Tag Archives: 9/11

Aging Heroes of 9/11: Search and Rescue Dogs

The UK’s Daily Mail last week ran a feature with photos of search and rescue dogs sniffed through the rubble of the Twin Towers a decade ago. Of more than 100, only about a dozen survive, and most are well into their teens. Click through to the original article for a full portrait gallery.

Moxie, 13

Tara, 16

What the War on Terror Owes to the War on Crime

Long before the War on Terror, there was the War on Crime. And as much as 9/11 was a watershed event, many aspects of the nation’s response to the terrorist attacks find longstanding precedent in the American criminal justice system.

In his article “Exporting Harshness: How the War on Crime Helped Make the War on Terror Possible,” Georgetown Law professor and former public defender James Forman Jr. argues against the widely accepted notion that “the war on terror represents a sharp break from the past, with American values and ideals ‘betrayed,’ American law ‘remade.’” Forman continues: “While I share much of the criticism of how we have waged the war on terror, I suspect it is both too simple and ultimately too comforting to assert that the Bush administration alone remade our justice system and betrayed our values.” Instead, he believes, “our approach to the war on terror is an extension–sometimes a grotesque one–of what we do in the name of the war on crime”:

By pursuing certain policies and using particular rhetoric domestically, I suggest, we have rendered thinkable what would otherwise have been unthinkable. Moreover, as the world’s largest jailer, we are increasingly desensitized to the harsh treatment of criminals. We have come to accept such excesses as casualties of war—whether on crime, drugs, or terror. Indeed, more than that, we no longer see what we do as special, different, or harsh. Certain practices have become what David Garland calls “the taken-for-granted features of contemporary crime policy.” In part for this reason, despite the mounting evidence regarding secret memos, inhumane prison conditions, coercive interrogations, and interference with defense lawyers, the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror went largely unchecked and unchanged. (H/T Prison Law Blog)

Berkeley professor Jonathan Simons, in his 2007 book Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy, also looks for the roots of these “excesses,” and locates them decades prior to the terrorist attacks. ”Fear of sudden and terrible violence was a major feature of American life long before September 11, 2001. The collapsing towers were only the latest–and most lethal–of a series of spectacular scenes of violence that have unfolded at the centers of our large cities since President Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas with a mail-order rifle in 1963.” In the subsequent decades, Simon writes, “American have built a new civil and political order, values like freedom and equality have been revised in way that would have been shocking…in the late 1960s, and new forms of power institutionalized and embraced–all in the name of repressing seemingly endless waves of violent crime.” Simon continues:

The terror attacks of 9/11 have created a kind of amnesia wherein a quarter-century of fearing crime and securing social spaces has been suddenly recognized, but misidentified as a response to an astounding act of terrorism, rather than a generation-long pattern of political and social change. Just as we now see the war on terrorism as requiring a fundamental recasting of American governance, the war on crime has already wrought such a transformation–one which may now be relegitimized as a “tough” response to terrorism.

Many historians trace the birth of the War in Crime to the mid-1960s–specifically, to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, with and his rhetoric of “crime in the streets” and the need for “law and order.”  Since that time, politicians have increasingly exploited the fear of violent crime and its perpetrators to institute ever more draconian laws and policies. The War on Crime was soon joined by its partner the War on Drugs, which was launched by Richard Nixon and gained traction during the Reagan Administration. One crime bill after another was passed with broad bipartisan support, and more and more federal and state monies were poured into expanding law enforcement and building and maintaining prisons. Between 1970 and 2005, the U.S. prison population grew by 700 percent.

Even as crime rates declined sharply in the 1990s, a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, championed two of the harshest pieces of criminal justice legislation ever passed: The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), passed after the Oklahoma City bombing with broad bipartisan support, undermined habeas the corpus rights of U.S. prisoners long before the Bush Administration sought to withhold them from “enemy combatants.” AEDPA placed severe limitations on prisoners’ ability to challenge death sentences–or life sentences, or any unjust convictions–in federal courts, even when they had new evidence of their innocence. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) also passed in 1996, was intended “to deter inmates from bringing frivolous lawsuits,” said the New York Times in a 2009 editorial. “What the law has done instead is insulate prisons from a large number of very worthy lawsuits, and allow abusive and cruel mistreatment of inmates to go unpunished” long before the advent of Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and the black sites spawned by the War on Terror.

