Follow the Families, Not the Script

Thanks to the families of 9/11, our expectations of democracy are suddenly raised up. Is it possible that an energized global community may finally intervene democratically into the history being made by the Executive Branch of the USA?

Family members claim credit for the abrupt, Easter weekend release of the Presidential Briefing Memo. And the families are surely correct to take the credit, unless the rest of us are wrong to expect so little from the other players in this televised historical drama, such as Congress, the President, and mass media.

What seemed new about the news last week was that the script of official Washington was finally being written by people who brought genuine questions from outside the agenda of the Executive Branch. What is crucial for the coming weeks is to stay with the families as they continue to push their questions beyond where the scripts are today.

Of course, some prominent Republicans, such as Texas Senator John Cornyn, would have us believe that the most significant events of last week were displays of partisan attitude from members of the 9/11 Commission. “Individual members have certainly displayed an attitude which is very troubling,” said Cornyn to the Christian Science Monitor. And he has a point.

Former Senator Bob Kerry, for example, was so intent on pressing his prepared line of questions, that he confused the name of the doctor he was actually talking at. Kerry reminds us that the hubris of power works both ways. No doubt, Mr. Kerry has made a smooth transition to college administrator.

But Cornyn discredits his own discernment when he says that, “Even through the lens of hindsight, I find it difficult to see how anything in the briefing could or should have led to a specific action that would have prevented the tragedy of 9/11.”

Instead of denying what he sees with his own eyes, Cornyn should consider joining the rest of the world in asking many, many further questions. Republican sympathizers who wail that last week was too partisan are really complaining that for the first time in recent memory, questions were being asked of, not by, a well-heeled Executive Branch machine. The cries of partisanship remind us that over the past few years “partisan” has come to mean anything un-Republican.

And what does Cornyn means by “specific action”? It seems that his vocabulary is related to “actionable intelligence,” a term that has been used by our otherwise inarticulate President to excuse himself from responsibilities attached to the memo. It is interesting to see the President’s vocabulary get so technical all of a sudden. It appears the office, with its neo-conservative legal scholarship, has instructed the man somewhat.

Perhaps the President could work out a tenured position with Mr. Kerry in advance of the November vote count in Florida. Bush’s theory of “actionable intelligence” would attract grave approval from peer review committees throughout the academic world. And it would be helpful for the former President to further sharpen his mind among students who talk back. Yes, yes, perhaps the President, as professor at the New School, could even be asked to read up on Adorno.

So we’re all waiting to hear how this concept of “actionable intelligence” gets constructed and deployed as basic literacy among those who read memos from the Central Intelligence Agency.

But for the time being, we can move on to the next question: after reading the memo during his Texas vacation, what did the President do?

The memo says that terrorist cells were inside the USA, behaving like they were planning a hijacking or something; they had visited federal buildings in New York; and there had been sufficient years for planning.

Responses on the Easter Sunday talk shows seemed to press the President about his further communication with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since it is axiomatic in politics that you don’t ask a question unless you know the answer in advance, and since so many immediate questions were broadcast about the FBI on Easter Day, we have good reason to look forward to the answers that are coming.

I’d be last to get off the train that the Commission has planned for the coming week, but we should not forget the families. By leveraging their questions into Washington’s agenda, they hold out hope that we can do still more.

For instance, there are other questions that we can ask about civil defense.

Did the President prepare civil defense authorities in New York? Did the President ask for a review of hijacking defenses and responses? Did the President beef up security at airports, on airplanes, and around the Manhattan skyline? It would seem the President could do all these things without having to delegate the FBI.

Did the President study the causes and conditions that produce terrorist cells?
And since Easter weekend was also “Swordfish weekend” at TNT

network, starring John Travolta three nights in a row, let me add the next question as a bonus: did the President take any interest in the expertise of the New York anti-terrorist coordinator, who was so fed up with Washington that he decided during August 2001 to take a job as security chief of the World Trade Center?

Thanks to the families of 9/11 the world has suddenly raised its hopes of getting a clear account of the way that the President manages his Executive Branch. And once the administration starts answering questions about the way they make history, and once the script of questions gets put in the hands of the people, well, who knows?

Democracy might come home to roost.

GREG MOSES can be reached at:

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Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. Moses is a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative. He can be reached at