BETTY ANN ONG AND THE 9/11 COMMISSION
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is gearing up for a fight with the White House as it tries to complete its investigation into the nightmare of 9/11. I think it's pretty clear that the White House wants this investigation finished so that it does not have to suffer any embarrassments in an Election Year.
Yesterday, on a day of public hearings, the Commission released a tape of a conversation between flight attendant Betty Ann Ong and Nydia Gonzalez, who took the call from the American Airlines operations center. It was the first time the public had heard any recording of the chaos on American Airlines Flight 11.
Twenty-three minutes before the plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, Ong relayed a report of the carnage on board: the first-class galley attendant, stabbed; the purser, stabbed; the passengers forced to the back of the plane, unable to breathe because of some kind of pepper spray or mace; the terrorists locked in the cockpit with the pilots.
Ong was calm enough to identify the first-class seats in which the terrorists were sitting."I think we're getting hijacked," she said. Somebody, she said, was trying to call"medical" to attend to the injured.
And then, silence.
Gonzalez asked:"What's going on, Betty? Betty, talk to me. ... Are you there? Betty?" Turning to security, Gonzalez wondered:"Do you think we lost her?"
Betty Ann Ong was just one individual lost on that day. One among nearly 2,800 individuals.
Because the unthinkable had happened.
I didn't know Betty Ann Ong, but, as a life-long New Yorker ... a life-long Brooklynite ... I knew a lot of people who were murdered on that day. I have precious memories too of the Twin Towers. And I've reflected on that infamous day several times over the last 28 months: first on "the day after", before I could even ascertain the full safety of everybody I knew who was in and around the WTC; and then, a year later.
There is nothing more important than understanding how this horror could have happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. There is nothing more important than understanding too the broader context that has given birth to such fanatical terrorism. And there is nothing more important than uprooting the actual Al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for this murderous attack upon American civilians.
And that's why I remain so indignant over this business with Iraq. Because it's a diversion from the central tasks at hand. Because it has virtually no relationship to the events of September 11th. Because it involves the United States in a Wilsonian project of nation-building that even George W. Bush once ridiculed.
President Bush: Let the commission finish its job.
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