Previous posts in this series:
On September 12, 2001, military and civilian personnel returned to the still-smoldering Pentagon — three fifths of the building remained open — to discuss possible retaliation. Meanwhile, the White House made excuses for the President’s actions of the day before. R.W. Apple, Jr., reported for The New York Times,
Stung by suggestions that President Bush had hurt himself politically by delaying his return to Washington on Tuesday, the White House asserted today that Mr. Bush had done so because of hard evidence that he was a target of the terrorists who hijacked airliners and slammed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, said this afternoon that officials had ”real and credible information” that the White House, not the Pentagon, had been the original target of American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked about 45 minutes after leaving Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
Another senior official said that after that plane hit the Pentagon, a chilling threat was phoned to the Secret Service.
”Air Force One is next,” the official quoted the caller as saying. The threat was accompanied by code words that indicated knowledge of White House procedures, the official said.
Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s adviser, said in an interview this morning that Mr. Bush had twice on Tuesday — in the morning and in the early afternoon — argued strenuously that he should return immediately to the capital. Mr. Rove reported that the Secret Service insisted that the situation here was ”too dangerous, too unstable” for the president to come to Washington.
”We are talking about specific and credible intelligence,” Mr. Rove said, ”not vague suspicions.”
But neither Mr. Rove nor other officials explained why this information was not made public on Tuesday. Partly because it was not, Mr. Bush was criticized for spending the day traveling a zigzag route from Sarasota, Fla.; to Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La.; then to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha; then back to Washington. He did not land at the White House until 7 p.m., almost exactly 10 hours after he learned of the first attack.
In fact, Air Force One had not traveled a “zigzag” route from Sarasota; it had flown in circles over Sarasota for more than an hour while the President tried to decide where to go next. And several days later the threat against Air Force One was revealed to be a White House fabrication.
On television, in newspapers and in animated discussions in offices across the country, Mr. Bush’s conduct was compared unfavorably with that of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who went to the scene of the attacks in Lower Manhattan; to John F. Kennedy, who stayed in Washington throughout the Cuban missile crisis of 1963, when many feared that nuclear war was imminent, and to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who remained at the Pentagon after it was hit and for a time helped in the evacuation of the dead and wounded.
The president’s conduct, said an article this morning in the staunchly conservative Boston Herald, ”did not inspire confidence.”
On September 12 thick, acrid dust hung in the air in lower Manhattan. The families of those who haven’t come home begin to hang “missing” notices on walls ans lampposts all over the city.
I am at the foot of the smoking wreck, Building Seven. This is ground zero, the heart of the blast zone.
I know maybe I shouldn’t be here. But after two days in the city, interviewing families, victims, officers, and relief workers, and after having ridden the elevator with the mayor as he returned to his command center from the wreckage on that first night, silent, covered in soot, mouth turned down, eyes sick with grief, something has drawn me here. There have been no reports yet from the inside; no time in the chaos of these early hours to bear witness.
The city block is an ash-covered canyon. Buildings on either side rise silent and black, their windows shattered. Two fire fighters on extension ladders in front of the mountain of rubble fade in and out of vision between waves of purple-gray smoke and hissing steam, spraying impossibly small arcs of water across the wreckage. Water trickles beneath my feet, mingling with ash and shards of broken glass in a gritty mud paste.
Early on I found a piece of high ground from which to watch the changes. It was inside the severely damaged and deserted Bankers Trust building, a black steel structure forty floors high, which stood across Liberty Street from the ruins and was eventually draped in dark safety netting and hung with a large American flag. In 1999 the German company Deutsche Bank had absorbed the Bankers Trust Corporation, and with it had acquired this building, whose offices it had occupied until the attack. During the South Tower’s collapse steel spears and column sections had plunged into Bankers Trust, tearing a huge gash in its north face, destroying a load-bearing column for ten floors, spilling tons of office innards, and leaving the partially demolished floor slabs to sag like hammocks over a deadly void. In a crater at the base a mound of rubble lay laced with the remains of people who had been killed in the South Tower or on the street. There was serious concern at first that the building would not stand, but it did, and sturdily, because of redundancies in its design. The back offices, away from the Trade Center, were fine. And apparently no one had died inside. Firemen checked the spaces quickly, leaving their fluorescent-orange graffitiâ€”SEARCHEDâ€”on each floor. In the dust that coated one wood-paneled wall someone, maybe from the Boston Fire Department’s team, drew a sad face and scrawled,
Kill All Muslims
Early this year some workmen found human bone fragments on the roof of the Deutsche Bank building, which was adjacent to the World Trade Center complex and significantly damaged on September 11. After allowing some employees to return briefly to retrieve belongings, Deustche Bank locked up the 41-story building and covered it with a black shroud while litigation over the site’s fate went forward. (The Project Rebirth site has more photos.) During an inspection in 2002, a number of mummified human remains were found in the building. It’s believed the bodies had been ejected into the building when WTC 2 collapsed.
