9-11 is not an abstraction for me, I lived and worked as a school superintendent in NYC on that terrible day those two planes hit the World Trade Center buildings.
I can remember as if it were yesterday how elementary age children of parents who did not pick them up from school played and ate pizza in my office. Phone communication was out and so we could not get in touch with family members to pick them up. The subway system which is practically designed such that all train lines pass at some point through lower Manhattan was down; and so we kept and reassured them that their parents were simply held up in a major traffic and train delay. That turned out to be true for most of the children but we also knew that for others there was a strong possibility that their parents would never be coming home.
It seemed that I attended a funeral or memorial program every day for the remainder of September. To this day I instinctively close my eyes whenever a video clip of the planes flying into those buildings is shown on the TV news, and, of course, I did not go to see the Oliver Stone film: ‘World Trade Center”; and so it is with this background that I watched former CIA director George Tenet’s ‘performance’ on CBS 60 Minutes.
I was neither amused nor entertained. His body language was metaphorically appropriate, as he literally twisted and shifted throughout the entire interview. I felt not a bit of sympathy for Mr. Tenet, and yet I did not find any comfort in his discomfort, for too many people have suffered and died because of this man’s inadequacies.
His half-hearted apologies seemed to rely heavily on the oops, we blew it factor. Oops is an errant pass in basketball, oops is a curve ball that does not curve in baseball; when government officials like Mr. Tenet make errors or fail to act courageously, people die.
And now this touring ‘book promotionist’ and former spy/spin master is attempting to squirm his way out of his responsibility for not taking the appropriate actions prior to 9-11 when he was fully aware that at least two of the highjackers were in the country. He also was terribly unconvincing in trying to explain away his role in the weapons of mass destruction debacle that allowed the U.S. and other coalition forces to engage in a terrible and destructive war in Iraq.
By his own admission the CIA had proof that it was Al-Qaeda that planned and carried out the 9-11 attack, and there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice preempted Mr. Tenet’s interview by appearing on CBS Face the Nation on Sunday morning where she derailed his attempt to backpedal away from his now famous “Slam-Dunk” assertion. “Everybody” she said, “understood that he believed that the intelligence was strong”. Translation: Mr. Tenet, you have been thrown overboard of a failed foreign policy ship.
I try to imagine how Mr. Tenet’s 60 Minutes stand up routine could have gone a little better; perhaps he could have received some pre-interview coaching from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a few dozen “I don’t recall” would have helped his case tremendously, at least in the appearances aspect. But my choice for a coach for Mr. Tenet would have been C. Vivian Stringer, the coach of the Rutgers Women’s basketball team. I am sure she could have coached him into standing up for the truth no matter the price. Truth is the best policy; in fact, the truth is better than a slam dunk.
MICHAEL A. JOHNSON is a life long educator, freelance writer, collagist and photographer. He is presently working on a book for parents, students and educators on raising the academic performance of underachieving students. To reach him you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org