- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

President Bush, addressing the nation last night, promised to commit the full resources of intelligence and law enforcement to punish the masterminds of yesterday's "evil, despicable acts of terror."
"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed those attacks and those who harbor them," Mr. Bush said.
Speculation swirled in Washington that Osama bin Laden, who was believed to be in Afghanistan, was behind yesterday's terrorism. The Taliban government was quick to deny that bin Laden had a role.
"America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time," Mr. Bush promised. "None of us will ever forget this day. Yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush vowed to "hunt down and punish" the perpetrators of the attacks, which forced the president to hopscotch the country while the White House was evacuated.
"The resolve of our great nation is being tested," Mr. Bush said after his planned flight from Pensacola, Fla., to Washington was diverted to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. "But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test."
Red-eyed and grim-faced, Mr. Bush then was flown to Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Neb., where he descended into a bunker for a teleconference with his national security team. Afterward, he insisted on returning to the White House, despite raised eyebrows by the Secret Service.
"The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger," the president said at 8:30 p.m. "These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong."
During an extraordinary day that thrust Mr. Bush into the most profound crisis of his presidency, the administration took pains to assure Americans that their government and other institutions remained functional. Yet the attacks grounded air travel, disrupted telecommunications, shuttered government agencies and wreaked havoc with financial institutions.
Prior to his prime-time speech, Mr. Bush stepped before cameras twice to comment on the crisis. Bush counselor Karen Hughes also gave a briefing at FBI headquarters. At the White House, updates were provided by a gaggle of Cabinet officials, including John Ashcroft, attorney general; Tommy G. Thompson, secretary of health and human services; Norman Y. Mineta, secretary of transportation; and Joseph Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But it was the president himself who took center stage, emphasizing that federal institutions "will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well."
Although Mr. Bush stopped short of declaring the terrorist attack an act of war, he invoked the imagery of war in an effort to stir the nation's sense of determination.
"A great people has been moved to defend a great nation," he said. "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve."
It was a day that ended much differently than it began for the president, who spent Monday night in a Sarasota hotel suite once occupied by Vice President Gore as he prepared for a debate with Mr. Bush.
After a pre-dawn jog, Mr. Bush departed his hotel at 8:30 a.m. and headed for Emma Booker Elementary School. As the presidential motorcade neared its destination, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card alerted Mr. Bush that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Details were still sketchy, and it was unclear whether the crash was an accident or an act of terror.
At 9:04 a.m., as the second jetliner was slamming into the World Trade Center in New York, the president was walking into a second-grade classroom, not aware of the magnitude of the burgeoning calamity.
"Sit down, please," Mr. Bush said with a smile to two dozen black children. He took a seat next to the teacher, Sandra Kay Daniels, who asked the children: "Are you ready, my butterflies?"
At 9:07, as the children showed off their reading skills, Mr. Card approached the president and whispered into his right ear the news about the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. A sober expression spread over the president's face as he realized the dual crashes could not be accidental.
Still, there was no inkling that two other planes were about to crash, one into the Pentagon. Mr. Bush opened a chidren's textbook and followed along with the lesson. His lips were pursed, but he showed no signs of distress.
"Really good readers," he interrupted. "Whew: This must be sixth grade."
The exercise ended when the children read aloud the last words of the lesson, "more to come."
"What does that mean, 'more to come?'" the president asked.
The children replied that it meant something else was happening.
"That's exactly right," Mr. Bush said.
At 9:12 a.m., the president rose and abruptly ended the session. He left the room to huddle with aides and receive an update on the terrorist strikes. As he walked out, a reporter asked if he had a comment on the attacks. "We'll talk about it later," the president said.
Eighteen minutes later, the president stepped into the school library, where hundreds of students, teachers and administrators had been waiting for more than an hour. Jettisoning his planned remarks, Mr. Bush strode to the podium and delivered a terse message.
"This is a difficult moment for America," he said. "We've had a national tragedy."
Mr. Bush vowed "to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act. Terrorism against our nation will not stand."
The president then called for a moment of silence before departing the room at 9:31 a.m. Although he promised to proceed directly to Washington, those plans quickly changed as the disaster deepened.
At 9:40 a.m., an airliner crashed into the Pentagon. Forty minutes later, another went down near Pittsburgh. Rumors spread that terrorists had planned to crash the last plane into the White House or the Capitol. Both buildings were evacuated.
As Air Force One was diverted to Barksdale, the aircraft became "an airborne command center," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Mr. Bush called Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and established an open phone line with Vice President Richard B. Cheney, instructing him to place the military on a heightened state of alert.
By now, it was obvious this would be the most difficult day of his presidency. Mr. Bush spoke several times with his wife, first lady Laura Bush, who was still in Washington. Secret Service agents placed their twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, in separate, secret.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide