The Columbia and 9/11 Tragedies

There is a direct connection between the Columbia shuttle disaster, the U.S. reaction to the Twin Towers/Pentagon attacks, and the coming war with Iraq: the arrogance of power.

The Bush Administration believes it has a lock on all wisdom, it knows what is best for us Americans, and for everyone else in the world — because, as Bush told us in his State of the Union address, America acts in the world under God’s divine protection, and he, Bush, is the representative of the nation and thus, we are led to believe, operates under God’s aegis as well.

Given this arrogant, we-know-it-all attitude, there was no reason, then, for Bush and his subordinates to listen to the technical experts who warned early last year (1), and even as recent as last August (2) about the disaster-in-the-making for the Space Shuttle and its crews unless certain procedures and processes were fixed. These NASA experts were ignored by Bush and his advisors (2), and removed from their positions (1).

And, given this same arrogant tone, there is no reason to listen to the millions of Americans, and to most of our allies abroad, who tell Bush and his war-bent cronies that attacking Iraq at this moment, more or less unilaterally with no international coalition at our side, is the height of folly, and will bring ruin and chaos not only to Iraq but to the United States as well.

Let’s start with the shuttle disaster. As with everyone else, I’m appalled too by the tragedy of the Columbia explosion. But let’s put things in perspective here. This is a a tragedy for the nation, to be sure — and especially for the families involved — and, while there are budgetary and other implications associated with the disaster (including the Bush arrogance that leads to such tragedies), it pales in comparison to what’s about to go down in the Persian Gulf.

There, when the U.S. begins the wave of missile attacks and the ground invastion to follow, we can be sure that more than seven brave American soldiers will die, along with thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. And the war could drag on for a long time. And, even if the battle is over quickly, the after-effects will take years to sort out, with billions spent and untold dead and maimed.

A shuttle flames into destruction and the major media, the public, editorialists and columnists demand, and are getting, a quick investigation into why this happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

Nobody begrudges the victims and their grieving families the widescale coverage (though the exploitation of this story by the media is more than unusually over-the-top), and the immediate moves toward a full investigation of the tragedy. But the attacks that killed 3000+ on September 11, 2001, have yet to yield a full and politically-neutral investigation and that was more than 15 months ago!

You do remember that both Bush and Cheney quietly asked the then-leaders of the House and Senate, Gephardt and Daschle, not to investigate the pre-9/11 period for reasons of “national security.” Perhaps one of the things they’d like to keep hidden was the fact that they were warned by the outgoing Clinton Administration specifically about the enormous dangers posed by Osama bin Laden/Al Qaida, but, in their arrogance, the incoming Bush Administration decided not to pay any attention to those warnings; instead, they said they were going to set up their own commission to look into terrorism, with Dick Cheney as head. Cheney — too busy putting together an energy policy with Kenneth Lay’s Enron and the other energy companies — did nothing and the promised report on terrorism never materialized.

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, when Ronald Reagan was gunned down, when the Watergate crimes were unearthed, when the Iran/Contra scandal broke — when these and other major catastrophes happened in our country, blue-ribbon panels and commissions were appointed and given a mandate to get to the bottom of the tragic events.

A chairman already has been appointed for the probe of the Columbia disaster, and is at work. Bush fought for many months an independent commission to investigate 9/11, but, under heavy public pressure, finally gave in. But whom did Bush first appoint to chair the 9/11 probe1? Blood-on-his-hands Henry Kissinger! The stink was so great from the victims’ families and others around the country that Kissinger bowed out. So whom did Bush appoint in his place? A former New Jersey governor with business connections to two Mideast oil moguls who are suspected of ties to Al Qaeda — indeed, one is the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden.

Will we ever learn the truth of the pre-9/11 events, and get answers to key questions? Here are just a few to start out with.

1. Since Bush and Condeleeza Rice were receiving fairly detailed warnings from about 20 governments around the globe in the summer of 2001 — that an attack, by air, was on its way, aimed at American icon targets — why did the Bush Administration do nothing in the way of advance preparations?

2. The Bush administration admits it knew as early as August 6 that an attack was imminent. Why was nothing done to take steps to deal with it at that late date, a month before the atttacks? Such as alerting the air carriers — the photos of hijacker suspects was released the following day, so why couldn’t these and other photos and names been sent to the airlines? Such as putting fighter jets into the skies around Washington and New York? Such as putting border agents on high alert?, etc. etc.

3. Why, during the period immediately after the attacks, when no civilian aircraft were permitted to take off or land, were 18 members of the bin Laden family permitted to fly back to Saudi Arabia, over FBI objections since they hadn’t been interviewed yet?

4. Why were no fighter jets scrambled over New York and Washington, D.C., when the FAA already knew about the hijacked planes at least one hour earlier?

5. Why did Bush take a sudden month’s vacation at his Texas ranch in August of 2001? And why did Attorney General Ashcroft suddenly stop flying commerical aircraft in July of 2001? The Bush Administration certainly seemed to be taking the many mid-Summer warnings seriously, for themselves, but none of that concern seems to have been passed on to those who might have prevented the awful events.

6. Why did Florida Gov. Jeb Bush declare martial law in his state on September 7th? Why did he say (overheard by a reporter), “Was it the terrorists?” when informed about the WTC attacks?

7. Why, after his chief of staff whispered in his ear that the U.S. was under terrorist attack, did George W. Bush continue listening to schoolchildren read a storybook for a half-hour?

8. Somebody was making a fortune off the sale of airline stock “puts” just prior to 9/11, the implication being that someone, perhaps lots of someones, knew in advance about the impending terror attacks. Who made those sales, and why haven’t they been brought forward to testify?

I’m not suggesting that any or all of these, and other, questions necessarily would yield definitive answers that prove a conspiracy on the part of the Bush government to look the other way when they knew an attack was coming, but the point is that none of these, and similar, questions have been fully and independently investigated.

It was fitting and proper that an investigation began immediately into the Columbia tragedy. It was fitting and proper that Congressional and independent, blue-ribbon investigations began after the other national scandals and disasters mentioned above.

But it is a civic disgrace — and gives the appearance of a grand coverup on the part of the Bush Administration — that it has fought and delayed all attempts to mount a truly hard-hitting investigation of our nation’s most horrific tragedy in recent years: Why more than 3000 citizens and resident aliens had to die on September 11, 2001, when the government knew that something like the air attacks was coming and decided, apparently for its own political ends, to look the other way.

BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., Co-Editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at Western Washington University, San Diego State and San Francisco State Universities. He was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.

(1) “When an expert NASA panel warned last year that safety troubles loomed for the fleet of shuttles if the agency’s budget was not increased, NASA removed five of the panel’s nine members and two of its consultants. Some of them now say the agency was trying to suppress their criticisms. (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/03/national/03NASA.html)

(2) From Don Nelson to Mr. Bush: “I am a recently retired NASA aerospace engineer and it is my duty to inform you that our space shuttle astronauts are in imminent danger. Your intervention is required to prevent another catastrophic space shuttle accident. NASA management and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel have failed to respond to the growing warning signs of another shuttle accident.” (August 25, 2002, www.nasaproblems.com/#Moritorium)


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BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.

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