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Boston Globe Online / Nation | World
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Bush vows a ruthless manhunt

By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff, 9/12/2001

While people stood on the banks of the Hudson River, smoke was still billowing from the area where the World Trade Towers once stood, President Bush vowed that there would be a ruthless manhunt to bring the terrorists to justice.

WASHINGTON - President Bush, shocked and solemn, vowed last night to track down and punish terrorists responsible for ''evil acts of despicable terror.''

Signaling his plans for retaliation, the president said, ''We will make no distinction between the terrorists who commited these acts and those who harbor them.''

After arriving from an underground nuclear command center in Nebraska, Bush said in a five-minute Oval Office address that the United States had been attacked because it is a beacon of freedom. But while the terrorists were able to destroy buildings and end ''thousands of lives,'' he said, they would never shake the foundations of democracy.


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''The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger,'' the president said. ''None of us will ever forget this day. Yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.''

Even as he vowed retaliation for the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, the president was in the extraordinary position of being at war with a faceless enemy, possibly a terrorist group not tied directly to any country. Unlike a war in which the enemy is obvious and targets bountiful, Bush's options in this case may be limited unless the US government can clearly identify the responsible group and destroy it.

While suspicions centered on Middle Eastern groups, there was no certified claim of responsibility. One of Bush's first moves will be to try to gather a global alliance to find the terrorists and attack them, similar to the way his father waged the Gulf War, some analysts said.

The attacks signaled a turn in Bush's presidency that immediately tested his capabilities as a leader and healer. Like the elder President Bush, who once commented that he hadn't been ''tested by fire'' until the Gulf War, Bush was thrust into a crisis that is bound to define his presidency.

Reprising a refrain used by his father in the Gulf War, Bush solemnly declared, ''Terrorism against our nation will not stand.''

The horrifying morning of death and destruction occurred as Bush was preparing to speak to elementary school pupils in Florida.

''Today we've had a national tragedy. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country,'' Bush said at 9:30 a.m. to the stunned gathering of children, parents, and teachers at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla.

Bush then flew amid high security for a brief stop at a Louisiana military base before going on to Offutt Air Force Base, the headquarters of the US Strategic Command and the control site for nuclear weapons. The president returned to Washington shortly before 7 p.m. last night and was scheduled to deliver a televised address to the nation.

In Nebraska, Bush talked via secure communications links with his top advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in an underground facility on the White House grounds.

Finding those responsible will be a challenge. The direct link to the attacks, the hijackers, presumably were killed in the attacks. Now a trail must be established to their partners in the worst crime in US history.

''We are likely not dealing with a state-sponsored group,'' said counterterrorism specialist William Banks of Syracuse University. ''When you are dealing with a sovereign state, you have laws of war and diplomacy and expectations that define the parameters of what is permissible and what is not. It is a very dicey thing to strike back at a nonstate actor.''

In 1998, when the United States responded to the bombings of US embassies in Africa, the mission ended in a failure to catch the alleged leader of the terrorist ring or to stop its activities. In that case, the target was Osama bin Laden, who also is a top suspect in yesterday's attacks.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican who has long warned about bin Laden, said yesterday on CNN that US intelligence had intercepted communications in which bin Laden was informed that two targets had been destroyed.

At about 6 p.m. yesterday, when blasts rocked the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, initial reports suggested that the United States might be striking against that country, which has harbored bin Laden.

But US Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld denied the attack, saying that ''in no way is the United States government connected to those explosions.''

Instead, the bombing in Kabul appeared to be part of that country's civil war.

Whatever Bush determines about the perpetrator of yesterday's assaults, the success or failure of his response is also likely to spell the success or failure of his presidency.

The attacks also raised serious questions about what is called homeland defense.

So far, Bush's focus on defending the United States from within has been on developing a space-based antimissile system. But that system almost certainly would have been useless against the hijacked commercial airliners involved in yesterday's assault.

The best defense against such an assault is solid intelligence, but terrorists have apparently learned from prior investigations how to keep their plotting secret and their conversations private.

One possible result of the attacks is some restraint on the civil liberties that many Americans take for granted, with much tougher security searches at airports and looser constraints on police investigative methods. Some specialists are already calling for an end to separation between the military and domestic law enforcement.

Questions will immediately be asked about why the CIA failed to issue warnings about an attack. For years, analysts have warned that this country was vulnerable to attacks from within.

Just last December, a congressional advisory panel on terrorism issued a report that received little notice but which predicted that a major attack was imminent.

''We are impelled by the stark realization that a terrorist attack on some level inside our borders is inevitable and the United States must be ready,'' the report said. The panel called for a national strategy to address all forms of domestic terrorism while not circumventing civil liberties.

Anthony Lake, national security adviser to President Clinton, said the attacks should be a wake-up call. ''I hope everybody recognizes we are at war with terrorists,'' said Lake, who predicted horrific terrorist attacks in his book, ''Six Nightmares: Real Threats in a Dangerous World and How America Can Meet Them.'' Lake said that Bush must first identify the group behind the attack, adding that ''this fits the MO of Osama bin Laden.''

After landing at Barksdale Air Force base near Shreveport, La., Bush told reporters: ''Freedom has been attacked but freedom will be defended.''

He said that he talked aboard Air Force One with leaders around the world and assured them that US forces are on the highest state of alert. ''Make no mistake,'' he said. ''The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.''

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 9/12/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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