Cheney testified to the 9/11 Commission that he spoke with President Bush before giving an order to shoot down a hijacked civilian airliner that appeared headed toward Washington. (The plane was United Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after a brave revolt by the passengers.) But a source close to the commission, who declined to be identified revealing sensitive information, says that none of the staffers who worked on this aspect of the investigation believed Cheney's version of events.
A draft of the report conveyed their skepticism. But when top White House officials, including chief of staff Andy Card and the then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, reviewed the draft, they became extremely agitated. After a prolonged battle, the report was toned down. The factual narrative, closely read, offers no evidence that Cheney sought initial authorization from the president. The point is not a small one. Legally, Cheney was required to get permission from his commander in chief, who was traveling (but reachable) at the time. If the public ever found out that Cheney gave the order on his own, it would have strongly fed the view that he was the real power behind the throne.
Well, since everything emanates from an undisclosed location, we'll never know. But there is always the comfort of satire -- like Bernard Weiner's imagined transcript of Bush and Cheney testifying at the 9-11 Commission Hearings. Taken from The Crisis Papers:
Chairman Kean: The Commission will come to order. Welcome, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President. Although, per our agreement, you are not being placed under oath, we expect that your testimony will consist only of the truth. The Commission and the American people deserve no less, and we trust you are in full agreement with this expectation.
Cheney: Yes, of course.
Bush: Sure, OK.
Kean: I have a few preliminary questions. First, Mr. President, please tell us what pre-9/11 warnings you were receiving in the Summer of 2001 from various intelligence agencies and from other nations' leaders about a possible coming al Qaeda attack.
Bush: It was all historical. You know, old stuff, very general, about Osama's desire to hurt the United States. They hate us, you know, hate our freedoms. Nothing specific.
Kean: Did you receive warnings about the possibility of airplanes being hijacked and used as weapons?
Bush: Nobody would have ever thought of that. For example, there was the Genoa summit where...
Cheney: To complete that thought, there had been some information in the past, historical reports, about how al Qaeda might want to hijack an airplane and exchange the hostages for the release of the blind Muslim leader. But, of course, nothing about planes used as weapons.
Kean: But the President just mentioned the Genoa Summit meeting of world leaders, where there was intelligence that terrorists might want to fly a plane into the hotel where the heads of state were staying. I presume that is why President Bush chose to stay on a naval vessel offshore. Is that what you were referring to, Mr. President?
Cheney: I think the President was referring to the fact that the world leaders, assembled for an economic summit, were also going to be talking about how to combat terrorism.
Kean: Excuse me, Mr. Vice President, but I was addressing that question to the President.
Bush: The Vice President has explained my position.
Ben Veniste: My time is running out, Mr. President. So let me just try to parse your answer and follow-up. Despite all the warnings, you, as President of the United States, took no special measures, you ordered no special heightened security warnings, you did not even call your principal advisers together to seek their wisdom on what could be done to batten down the hatches and protect the lives of American citizens. And when the 9/11 attacks did come, the fighter jets at NORAD remained on the ground until more than an hour after the damage was done, even though this was contrary to their quick-response protocols. So my final question to you, Mr. President, is one that a great many Americans want to have presented and answered openly: Did you perhaps do nothing that might have interfered with the 9/11 attacks in order to use the fright and terror that followed to further your own political agenda in...
Cheney: Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous! I object strenuously to this partisan attack on our President, our Administration. He is suggesting treasonous behavior on our part and I will not be a party...
Kean: Your objection is registered, Mr. Vice President. Commissioner Ben Veniste, please rephrase your question in a less confrontational tone and permit the President to answer it.
Cheney: I will NOT answer it. This line of questioning, impugning my motives, cannot be permitted to stand!
Hamilton: That was a most intriguing reaction, Mr. Vice President. Nobody asked you about your actions or your motives. Commissioner Ben Veniste's question was directed at the President - Mr. George W. Bush, the fellow sitting on your right. Are you suggesting to us that you are the architect of the Administration's policies with regard to pre-9/11 behavior?
Cheney: It was a mere slip of the tongue, Mr. Vice Chairman, expressed in the heat of the moment. I serve to aid the President in his policy decisions. He was always in charge of Executive policy, and he is now.
Bush: That's right. I am now. And was then. And always shall be. Just ask Dick.
"Direct threats require decisive action."
[Image from BuzzFlash]
Or does a good dog not question the master's actions?
A good dog comes when called. Stays silent. And fetches.