Anne-Marie Cusac, who spent the decade prior to 9/11 reporting on prison abuses on American soil, wrote in The Progressive after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, “Reporters and commentators keep asking, how could this happen? My question is, why are we surprised when many of these same practices are occurring at home?” Cusac continues:

In February 1999, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department settled a class-action lawsuit alleging numerous acts of torture, including mock executions, where guards strapped inmates into a restraint chair, covered their faces with masks, and told the inmates they were about to be electrocuted.

When I read a report in The Guardian of London of May 14 that it had “learned of ordinary soldiers who . . . were taught to perform mock executions,” I couldn’t help but remember the jail.

Then there’s the training video used at the Brazoria County Detention Center in Texas. In addition to footage of beatings and stun gun use, the videotape included scenes of guards encouraging dogs to bite inmates.

The jail system in Maricopa County is well known for its practice of requiring inmates to wear pink underwear, and it is notorious for using stun guns and restraint chairs. In 1996, jail staff placed Scott Norberg in a restraint chair, shocked him twenty-one times with stun guns, and gagged him until he turned blue, according to news reports. Norberg died. His family filed a wrongful lawsuit against the jails and subsequently received an $8 million settlement, one of the largest in Arizona history. However, the settlement included no admission of wrongdoing on the part of the jail.

The Red Cross also says that inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail suffer “prolonged exposure while hooded to the sun over several hours, including during the hottest time of the day when temperatures could reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher.” Many of the Maricopa County Jail system inmates live outdoors in tent cities, even on days that reach 120 degrees in the shade. During last year’s heat wave, the Associated Press reported that temperatures inside the jail tents reached 138 degrees.

Cusac goes on to document other abuses familiar to U.S. prisoners as well as foreign detainees, including stress positions, torturous restraints, rape by guards, and long-term solitary confinement. It is no accident that Army Specialist Charles Graner, convicted as the ringleader in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal (and recently released from a military jail at Fort Leavenworth) honed his sadistic skills at Pennsylvania’s state prisons, where guards admitted to beating prisoners and were accused of placing a razor blade in one inmate’s food.

It is no accident, either, that laws passed in the name of terrorism–both the AEDPA and the USA-PATRIOT Act–have been used to trample on the rights of the accused and prosecute ordinary American lawbreakers, including drug offenders and undocumented immigrants, far more than to round up actual terrorists. If the War on Crime fed the War on Terror, the War on Terror has also expanded and relegitimized the War on Crime. All this has happened with the approval of both political parties, virtually guaranteeing that the legacy of 9/11 will be an endless war at home, as well as abroad.

On 9/11, Rumsfeld Fiddled While Cheney Ran the Country

In her interview with last night with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, author of a new autobiography, Diane Sawyer asked him about a tough decision he had to make on the morning of 9/11. Was it not difficult, she asked, to order military pilots to shoot down passenger jets that the government believed to be hijacked and headed targets in Washington–maybe the White House, maybe the Capitol. For a moment, Rumsfeld dropped his generally arrogant stance, and instead looked as if he were about to cry as he recalled the agony he went through in making the decision.

It might have been a poignant moment, were it not for the fact that Rumsfeld didn’t make the decision. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who made the decision. And it was Cheney who was running the country with a confused Rumfeld watching from the sidelines.

When the nation is threatened, it is the President, the  Commander-in-Chief who must make the decision to engage the military. Under the law, he orders the Secretary of Defense to implement his commands down through the military chain of command.  While President Bush was being shuttled around from bunker to bunker, on the morning of September 11, 2001, supposedly out of cell phone contact at times, Rumsfeld was next in line. But Rumsfeld’s role on 9/11 has always been a mystery. In his new book, on page 339, the former secretary of Defense casts a little light on what he did that morning .

