- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

President Bush yesterday angrily criticized the Washington game of "second-guessing" and said had he known terrorists would use hijacked planes as missiles, "I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."
"You know, it's interesting about Washington. It's a town, unfortunately, it's a kind of place where second-guessing has become second nature," the president told U.S. Air Force Academy football team members who were visiting the White House.
"The American people know this about me and my national-security team and my administration: Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," Mr. Bush said.
A poll conducted by CNN, USA Today and Gallup gave comfort to the White House. Two-thirds of the 598 Americans surveyed said reports that Mr. Bush was told in August 2001 about terrorists' desire to hijack U.S. commercial airliners did not make them less confident in his ability as commander in chief.
Three-fourths said they have confidence in the Bush administration to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
Speaking publicly for the first time about press reports that he was told on Aug. 6 that Osama bin Laden's terrorist group was planning to hijack passenger planes, Mr. Bush said he is doing all he can to make sure the United States is not attacked again.
"I take my job as commander in chief very seriously. We will use the might of America to protect the American people. We're in for a long struggle. This is a tough war. This is an enemy that's not going to quit.
"So, therefore, in order to protect innocent lives, this country must have the will and the determination to chase these killers down one by one and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what is going to happen, so long as I am the president of the United States of America."
The president spoke as the White House acknowledged that it had drafted a plan to target bin Laden before September 11. The memorandum, prepared by Mr. Bush's security team, was dated Sept. 10, the day before the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and was on the desk of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice awaiting review by the president.
The plan, said White House press spokesman Ari Fleischer, called for dismantling bin Laden's terror network "through what you saw put into place, frankly, rather quickly in our operations in Afghanistan through work with the Northern Alliance to dismantle al Qaeda and the Taliban."
The White House said the plan was approved by Mr. Bush's national-security team on Sept. 4 and was awaiting the president's review when the suicide planes hit their targets.
"It had not yet gone to the president," Mr. Fleischer said. "That national-security presidential directive was a comprehensive, multifront plan to dismantle the al Qaeda. It involved a direction to the Pentagon to develop military options for the dismantling of al Qaeda. It involved action on the financial front to dry up their resources."
A bipartisan group of senators yesterday moved ahead with plans for a special commission to investigate perceived intelligence failures before September 11, but some Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use the controversy to undermine Mr. Bush.
"I would urge the administration to cease any resistance to the formation of a national commission," said Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrats. "It's coming."
Supporters of an inquiry said they would push for a Senate vote as early as next week in hopes of establishing a "fair, nonpartisan" investigation. The sponsors are Mr. Torricelli; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat; and Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and John McCain of Arizona.
Opponents of the special commission said the inquiry by the House and Senate intelligence committees, now proceeding, is more appropriate.
"We're still in the middle of the war," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "There's a legitimate concern on the part of those conducting the war, who are not up here on the Hill that we not compromise our efforts to root these people out."
Mr. Torricelli said press reports about the Aug. 6 CIA briefing that broadly outlined what terrorists could be planning were "particularly troubling" in light of Vice President Dick Cheney's efforts last fall to squelch an independent inquiry. Mr. Cheney urged Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle not to establish such a commission because it could interfere with the war effort.
"Obviously, now [it] raises the question of whether he also had an interest of not having revelations of the administration's knowledge revealed," Mr. Torricelli said. "Whatever his motivation might have been, I think the administration is no longer in a position to argue that there should not be a commission."
Mr. Cheney said Thursday suggestions by some Democrats that the White House could have prevented the terrorist attacks were "irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war." The vice president said: "We believe that a thorough investigation of the events that led up to September 11th is entirely appropriate, and at the president's direction I've worked with the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees to ensure that they get the necessary cooperation from the executive branch."
Said Mr. Fleischer yesterday: "We'll always work with Congress. We're going to continue to work with Congress on what they are working on. And the method that the Congress has set up right now we believe is the appropriate method and we're working very well with them."
Democrats persisted. "I think before the vice president makes charges like that, he should say what has been unworthy," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. "I've read and listened to all the statements and I have not seen anything that's unworthy."
Mr. McConnell, however, said Democrats "are salivating at the opportunity to try to bring the president down. What's going on here is very transparent. They want to bring the president down. They're jumping at this opportunity to try to do that again, bring his [poll] numbers down."
The first lady, visiting Budapest before joining the president in Moscow next week, rebuked those she suggested were exploiting the nation's grief and fears: "I think it's sad to play upon the emotions of people as if there were something we could have done to stop it, because that's just not the case. I know, I feel very, very certain that anyone, Republican or Democrat, if they had had any sort of specific information, would have done something about it."

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