Tags: Bush | Authorized | Shootdown | Hijacked | Passenger | Jets

Bush Authorized Shootdown of Hijacked Passenger Jets

Sunday, 16 September 2001 12:00 AM

"The toughest decision was the question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft," Vice President Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

"We decided to do it. We did, in fact, put a flying combat air patrol up over (Washington) -- F-16's with an AWACs, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker supports so they could stay up a long time."

Cheney said U.S. combat pilots were ordered -- at their own discretion -- to attack any threatening passenger jets that invaded D.C. airspace.

"It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act if, in fact, they feel it's appropriate," Cheney said.

The vice president explained that both he and Bush agreed on the horrifying decision -- which would have meant the deaths of hundreds more innocent Americans -- because two planes had already carried out their kamikaze missions and more were believed on their way.

"We had word that the Pentagon's been hit. We had reports that (Transportation Sec. Norman Minetta) had provided that there were six airplanes that might have been hijacked.... We could account for two of them in New York. The third one we didn't know what had happened to. It turned out it had hit the Pentagon. But the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter and then later a private jet."

Faced with what looked like an onslaught of terrorism that was targeting the U.S. government as well as the Twin Towers in New York, Cheney said Bush authorized immediate military action.

"The president made the decision on my recommendation as well -- I wholeheartedly concurred with the decision he made -- that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any intention to instructions to move away from the city; that as a last resort our pilots were authorized to take them out."

Cheney said he and Bush agonized over the shootdown order but felt they had no choice.

"People say, 'Well, you know, that's a horrendous decision to make.' Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians captured by terrorists headed -- and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down obviously and kill all those Americans on board."

But, he told Russert, "You have to ask yourself, if we had had combat air patrol up over New York and we had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing it?

"And I think, absolutely we would have."

Cheney said that U.S. warplanes were ready to shoot down several other aircraft as they approached Washington -- but that the planes changed course in time. But despite the close call, he said the shootdown order was the right thing to do.

"If those circumstances arise again it's a presidential level decision and the president, I think, made exactly the right call in this case. I wish we'd had combat air patrol over New York."

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The toughest decision was the question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft, Vice President Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. We decided to do it.We did, in fact, put a flying combat air patrol up over...
Bush,Authorized,Shootdown,Hijacked,Passenger,Jets
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2001-00-16
Sunday, 16 September 2001 12:00 AM
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