Feeling the Pentagon shake when American Airlines Flight 77 hit at 9:38, and seeing the smoke, Rumsfeld, by his own report, rushed into the Pentagon parking lot, which was in chaos amid frantic rescue efforts and treating the wounded.  Then he returned to his office. He  spoke briefly to Bush, who was on Air Force One flying around somewhere in the southeast, who wanted to know about the damage to the Pentagon. From there Rumsfeld went to the military command post in the basement. And there, he writes, heeding the advice of General Dick Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who wa also in the room, he raised the threat level to a state of alert, and launched  fighters to protect Air Force One. Rumsfeld was supposed to be removed to a secret site, but he says he was “unwilling to be out of touch during the time it would take  to relocate me to the safe site.’’  

Shortly afterwards, he writes, “the Vice President reached me by phone.’’ Cheney reportedly told Rumsfeld, “There’s been at least three instance here where we’ve had reports of aircraft approaching Washington…A couple were confirmed hijacked. And pursuant to the President’s instructions I gave authorization for them to be taken out.”

In fact, there is considerable doubt as to when Cheney actually received “the President’s instructions,” and considerable evidence that he acted on his own volition, as even the timid 9/11 Commission report makes clear. But in any case, his orders clearly violated the military chain of command–something Rumsfeld failed to point out, according to his own account of the subsequent conversation.

“Yes, I understand,” I replied. “Who did you give that direction to?”

“It was passed from here through the [operations] center at the White House,” Cheney answered.

“Has that directive been transmitted to the aircraft?”

“Yes, it has,” Cheney replied.

“So we’ve got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instruction at  this present time?” I asked.

“That is correct,” Cheney answered. Then he added, “[I]t’ my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out.”

“We can’t confirm that,” I told him. We had not received word that any US military pilots had even contemplated engaging and firing on a hijacked aircraft.

“We’re told that one aircraft is down,” I added, “but we do not have a pilot report…”

As it turned out the only other aircraft that crashed had not been shot down. It was  United Airlines Flight 93, a hijacked plane that went down in a field near Shankville, Pennsylvania.’’

This from the man directly charged under the law with putting into action the orders from the Commander-in-Chief. The Vice President is nowhere listed in the chain of command and has no authority to act. In the above passage, Rumsfeld himself describes how he essentially was a bystander that morning, with little or no input in the crisis. Our multi-billion-dollar Defense Department and its chief were unprepared, incompetent, and  ignored as Cheney seized the reins and ran the country.

Later, before the 911 commission, Rumsfeld  provided a rather astonishing explanation for his behavior:

The Department of Defense…did not have responsibility for the borders. It did not have responsibility for the airports….And the fact that I might not have known something ought not to be considered unusual. Our task was to be oriented out of this country…and to defend against attacks from abroad. And a civilian aircraft was a law enforcement matter to be handled by law enforcement authorities and aviation authorities. And that is the way our government was organized and arranged. So those questions you’re posing are good ones.And they are valid and they ought to be asked. But they ought to be asked of people who had the statutory responsibility for those things.

In his book, Rumsfeld laments the fact  he did not resign after Abu Ghraib. In truth, he should have resigned or been fired for failing to protect the nation in the face of the worst attack since Pearl Harbor.

9/11: One Family’s Brave Effort to Expose Airline Culpability

An article in Saturday’s  New York Times describes how all the families suffering losses on 9/11 have now taken settlements, receiving some $7 billion from the government and $500 million in private suits–all the families, that is, save one.

The one holdout is the family of Mark Bavis, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center. Ever since the family filed suit in 2002, it has spurned efforts to negotiate, despite settlement attempts and a court mediation session.

They recognize that they could have obtained a quicker resolution by settling; they say the case is not about money. They say they want to prove in a public courtroom what they and their lawyers believe was a case of gross negligence by United and other defendants that allowed the hijackers to board Flight 175 and the attacks to occur.

