By Craig McKee
Did Dick Cheney give orders to allow a plane, allegedly American Airlines Flight 77, to hit the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11?
It seems that he did if you listen to one of his own cabinet colleagues at the time.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that when he arrived in the Presidential Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) in the basement of the White House around 9:20 a.m. on Sept. 11, Cheney was already there, as was Mrs. Cheney. The second World Trade Center tower was hit at 9:03.
Mineta said that shortly after he arrived, he witnessed an exchange between Cheney and a young, unidentified man. Mineta seemed not to realize the importance of what he was saying. He told the commission:
“During the time that the airplane was coming in to the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the vice-president, ‘The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out.’ And when it got down to, ‘The plane is 10 miles out,’ the young man also said to the vice-president, ‘Do the orders still stand?’ And the Vice President turned and whipped his neck around and said, ‘Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?’”
Mineta’s testimony places Cheney in the PEOC almost 40 minutes before the 9/11 Commission said he arrived (They say he got there around 10 a.m.) Keep in mind that the alleged crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon is believed to have occurred at 9:38 a.m.
This testimony indicates that as the plane drew closer and closer to the Pentagon, the vice-president gave the order to do nothing. And this account contradicts the claim of Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, who said they had no idea a plane was coming their way; this is why there was no evacuation of the Pentagon.
Is it Mineta? That doesn’t seem likely. He was very specific about the time, and he repeated the fact that Cheney was there before he arrived at 9:20 in an interview in 2007. And did he imagine the exchange about the approaching plane between Cheney and the young man? There’s no reason this member of the Bush team would want to call their own version of events into question. And he very specifically said it was Flight 77 they were talking about.
Mineta may have genuinely believed that Cheney was confirming an order to shoot down the incoming plane, but that makes no sense given what the young man said. If the order was to shoot the plane down, why would he have asked several times if the order stood? It was much more likely he was questioning the order because it was the unexpected order NOT to shoot the plane down.
Rumsfeld’s claim that he had no idea that a plane was headed towards the Pentagon 40 minutes after controllers were convinced that Flight 77 was hijacked stretches credulity to the breaking point – and contradicts other evidence. Cheney has already said in interviews he was on the phone with Rumsfeld shortly after arriving in the PEOC. If that was before 9:20 then Rumsfeld had to have known about the approaching plane. And if that’s true, why wasn’t the building evacuated?
You see the problem?
If Cheney is lying to get around the Rumsfeld problem, then he has another problem because his version actually contradicts what the 9/11 Commission concluded.
The 9/11 Commission had Cheney not reaching the PEOC until almost 10 a.m., 20 minutes after the alleged Pentagon crash. He claimed to have been in the corridor from about 9:40 talking to the president on the phone. But Cheney said he learned about the alleged Pentagon crash once he was in the PEOC. Are we to believe that he talked to the president for 20 minutes and didn’t find out about the supposed crash?
Cheney told Tim Russert of Meet the Press that he heard about the Pentagon “crash” once he was in the PEOC . This would mean that he was there after 9:38. What’s convenient about the commission’s version is it means that the exchange reported by Mineta could not have taken place – unless they were talking about the plane that supposedly crashed in the field in Pennsylvania.
And that’s exactly how the story goes according to the 9/11 Commission and an account by journalist Bob Woodward in The Washington Post in January 2002.
Both Woodward and the Commission turn the whole thing around and make it an exchange between Cheney and a young man about Flight 93, which was heading for Washington when it allegedly crashed. In this account, it was Cheney who wanted the plane stopped and it was the young man who kept hesitating.
As I said before, this isn’t believable. It contradicts Cheney’s statements to Russert that he was told of a plane headed for the White House shortly after 9:30. That could only have been Flight 77.
And the young man wouldn’t keep asking if the order still stands if the order was to shoot the plane down. They would simply have shot the plane down. But they didn’t. They didn’t shoot any planes down. Four planes were off course and out of communication but none was intercepted, let alone shot down (although many wonder about the debris field eight miles from the Shanksville field and believe that this indicates that Flight 93 was actually shot down).
Oh, I almost forgot. Mineta’s account of Cheney and the young man was omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report. And video of his testimony on the point is inexplicably missing from the Commission’s video archive.