On September 12, New York City firemen and others looked through the debris lower Manhattan for survivors. John Cloud, Time magazine, wrote this about the last survivor to be found, Genelle Guzman-McMillan, in September 2002:
Anyone who watched the avalanche, even from behind the safety of a TV screen, knows how extraordinary it is that someone could survive it. New York City’s medical examiners are still trying to identify 19,858 pieces smashed from the bodies of the 2,819 people who were slain. Steel beams weakened to their breaking point; solid concrete was pulverized. But somehow Genelle’s tumbling body found an air pocket. She was buried in the rubble for more than 26 hours; on Sept. 12, around 12:30 p.m., she became the last of just four people caught in the debris to be found alive. (An additional 14, mostly fire fighters, survived relatively unscathed in a lower part of stairway B that stayed upright.)
Some victims’ families received only a shard of bone to put in a coffin; many got nothing. Genelle’s family got her back with a crushed right leg and a few other injuriesâ€”but basically whole. Relatives held a joyous 31st-birthday party for her in January, after she had fully recuperated. By May, she was walking without so much as a leg brace, an accomplishment that astonished a doctor who had told her she would walk with one for the rest of her life. It’s difficult to envision how those who were extricated from the fiery heap survived. Like Genelle, two Port Authority cops were buried but not mortally wounded by hurtling chunks of stone and metalâ€”even as people in close proximity were killed. Pasquale Buzzelliâ€”who worked with Genelle on the 64th floor and was also in stairway B at 10:28 a.m.â€”fell when the stairwell broke under him but somehow landed atop a rickety pile of debris. These four were rescued before they were burned in creeping fires or crushed in mini-collapses in the later hours of Sept. 11 and after. It’s not known whether anyone else could have been found aliveâ€”just that Genelle was the last.
It would be several more days before New Yorkers would publicly acknowledge that no one else would be found.
In Washington, reporters grilled White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on the report of a threat against Air Force One.
Q And if Air Force One happened to be a target, isn’t it true that when the President went to Louisiana, at that point, once he took off from Louisiana, there were no flights in U.S. airspace?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, at that moment there were still reports of airplanes that had not yet been identified as to their whereabouts. That’s another reason that the White House and the President operated in the secure manner that they did. At that moment, when the President had left Florida and was on his way to a base that no one knew where the President was heading to, there were still reports of planes that had not yet been brought onto the ground per the FAA’s order.
The order to clear U.S. airspace had been given only minutes before Air Force One took off from Sarasota, so certainly there were many planes still in the air. However, no one asked Fleischer about the fact that Air Force One had circled Sarasota for over an hour because the President couldn’t make up his mind where to go next.
Q If I could follow up, though, but when Air Force One left Louisiana and headed to Nebraska, I believe at that time there were no U.S. planes, or any planes, still in U.S. airspace. So then why did the President go to Nebraska and not back here to the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the information that we had was real and credible about Air Force One. And the manner in which Air Force One operated maintained the security of Air Force One at all times. And that also is one of the reasons why Air Force One did not come back to Andrews, where some people thought it would.
Q If we could make the connection here, that would suggest, Ari, then, that the threat against Air Force One came in the form of another aircraft?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I’m not indicating what form it came in, John, and I will not.
Q Ari, at what time did the White House get this information?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the flight from Sarasota to the first location.
Q So did the evacuation of the White House come as a result of that information?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s a detail that I’m not going to get into, Terry. But all appropriate security precautions were taken.
When a reporter asked if Osama bin Laden was involved, Fleischer would neither confirm nor deny al Qaeda’s involvement with the attacks.
In Washington, President Bush met with his National Security Team. After the meeting he assured the nation “we will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms.” Also,
This morning, I am sending to Congress a request for emergency funding authority, so that we are prepared to spend whatever it takes to rescue victims, to help the citizens of New York City and Washington, D.C. respond to this tragedy, and to protect our national security.
“Whatever it takes” would prove not to mean, um, “whatever it takes,” exactly.