The Bavis family is seeking damages directly from the airlines. Their suit represents the last real possibility for an independent inquiry into the culpability of these private carriers–not to mention the “regulators” at the Federal Aviation Administration, who appeared intent on serving the airlines rather than the public. It’s a long shot perhaps, but the Bavis suit might achieve some of what the expensive, timid, and inconclusive 9/11 Commission Report could not. 

As the Times article points out, they have identified several areas in which the airlines’ negligence contributed to the events of 9/11 (emphasis added):

Donald A. Migliori, a lawyer with Motley Rice, the firm that represents the Bavises and was involved in more than 50 other cases, said the firm’s investigation had focused on failures at airport security checkpoints, flawed cockpit doors, inadequate training and how the industry ignored confidential government warnings about terrorist threats.“The security breaches that day,” he said, “were absolutely known to these defendants before 9/11, and should have been addressed before this could happen.”

My 2005 book, The 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11, also explores these same areas, and sets out in detail the chain of evidence that demonstrates airline and government negligence leading up to the attacks. A few excerpts, citing factual records, follow. Readers can judge for themselves whether the airlines and government are culpable.

Failures at Airport Security Checkpoints

[In the 1990s], following the Pan Am 103 bombing, the FAA had been directed by Congress to create a “Red Team” to test airport security. A Red Team consists of a handful of people, often drawn from military special operations, to pose as terrorists and attempt to break through airport security–in effect, to stage unannounced mock terrorist attacks, and report on the airlines’ performance in thwarting these attacks…

An October 1998 report by one airline, which was passed around the company offices in the United States, describes a meeting held the previous month with the FAA to discuss security at the San Francisco airport. Among other things, the report noted that the FAA’s Red Team “worked around different areas in SFO airport. They managed to break through different security screenings repeatedly in many different areas. Of 450 times when they were working their way past different security points to get to secure areas they were caught only 4 times.” SFO was one of the airports that had been targeted in the 1993 tests, and cited for a 60 percent failure rate. Five years later, the failure rate was 99.11 percent.

The report stated that the Red Team “managed to get by passenger Xray screening repeatedly (7 times) having on them a gun sealed under their belt-buckle. Also, having an automatic Mac machine gun under their jacket on their back.” The team also easily entered the airlines’ private lounges and put bombs in the passengers’ carry-on luggage, which was not examined before they boarded the plane. Gaining entrance to the ramp area, they entered Skychef catering trucks, and with ease placed whatever they wanted to in the food trolleys. No one questioned them. “Most of the times the catering truck driver was either asleep or reading a book or just looking at the sky or waving a friendly hello,” according to the San Fransisco report. The intruders showed false IDs and then easily drove a van onto the ramp area, although the vehicle had no official plates or security seals. They boarded aircraft at will, and “could easily have placed a bomb on board.”

All of this activity was videotaped by the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme, California, with the idea of using it as a training film for airport security personnel. But when the FAA saw how bad things were, they deep-sixed the video…

According to Andrew Thomas [in his book Aviation Insecurity], “For years, Logan was known throughout the industry as one of the least secure airports in the nation.” In April 2001, Deborah Sherman of Boston’s Fox News station undertook her own investigation of air security at Logan airport, with the help of former Red Team member Steve Elson. Airing on May 6, 2001, her report showed serious security flaws, including knives smuggled through security and unguarded access to secure areas–making Logan clearly vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The report had been instigated by Brian Sullivan, an FAA New England security agent who had retired earlier in the year and was seeking to blow the whistle on what he had observed on the job. On May 7, the day after the program aired, Sullivan sent a tape, along with a detailed and eloquent letter, to Senator John Kerry: “This report once again demonstrated what every FAA line agent already knows, the airport passenger screening system simply doesn’t work as intended. The FAA would like [rather] continue to promulgate a façade of security, than to honestly assess the system. Management knows how ineffective the current system is, but continues to tell Congress that our airport screening is an effective deterrent.”

