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Anniversary of the War on Terror's D-Day

Reported by Judy - August 6, 2005

Today is the fourth anniversary of something that never happened. Today, August 6, 2005, should be the anniversary of the "Day of Days" in the war on terror, "the day that would live in infamy" for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Instead, today is the fourth anniversary of "While America slept."

August 6, 2001, is the day that George W. Bush received the secret Presidential Daily Brief headlined, "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S." The PDF contained the chilling information that Al Qaeda maintained a support structure in the U.S. that could aid attacks, that one idea was to hijack U.S. airplanes, and that the FBI had detected "suspicious activity," including surveillance of federal buildings in New York. The memo also noted that the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates had received a warning that Al Qaeda was preparing an attack in the U.S. with explosives.

Bush, however, was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, in the middle of a 32-day vacation, the longest presidential vacation since Richard Nixon spent 30 days at San Clemente in 1969. The headline, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.", was not in big enough type to grab his attention during his extended break from his duties as protector of the free world.

This should have been the day four years ago when Bush called an emergency meeting of the heads of the FBI and the CIA to make sure they had all the tools necessary for their investigations. Were they coordinating with each other? Were there impediments to sharing information that he could remove via executive order? Did they need more funds?

This should have been the day four years ago when Bush called in Richard Clarke and asked him to tell him everything he knew about bin Laden. Where did he live, who supported him, where did he get his funds? And if he did not think Richard Clarke was up to the job, it should have been the day he made it a priority to find someone else to do it.

This should have been the day when Bush called Secretary of State Colin Powell and asked him which American allies would cooperate in finding Osama bin Laden. How could the U.S. exert diplomatic pressure on the Saudi Royal family to stop funneling him money and to aid in reining him in?

This should have been the day when Bush called in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and asked what the military could do to help stop bin Laden. If our intelligence showed where he was, how could Rumsfeld's new military go after him? Were there alternatives to Clinton's missile strikes which had seemed to anger bin Laden?

This should have been the day when Bush notified the Federal Aviation Administration of hijacking threats and started asking questions. Is the nation's airport screening system up to date? How effectively does it stop possible weapons from slipping through? Whatever happened to the recommendations of the 1997 Aviation Safety Commission, including the requirement for FBI background checks and fingerprinting for all workers with access to planes?

This should have been the day when Bush learned about radical Islamism, about its message of hatred toward the West. It should have been the day that America began to define itself and its values to the Arab world, when it began reaching out to American Muslim leaders who might know where radical Islam was festering in the U.S., when it began investing in schools in Arab countries to counter the teachings of the radicals with a message of opportunity and hope, when it began pushing for repressive Arab governments to reform, when it began cutting the legs out from under the philosophy preached by radical Islamist terrorists.

In short, this should have been the start of a manhunt for Osama bin Laden. It should have been the day the U.S. began marshalling all its resources to construct a dragnet with mess so fine bin Laden could not slip through. It should have been the day when the U.S. began reminding Muslims how it had defended Muslims against violence in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Instead, it was the day Bush built a nature trail on his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and talked to National Security Adviser Condi Rice -- about Macedonia. The only question he asked of his senior aides was whether they would help him cut brush in 102-degree heat. The memo with the headline, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.", was overlooked.

Next month, the nation will observe the fourth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with suitable solemnity and ringing calls for determination and steadfastness in the war on terror.

In contrast, today's anniversary will be little marked by the leaders of the generation that lived through September 11. It is, however, the one that historians will write about. It is the anniversary on which George W. Bush will be judged.

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