or Pakistan in order to apprehend him? If the United States knew that he had left Afghanistan, is this why it refused to negotiate with the Taliban for his extradition?

How many civilians have died in Afghanistan?

Perhaps the most underreported story of 2001-2002 was the number of Afghan civilians killed by American bombs, missiles, mines and bullets. (Estimates begin at CNN's conservative 3,500.) While the Pentagon's argument that it is difficult to track these things from satellites and high-flying planes rings true, it's hard to believe they don't have an estimate.

Why doesn't the Bush administration support a real investigation of 9/11?

The House and Senate, whose intelligence committees are now meeting in private, are considering bills that would set up limited, closed-door independent investigative panels, but Bush has stymied these efforts at openness, arguing they "would cause a further diversion of essential personnel from their duties fighting the war." What is he hiding?

Ted Rall's new book, 'To Afghanistan and Back,' is available at www.nbmpub.com.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the September 12-18, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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