06/22/04 — 9/11 Review: Seek solutions, not scapegoats

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9/11 Review: Seek solutions, not scapegoats

The commission “investigating” the September 11 attacks trained its eyes in recent days on the military.

There were critical suggestions regarding the readiness of the Aerospace Defense Command. The command didn’t get its interceptor aircraft in the air “as quickly as possible.”

One witness — a woman whose husband died in the World Trade Center — accused the military of a “lack of foresight,” of being “ill-prepared” and accused the responsible leaders of “mistakes” and “poor judgment.”

Monday-morning quarterbacks continue to be blessed with 20-20 vision.

But the fact remains that the September 11 attacks were something entirely new. Not even our best intelligence sources could credibly predict what was going to happen and when and how.

On the day of the attacks, the United States and Canada had a grand total of 20 interceptor aircraft on alert. The planes were armed, their fuel tanks topped off and their pilots prepared to be airborne in less than 15 minutes.

But they were charged with protecting virtually an entire continent. And under the rules of engagement at that time, only the president could order them to shoot down civilian aircraft. The very idea of shooting down commercial airlines filled with passengers — and on a moment’s notice — would have been shocking and incredible to the people of a civilized nation prior to 9/11.

Things have changed since that tragic day.

Today there are far more planes on alert. Lines of communication have been enhanced. And today generals, not just the president, can order the downing of a hijacked airplane.

Under the conditions existing at that time, no one can be blamed for what happened on September 11. The panel investigating all aspects of that tragedy can make significant contributions toward safeguards in the future. And many improvements were in progress before the commission was ever convened.

But there is no place for an exercise in political finger-pointing and turning the review into a witch hunt to find someone or some agency to blame.

Published in Editorials on June 22, 2004 12:30 PM