By Marta Lillo Bustos
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire
WASHINGTON Tears ran down April Gallup’s cheeks as she listened to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testify this week before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.
Gallup, 32, was about to begin her first day of work after maternity leave when the blast of the airplane that terrorists flew into the Pentagon threw her and Elisha, her then-2 ½-month-old son, out of the building.
“I wanted to get him into the day care, but then we got attacked,” Gallup said.
She was one of hundreds of people drawn to the com-mission’s two days of public hearings about what the government knew and what it might have done to prevent the attacks.
Among those who survived the attacks and relatives of those who did not, were others who just had to be in the Capitol Hill hearing room, including an FBI whistleblower, an independent presidential candidate, a woman visiting town and a man who co-founded a 9-11 citizens watchdog group.
Gallup, who remains on medical leave, was an executive administrative specialist for the Army. She said she wanted to know if Rumsfeld would admit what she believes that he could have ordered the second, third and fourth hijacked planes to be shot down before the terrorists could crash them.
She and her son are left with traumatic internal injuries, spinal and hip misalignment, and in her case, a stress disorder.
As Commissioner Jamie Gorelick tried get Rumsfeld to answer that question, Gallup could not hold her grief when she heard Rumsfeld say, “I do not know what [the fighter pilots] thought … I was immediately concerned that they knew what they could do and that we changed the rules of engagement.”
Rumsfeld said it was his understanding that pilots had been told that they “could shoot down any commercial airlines filled with our people if the plane seemed to be acting in a threatening manner,” but that he did not give such an order.
“Either they were given a command or they weren’t,” said Gallup. “They were asleep at the wheel. There should be an accountability for this, an investigation and court martial.”
“It’s going to take me a month to swallow all the hearing,” said Gallup. By then, she said, the second round of hearings, scheduled for April 13 and 14, will start.
Sibel Edmonds, 34, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation translator, by contrast, was at the hearings to listen to the questions the commissioners were asking. That’s because, she said, she testified before the commission in private and hoped the members would use the information she had given them to confront the government’s witnesses.
Edmonds, who was fired from the FBI and is suing as a whistleblower, said she believes the government had detailed information “maybe not saying ‘September 11, at 8:30 a.m.,’ but specific enough that in July 2001 we should have issued our ‘orange code’ and have alerted the people.”
She said she hopes the commission will publicly question FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice about information she says she gave the commission.
Edmonds started working at the FBI a week after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Early in March 2002, she told the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General about her concerns. Later that month, her employment contract was “terminated.”
She specialized in Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijanis translations and says secret information about possible terrorism was frequently translated incorrectly by others.
“While I was working there, it was just incredible. The inaccuracies and the uncertainties, intentional inaccuracies,” Edmonds said.
The former FBI translator said she is prohibited from giving details.
“They offered me a raise, they offered me a full-time position, to just drop the case,” Edmonds said. She said she has been threatened with jail if she speaks about the specifics.
Another spectator drew attention when he walked into the hearing room because of the white cowboy hat on his head and another one in his hands.
Robert E. Haines, 57, a Manchester, N.H., Republican-independent presidential candidate, said the hat he was carrying is the one he was wearing when he helped stopped a man from shooting at the White House in 1994, while he campaigned for president in the 1996 elections.
Haines received a commendation for his act, but he said that neither Clinton nor Bush was prepared to act as commander in chief.
“They were responsible for the attacks to this country, and I say it without any reservation,” Haines said.
For Daisy McKiney, 61, the hearings were an opportunity to be part of an important process. In town while her daughter is traveling to baby-sit her cats, McKiney said her visit to Washington could not have had better timing.
McKiney, of Circle Pines. Minn., said the commission is missing the real point.
“If they are going to go for this physical way of prevention, there are a whole lot of things that they are not addressing. Everything is centered just on whether the military could have gotten [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden at one point, that seems to be everybody’s favorite things,” McKiney said.
She said the witnesses seemed to come to the hearing with a script.
“They know what questions are going to be asked, and they know how to answer them in a way that it doesn’t get them in trouble with the boss. In ways that it makes them look good with the public, maintain their image,” McKiney said.
Wright Salisbury, 69, whose son-in-law Ted Hennessey, 35, died on one of the hijacked flights, said he loved that former White House counter-terrorism coordinator Richard Clarke apologized to the 9-11 victims.
“That was the first time anyone apologized to the family members,” Salisbury said.
After Hennessey’s death, Salisbury co-founded the Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding, which provides speakers and puts on programs to improve interfaith relations.
Salisbury, who did not attend the hearing but watched it on TV, said, ”I expected just exactly what I got, which was a lot of double talk.”
The questions were well asked, Salisbury said, but he still believes that the government wants to hide what it knew. Not having Rice testify in public confirmed his suspicions.
Kyle Hence, 40, of Newport, R.I., said he attended the hearing to see if something new came up, but for him, too much has happened behind closed doors.
Although he said some commissioners asked good, hard questions, he doubts the commission’s ability and the witnesses’ willingness to answer all the questions.
Hence is co-founder of the 9-11 CitizensWatch, a volunteer organization that he said does research into the attacks and has sent information to the commission and to families. “We felt that it was important to provide citizens independent oversight to the government investigations on 9-11,” he said.
He said commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow’s close ties to the Bush-Cheney administration are not a good sign. Zelikow served in the Navy, the State Department, the National Security Council and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
“I feel that this commission will not give us a full accounting,” Hence said.