Cheney says US gave orders to shoot down airliners : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Sunday September 16 12:27 PM ET

Cheney Says U.S. Gave Orders to Shoot Down Airliners

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Immediately after last Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush ordered U.S. military pilots to shoot down incoming commercial airliners over Washington if they did not divert, Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday.

``The president made the decision ... that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out,'' Cheney told NBC's ''Meet the Press''program. ``People say that's a horrendous decision to make. Well it is,'' Cheney said.

But he said the United States ``absolutely'' would have been justified to act on those orders if it could have prevented the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington that left more than 5,000 dead or missing.

``You've got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by terrorists and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans aboard?'' Cheney said.

``Well, you have to ask yourself, if we had had combat air patrol up over New York and we'd had the opportunity to take down the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing that? I think, absolutely, we would have.''``As it turned out, we did not have to execute on that authorization,'' Cheney said. ``But there were a few moments when we thought we might.''

Cheney did not say exactly when the president issued the orders to shoot down any non-responsive commercial aircraft, a decision first reported by Time magazine minutes before the Cheney interview on NBC.

Pentagon spokesman Adm. Craig Quigley said the president's authorization had been reviewed since Tuesday, but declined to describe the current ``rules of engagement'' for U.S. pilots.``Our pilots are very thoroughly briefed on the rules of engagement. Our air crews had been given -- and continue to be given-- specific rules of engagement as to how they are to handle themselves in the air,'' he said, without elaborating.

Cheney said the U.S. military had in effect implemented a ''flying combat air patrol'' over Washington, putting up F-16 fighter jets, AWACS radar planes and tanker aircraft. It would be up to Bush to decide if that policy would be made permanent, Cheney said.

He noted he had strongly urged Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attacks, to delay his return to Washington because the situation was so uncertain. Bush flew to a military base in Louisiana and then another in Nebraska under tight security and near total secrecy on Tuesday as the White House scrambled to protect him after the attacks.

Flying at times with a fighter at each wingtip, Bush's Air Force One aircraft later on Tuesday took him back to Washington, where he spoke to the nation on television as the government tried to keep him safe using combat troops, an armored vehicle and an underground bunker.

Cheney described the decision to authorize a shoot-down of hijacked commercial airliners as ``the toughest decision'' made by the administration the day of the attacks.

-- Swissrose (, September 16, 2001

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