At 9:03 AM on 11 September 2001, the second airplane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. President Bush was in Florida, at the Emma T. Booker Elementary School, listening to children read. Chief of Staff Andrew Card came over and whispered in Bush's ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
What did the Commander in Chief do? Nothing. He sat there. He sat for well over 5 minutes, doing nothing while 3,000 people were dying and the attacks were still in progress.
Not only did the leader of the free world sit as his country was attacked, the Secret Service also did nothing. Bush was appearing in public at a previously announced photo-op. He was a sitting duck. The attacks were ongoing at that point (planes had yet to hit the Pentagon or the field in Pennsylvania), and nobody knew how much more destruction was going to happen. Were there two, three, four, eight more planes hijacked and on their way to crash into prominent buildings? Was one headed for the school, where anyone who checked the President's public itinerary would know he was located? Were other terrorists planning to detonate dirty nukes? Were they going to release anthrax or smallpox or sarin? Was an assassination squad going to burst into the school and get Bush? Was a suicide bomber going to ram a truck full of explosives into that classroom?
During the midst of the attacks, any of these things could've happened. Yet there sits Bush, seemingly unconcerned. His Chief of Staff likewise doesn't think that America in flames warrants the President's immediate attention. And the Secret Service utterly fails to do its job by grabbing the President of the United States and getting him to safety. It's truly inexplicable.
And it's something the administration isn't too eager to trumpet. They haven't released footage of the President's (non)actions during this historic moment of American history. Until now, the only available footage had been a little film put together by Booker Elementary. [See it here.] The problem is, there's a jump edit in the footage: From the time Card whispers to Bush until the end of the scene in the classroom, only 2 minutes and 10 seconds elapse.
But this new, fuller footage shows Bush sitting for a full five minutes after he'd been told that "America is under attack."
He declined to take action even longer than this, but unfortunately this footage ends before he leaves the classroom. Thanks to an amazing article by Allan Wood and Paul Thompson, we know what happened after the footage suddenly cuts off:
The only source to describe what happened next is Fighting Back by Bill Sammon. Publishers Weekly described Sammon's book as an "inside account of the Bush administration's reaction to 9-11 [and] a breathless, highly complimentary portrait of the president [showing] the great merit and unwavering moral vision of his inner circle." [Publisher's Weekly, 10/15/02] Sammon's conservative perspective makes his account of Bush's behavior at the end of the photo-op all the more surprising. Bush is described as smiling and chatting with the children "as if he didn't have a care in the world" and "in the most relaxed manner imaginable." White House aide Gordon Johndroe, then came in as he usually does at the end of press conferences, and said, "Thank you, press. If you could step out the door we came in, please." A reporter then asked, "Mr. President, are you aware of the reports of the plane crash in New York? Is there anything...", But Bush interrupted, and no doubt recalling his order, "DON'T SAY ANYTHING YET," Bush responded, "I'll talk about it later." But still the president did not leave. "He stepped forward and shook hands with [classroom teacher] Daniels, slipping his left hand behind her in another photo-op pose. He was taking his good old time. ... Bush lingered until the press was gone." [Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism - From Inside the Bush White House, by Bill Sammon, 10/02, p. 90]
For a detailed portrait of what Bush did and didn't do on 9/11, you can do no better than to read this article here. It is based completely on reports from mainstream media and statements from government officials.
Apologists claim that Bush didn't leave simply because he didn't want to interrupt and upset the children, but this falls apart for several reasons:
1) America is being attacked, thousands are dying, and Bush doesn't know if we're facing nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks, as well. Couldn't he just say, "Excuse me, kids, I need to take care of something. It's part of being President, y'understand. I'll be back as soon as I can."
2) At the moment Card told Bush about the second plane, the children weren't reading to Bush. They had finished reading words from an easel and were reaching under their chairs for a book when Card whispered to Bush. Another 30 seconds would elapse before they started reading again. This pause was a perfect time for Bush to politely excuse himself.
3) By staying, he not only endangered his own life, but the lives of all of those children. Wouldn't it be better to risk upsetting them than to risk letting them die in a terror attack?
4) Even if Bush was afraid of hurting the kiddies' feelings, what about the Secret Service? Have they been trained not to attempt to save the President's life if it might bother some schoolchildren?
5) What about Chief of Staff Andrew Card, White House Spokesperson Ari Fleischer, and other officials who were in that classroom? Didn't they feel that a 21st-century Pearl Harbor and a potential attack on the President himself were worth some sort of action?
6) Finally, and most damningly, this excuse doesn't explain why Bush continued to mill around the classroom for several minutes after the children had finished reading.
Somewhere, someone has the complete, uncut footage of Bush in Booker Elementary, from the time he enters the classroom until he finally walks out. If you have this footage, please send it to me.