The fifth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack is coming up soon. It should be a time of national disgrace and shame. It never should have happened. Americans have been so busy for the past five years in the search for revenge that they have not bothered to ask why it happened and not asked seriously who was responsible for it. Why was a ragtag band of religious fanatics able to humiliate this country? What did we do wrong? Until we admit our shame, we will not be able to avoid another such national ignominy.
The primary responsibility belongs with the airline industry and the Republican-dominated, big-business-serving Congress. In 1996, a commission chaired by then-Vice President Gore recommended a number of regulations to protect the safety of airline passengers. Among the recommendations was that steel doors separate the flight deck from the rest of the aircraft. Characteristically, the airline industry lobbied against the legislation on the grounds that such doors would cost too much. The absence of the doors, however, cost almost 3,000 lives.
The airline presidents and lobbyists responsible for the defeat of the steel doors ought not to be able to sleep at night because of this deadly betrayal of their passengers. Similarly should the media, which did not denounce the greed of the airlines at the time nor even after the Sept. 11 attack. If the terrorists had known that they could not have gained access to the flight decks, they probably would not have tried to execute their plot. If they had, it would not have worked.
Corporate greed and congressional cowardice and media silence were the primary causes of the destruction at the World Trade Center. To deny this is to lie, one more lie in five years of terrible lies.
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The most guilty individuals were President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. They wrote off the warnings about al-Qaida they inherited from the Clinton administration as just one more element of the Clinton years they wanted to discard. We won't give terrorism as high a priority as the previous administrations, Rice told Richard Clark. In a work of prestidigitation worthy of the greatest political crooks in history, the administration excused itself from responsibility and shifted the blame onto President Bill Clinton. Again the national media let them get away with it.
Bush promptly assumed the mantle of a wartime president which, as the Wall Street Journal crowed, destroyed the controversy over the dubious Florida vote in the 2000 election. He used this mantle of a nation at war to claim leadership in a global War on Terror and with Rice indulged in an aggressive, go-it-alone foreign policy that alienated almost every other country in the world. Egged on by his coterie of neoconservative intellectuals, he launched a frivolous and foolish fiasco in Iraq in which thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered. Yet precisely because of the myth of his success against terrorism, he won the congressional election of 2002 and the presidential election and will almost certainly win the election this November, once more in the name of war on global terror -- more recently the war on Islamofascism. Now it would seem he and the vice president are planning a war against Iran.
Historians will doubtless say that the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, was a national tragedy. They will also contend that the nation's response to that tragedy was even worse. The American people were not responsible for the former, but they will certainly be judged guilty for all the evil of the latter.
If I were Osama bin Laden and I wanted to hit America with an anniversary attack, I'd look for more weaknesses like the absence of steel doors -- such as, for instance, the inadequate screening of checked luggage. This time the guilty will not only be the airlines and Congress. It will be the rest of us who have settled for inadequate security because real security costs too much.