On September 11th, 2001, I was the deputy assistant to the president for appointments and scheduling -- essentially the president's gate keeper. It was a beautiful September morning in Washington, D.C. I arrived at my West Wing office at the usual time, 6:15 am and prepared for the 7:30 a.m. senior staff meeting in the Roosevelt Room. The president and chief of staff Andy Card were in Florida. Other than the vice president, Josh Bolten, the deputy chief to the president was the highest ranking official at the White House.
After the senior staff meeting, I went back to my office on the first floor of the West Wing and began my normal routine. As was my habit, I constantly had a news station playing on my office TV. I always kept volume on low -- even during meetings -- so I could immediately respond to news as it was happening.
As I was doing my work, I heard reports about a commuter plane that had struck one the towers of the World Trade Center. The story immediately grabbed my attention for several obvious and not so obvious reasons. First, it was the oddity of the accident. I am from New York State and at the time, my brother was a Commissioner for the Port Authority of NY/NJ which owns the World Trade Center Towers. Needless to say, I was glued to the coverage, and I like millions of others, I witnessed – on live television -- the second plane striking the other Trade Center Tower.
I knew instantly that America was under attack and said so to my assistant. I immediately went into the Situation Room and heard and saw Josh Bolten swing into action. The West Wing staff met in the White House Mess, (a staff dining room) and we were given instructions on evacuation. As soon as the briefing was over I evacuated the White House. I went to an off-site location with about 100+ staffers. I was the highest ranking staffer at that location. We all got right to work.
We wanted to know what other presidents had done after the Marine Barracks bombing in Lebanon, the bombing of the Murrow Federal Building in Oklahoma, the first World Trade Center bombing, etc.
We wanted to compile a detailed look at how the press had reported on the event during the two week period afterwards. When did the president address the nation? With whom he meet? How did his schedule change?
During the time I was leading the staff from the off-site location, my brother and sister were also calling me. My nephew Tommy Jurgens, was a senior court officer and combat-trained army medic who reportedly had left his court house to respond to the attack and was missing. As it turned out, my nephew lost his life saving others. He disregarded orders from his superiors to leave the building and went back in to rescue others.
At approximately 5:30 p.m., I released the majority of the staff from my location. Then I returned, along with a few others, to the White House to join other senior staff members for a meeting in the Roosevelt Room. We prepared for the president's return to the White House and his address from the Oval Office that night.
We threw out the president's planned schedule for the next two weeks and scheduled meetings and appearances as events warranted. I got home that night at midnight and returned to work on 9/12 at 6 a.m.
I was never more proud of my country and those who serve as I was and continue to be during this time. Everyone swung into action and went to work unselfishly with a primary focus to do whatever was necessary to be helpful.
Two days after 9/11, I told Andy Card that my nephew was missing and that I might want to return to New York over the weekend. He asked me if I had told the president and I said I did not.
He told me to do whatever I needed to do. Within five minutes of telling Secretary Card that my nephew was missing the president called me on the phone and told me he was praying for the safe return of my nephew and pledged to me that "we will find those responsible and bring them to justice."
No sooner did I hang up the phone then the president was at my desk and repeated those statements and shook my hand.
After 9/11 if anyone watched the response of our government with a critical eye, it was me. I know first hand what the president, vice president and the entire administration did to keep us safe from further attacks and to bring those responsible to justice.
I am so proud to have served during this time with patriots so focused in doing the right things for the right reasons.
We can second guess the actions taken by the Bush administration but one thing is certain, those who served acted with the best of intentions and were singularly focused on preventing further harm to our citizens.
The proof of their efforts is without question, that we have not experienced further devastating attacks at home and abroad since 9/11. And it is principally because of the actions taken by the Bush administration and Congress including, but not limited to, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, FISA, the reorganization of our intelligence services, the creation of an intelligence czar, and yes the legal interrogation of our enemies.
I cannot say the same with regard to this administration. The fact that the president of the United States and his Attorney General would decide to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the largest single terrorist attack on our homeland -- as a civilian criminal defendant instead of a enemy combatant was bad enough. But to decide to try him in New York was irresponsible and insensitive. It put New Yorkers at further risk of attack and gave our enemies the perfect propaganda tool.
I was hoping that the entire New York Congressional delegation would stand up for the New York City and fight the president and the Justice Department to prevent them from implementing this disastrous decision.
But instead of fighting for New York, we’ve now learned that the biggest proponents for bringing KSM to New York for a trial in a civilian criminal court was none other than Senators Schumer and Gillibrand and two New York City Representatives: Weiner and Nadler. For weeks these lawmakers had the audacity to make the case in favor of trying Mohammed as a civilian criminal defendant just blocks from Ground Zero.
Then the people where heard. A majority of New Yorkers and Americans overwhelmingly spoke out against those who were responsible for 9/11 to be tried in Manhattan. Now, all of a sudden the most vocal supporters for trying KSM and others in New York are desperately changing their positions.
Now, the White House and the Justice Department are scrabbling to get out of the mess they created. Why are these politicians seeking to reverse themselves? The answer could not be more obvious: the 2010 midterm elections in November.
In light of the reversals of fortunes for Democrats in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, they are playing politics with our security and their own political security.
The only New York federal lawmaker to stand up against the Democrats from New York, the president and the Justice Department was Republican Rep. Peter King, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
There has been no more vocal and selfless fighter for our national security than Congressman King and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
The fact that any lawmaker from New York would be a proponent of trying enemy combatants as mere criminal defendants, or worse, agree to try them in New York City, or worse yet, politicize 9/11 and the aftermath of those terrible attacks for their own political gain is shameful. On the basis of that alone they should be removed from office at the next available opportunity.
I do not speak for all the victims of 9/11 but I can speak for one. I know if my nephew Tommy were alive today, he would be sickened by the cowardice exhibited by our elected officials who are supposed to be fighting to protect us instead of emboldening our enemies, crippling our defenses, weakening our justice system and inviting further attacks to our homeland. There is only one word that comes to mind: shameful.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 -04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush