From The Weekly Standard comes a pedestrianly written but, because of the subject matter, moderately mesmerizing article entitled "Cheney Speaks", in which Stephen Hayes recounts the following from the events of 9/11:
Moments later Cheney spoke to Bush for the third time. The Secret Service had told Cheney that another aircraft was rapidly approaching Washington, D.C. The combat air patrol had been scrambled to patrol the area. We have a decision to make, Cheney told the president: Should we give the pilots an order authorizing them to shoot down civilian aircraft that could be used to conduct further attacks in Washington? Cheney told Bush that he supported such a directive. The president agreed.
Within minutes, Cheney was told that an unidentified aircraft was 80 miles outside of Washington. "We were all dividing 80 by 500 miles an hour to see what the windows were," Scooter Libby would later say. A military aide asked Cheney for authorization to take out the aircraft.As it turns out, no planes were shot down (that I remember), but a question persists. And, at the risk of appearing overly squeamish about such matters, it is this: had the event come to pass, would this have been a case of intentionally killing the innocent to achieve a good end? Murder, in short?
Cheney gave it without hesitating.
The military aide seemed surprised that the answer came so quickly. He asked again, and Cheney once again gave the authorization.
The military aide seemed to think that because Cheney had answered so quickly, he must have misunderstood the question. So he asked the vice president a third time.
"I said yes," Cheney said, not angrily but with authority.
"He was very steady, very calm," says Josh Bolten, then deputy White House chief of staff. "He clearly had been through crises before and did not appear to be in shock like many of us."
Cheney says there wasn't time to consider the gravity of the order he had just communicated. It was "just bang, bang, bang," says Cheney, one life-or-death decision after another.
The entire room paused after Cheney had given the final order as the gravity of his order became clear. At 10:18 A.M., Bolten suggested that Cheney notify the president that he had communicated the "shoot-down" order. Shortly after Cheney hung up, the officials in the bunker were advised that a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania.
Everyone had the same question, says Rice. "Was it down because it had been shot down or had it crashed?" Rice and Cheney were both filled with "intense emotion," she recalls, because they both made the same assumption. "His first thought, my first thought--we had exactly the same reaction--was it must have been shot down by the fighters. And you know, that's a pretty heady moment, a pretty heavy burden."
Both Rice and Cheney worked the phones in a desperate search for more information. "We couldn't get an answer from the Pentagon," says Rice. They kept trying.
"You must know," Rice insisted in one phone call to the Pentagon. "I mean, you must know!"
Cheney, too, was exasperated. We have to know whether we actually engaged and shot down a civilian aircraft, he said, incredulously. They did not. For several impossible minutes, Cheney believed that a pilot following his orders had brought down a plane full of civilians in rural Pennsylvania. Even then, he had no regrets:
"...having seen what had happened in New York and the Pentagon, you really didn't have any choice. It wasn't a close call. I think a lot of people emotionally look at that and say, my gosh, you just shot down a planeload of Americans. On the other hand, you maybe saved thousands of lives. And so it was a matter that required a decision, that required action. It was the right call."