Flawed Cockpit Doors

There was ample  evidence of how easily cockpits could be breached. As Andrew Thomas reports in Aviation Insecurity, in the two years prior to September 11, 2001, passengers managed to enter the cockpits of commercial airplanes thirty times. In one 2000 case, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight was suffocated to death—apparently by other passengers—after he made repeated attempts to take over the cockpit. In another case the same year, a deranged passenger entered the cockpit of a British Airways 747, bit the captain’s ear, grabbed the controls, shut off the autopilot, and sent the plane into a 10,000-foot dive before the co-pilot managed to regain control. Lack of cockpit security would, of course, become key to the terrorists’ success in the 9/11 attacks.

Inadequate Training

In 1996, President Clinton appointed a White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, headed by Vice President Al Gore, to examine security within the industry–and especially security against possible terrorist attacks…A preliminary report, released in September 1996, elicited a flurry of unhappy responses from airline lobbyists. Gore quickly capitulated to the airline industry, writing a sheepish letter to Carol Hallet, president of the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group: “I want to make it very clear that it is not the intent of this administration or of the Commission to create a hardship for the air transportation industry,” and suggesting that government and industry could work “in full partnership.” According to a study conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics, during the final weeks of the 1996 election campaign, with Clinton pitted against Bob Dole, the airlines poured $585,000 into the Democratic party coffers.

The Gore Commission did make some 50 recommendations, but many of the most vital proposals were gutted or simply ignored. The Commission recommended criminal background checks for airport security personnel, along with a changed work system that would reward performance, rather than just low costs, for both individual security staff and the security companies used by the airlines. The airlines scoffed that these measures would be too expensive, and the FAA (then under the leadership of Linda Daschle [who later became an airline industry lobbyist]) never pursued them.

One Commission member, Victoria Cummock, widow of a Pan Am 103 victim, wrote to Gore, “I register my dissent with the final report. . . . Sadly, the overall emphasis of the recommendations reflects a clear commitment to the enhancement of aviation at the expense of the Commission’s mandate of enhancing aviation safety and security. I can not sign a report that blatantly allows the American flying public to be regularly placed at unnecessary risk.” Cummock was quoted by CNN as saying, “I don’t know how we could really get a fair commission based on the degree of collusion that I see between the [airline] industry, the FAA, the DOT (Department of Transportation), and Al Gore.”

Industry Ignored Government Warnings About Terrorist Threats

In the six months prior to 9/11, FAA senior officials received 52 intelligence briefings regarding threats from Al Qaeda. “Among the 105 summaries issued between April 1, 2001 and September 10, 2001, almost half mentioned Bin Ladin, Al Qaeda, or both, mostly in regard to overseas threats,” the report said. In addition, the National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Security Group invited the FAA to a “meeting in early July 2001 at the White House to discuss with domestic agency officials heightened security concerns.”

The FAA also sent out informational circulars to warn airports and air carriers about security issues. Seven circulars were sent before 9/11–one on the threat posed by surface to air missiles, five on threats overseas, and one on July 31 mentioning hijacking. Yet while Jane Garvey said “she was aware of the heightened threat during the summer of 2001,” several other top agency officials, as well as senior airline official and veteran pilots, said they were not aware.

Obama’s Flyover: The President Should Have Gone to West Virginia

During the blitz of World War II, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill went into the streets of London to stand with his people against the Nazis. But nowadays, our leaders are mostly absent in times of travail. After 9/11, George W. Bush took three full days to make it to New York, waiting until the coast was clear before claiming his photo-op with the firefighters and cops and rescue workers at Ground Zero. And when Katrina devastated New Orleans, Bush opted for his famous flyover, viewing the suffering from a the comfort of Airport One at 2,500 feet. 

Last week, Barack Obama continued the tradition. It seemed the president just couldn’t find the time to take puddle jumper down to Massey Coal’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia  to comfort the families of those who died in the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years. Nor did Michelle Obama or even Joe Biden, who is talked about as the the administration’s liaison to working-class whites.

The governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, was on hand as the futile rescue attempts took place, but but his state is such a pawn in the hands of the coal industry that it was hard to take him seriously. Today, at least, he did take the step of appointing Davitt McAteer, a longtime reformer who headed the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration under Clinton, to oversee an independent investigation into the disaster. As I wrote last week, McAteer, who headed a similar investigation after the 2006 Sago disaster killed 12 miners, is without question the best man for this job. But his work will only have meaning if the government implements–and enforces–the safety improvements he recommends.

Obama, too, has promised launch an investigation into the causes of the mine explosion. But there already have been investigations into Massey Energy’s violation of federal safety laws. This was an especially dreadful disaster because the U.S. government, which had been equipped with mine safety laws at the insistance of  reformers, wouldn’t adequately enforce them, allowing Massey to drag its feet and rack up violations until the inevitable happened. That mine was just waiting to blow up, and the feds effectively stood by and permitted a greedy company put profits ahead of its workers’ lives.

Instead of an investigation, Obama ought to call a federal grand jury to weigh criminal penalties against the owners and top officers of the company. And he ought to have taken the time to personally visit the place where 29 men died because the government–including his own administration, as well as his predecessor’s–failed to do its job.

Obama, like Bush before him, might have taken a lesson from what Lyndon Johnson did in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Betsy back in 1965–as described in this brief passage from the Louisiana Weekly:

On September 10, 1965, the day after Hurricane Betsy plowed through southeastern Louisiana, President Lyndon Johnson flew to New Orleans.  He went to the people, to shelters where evacuees were gathered, to neighborhoods all over the city.  There was no electricity and, so that people could see and hear him at one shelter, he took a flashlight,  shined it into his face and said into a megaphone, “My name is Lyndon Baines Johnson.  I am your president.  I am here to make sure you have the help you need.”
 

Airborne IED Terrorist Attacks

In light of the horrendous record of failed airport security measures, which are recorded in detail in my book 5 Unanswered Question About 9/11, I am passing along this morning’s email on IEDs aboard aircraft, from Andrew R. Thomas, business professor at the University of Akron  and editor of the Journal of Transportation Security.

The most recent attempt by a terrorist to detonate an Improvised Explosive Device within the confines of an air cabin has several recent precursors: 

1995: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC attack, was less than a week away from planting IEDs on several U.S. bound NWA flights from the Pacific. The IED was successfully tested in late 1994 on an Air Nippon Airways flight, killing a passenger. 

2001: An Al-Qaeda operative, Richard Reid, unsuccessfully attempted to detonate an IED concealed within his shoe on an U.S.-bound AA flight, originating from Paris’ Charles De-Gaulle International airport.

2004: Two Russian airliners are destroyed, nearly simultaneously, by female suicide bombers who detonated IEDs on-board. 

Source: “History of Attacks Against Civil Aviation” Aviation Security Management: Volume 1, Andrew R. Thomas editor (London; Praeger Security International) 2008,pp. 142-260.

“My Name is Betty Ong…”

Take a few minutes to listen to the last phone call of Betty Ong, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11 before it hit the World Trade Center, eight years ago today on September 11, 2001. Just over four minutes of the phone call were replayed at the 9-11 Commission hearings. The recording stands as a powerful tribute to one of the ordinary people who carried on heroically, doing their jobs and trying to save others, even as top government and military officials were floundering.

Ong is calm and matter-of-fact as she describes what is occuring to skeptical airline personnel on the ground. She is forced to repeat the same basic details again and again: “Ok. Our Number 1 got stabbed. Our purser is stabbed. Nobody knows who stabbed who, and we can’t even get up to business class right now cause nobody can breathe…” Unfortunately, American Airlines chose not to pass on what Ong was telling them to the military or even the FAA. Beginning within minutes of the hijacking, Ong remained on the phone for 23 minutes, calmly relaying information up to seconds before the impact.  Her last words were “Pray for us. Pray for us.”

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