'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 11
Guests: Frank Silecchia, Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? For the first time, the weather bespeaks the sadness, Tuesday, September 11, 2007.
Having the memorial cake of 9/11 and eating it too. The president says little, keeps politics and Iraq out of it. But lets it leak that he will withdraw the 30,000 troops added in the surge by next June.
And the Republican who would succeed him on a platform of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 speaks at the memorial, though all the presidential candidates recuse themselves.
Then Rudy Giuliani shuts down his web site saying this is no day for politics.
Though every day is a day to sell the war, but at the conclusion of the Petraeus hearings, to find no takers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Now where is this going? We've got too many disconnects here, general. Way too many disconnects.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Americans want to see light at the end of the tunnel.
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I can't give you any time lines, dates, or guarantees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As we gave those who volunteered six years ago no guarantees, we mourn the dead and treat the disabled first responders.
And what of those who weren't fire, police paramedic? What of construction workers who clawed at the pile with their bare hands in hopes of saving just one life and later of recovering one part. Where is our guarantee to them?
The man who discovered the cross, who worked here with nothing more than a wet bandana over his mouth and nose, has now lost 50 percent of his ability to breathe. What are we doing for him? He'll join us.
And how did we get from the nightmare of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, to a different nightmare of Tuesday, September 11, 2007? Tom Brokaw and the history we have watched and the history we have made.
And the scorecard. Where are those who brought us here? And what became of the fallacies and the fantastics they told us were truths?
All that and more now on "Countdown."
(on camera): Good evening from Ground Zero. It is not truly an eclipse. It does not darken our lives evenly. It is not truly a cloud bank. It does not obscure the sun from all of us all of the day. Perhaps it is a fog through which we can break, past which we can push, but which is at best always visible in the near distance and pushing back. It is, of course, in our fifth story on the "Countdown," 9/11, the sixth anniversary, the first on the same day of the week, Tuesday, the first at the site of the World Trade Center literally enveloped in fog and in rain. The meaning for the victims, the survivors, the sick, and the country ahead.
Why President Bush did not speak at length on the anniversary but arranged to leak out news that 30,000 troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by next June after 30,000 more had been sent there.
Why Rudy Giuliani did speak and at the formal memorial but then shuttered the web site saying this is not a day for politics.
The memorial itself, relatives of the victims and first responders marking the moments exactly six years ago when hijacked planes were crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center here in lower Manhattan.
But we begin with that which apparently abides all days, somber or otherwise, the selling of the war in Iraq, day two of the atrociously suspiciously timed Petraeus hearings on Capitol Hill. The U.S. commander in Iraq repeating his plan to reduce the presence in Iraq gradually by some 30,000 forces, bringing them back down to where they were before the surge by next summer.
And then there is the president and that troop withdrawal. The analogy comes to mind of a burglar who steals the $100 out of your wallet then announces later he's giving you a gift of $100. Mr. Bush announcing this afternoon that now he has heard the general's recommendations of a drawdown by next summer, he claims for the first time, he plans to adopt it, announcing it in a prime time address to the nation coming Thursday night.
The entire charade is about as transparent as the general's heralding of the departure of one Marine unit from Iraq by the end of the month. That was already scheduled to be coming home.
PETRAEUS: As I mentioned, the Marine unit, 2000-plus, will be coming out this month and will then draw down one quarter of our ground combat brigades and two additional Marine battalions.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: General, point of clarification - excuse me. Was that force, they were scheduled to come out anyway, right?
PETRAEUS: Sir, they were scheduled to come out but I could have easily requested an extension of them.
BIDEN: You could have...
PETRAEUS: In fact, we were - I considered that. We did request an extension earlier. And that was granted. And, in fact, so we are now...
BIDEN: Excuse me again. You extended them to 15 months?
PETRAEUS: No, sir. This is a MEU - a float MEU, came ashore a couple months ago. Was extended on the ground just to continue the work. They're working north of Fallujah cleaning up a pocket of al Qaeda. Allow the Iraqi army to go in there and to replace them in that area. And they will now go home without replacement. The key is without replacement, actually. The MEU is scheduled to rotate out. And that was going to happen. But we're not asking for the Central Command Strategic Reserve again. That's the point.
BIDEN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: So how do you hype the departure of a Marine unit that was already coming home anyway? The same way, perhaps, you try to claim the GAO skeptical assessment of where things stand in Iraq would have been far more positive had the folks at the General Accounting Office collected five more weeks of data.
PETRAEUS: If I could just make one comment about the GAO report. Because one of the reasons for difference, frankly, is they did have an earlier data cutoff. It's five weeks prior to our data cutoff, which runs until this past Friday. And the trends that have developed, in fact, have been, in many respects, confirmed by the data since that time. In some cases they were earlier than that cutoff.
BIDEN: You're saying the five-week trends, the five-week difference confirms your data being correct. Is that what you're saying?
PET: What I'm saying, Mr. Chairman, is that the additional five weeks of data - their data is our data. I mean, everyone generally uses the same data base. And they just, because of the requirement to submit their report, to get back here and to write it and so forth. They had a data cutoff that was about five weeks before the data that I just showed you. And that does have quite a significant difference because, again, the trend of a 12-week trend, the final five weeks have been pretty important. In some cases, we think the data cutoff may have been even earlier in their particular report.
BIDEN: Again, I don't want to get into an argument about that. But look at your own chart, there have been at least four other occasions where there have been significant decreases in violence over a three-month period and then it shot back up. Five weeks in Iraq is a moment, as you know better than I do, General.
OLBERMANN: The GAO, of course, the Government Accountability Office. And too bad the administration did not spend any time ginning up numbers on whether the surge in Iraq, the escalation of the war, he claims, is the central battlefront in the war on terrorism making this country any safer?
SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?
PET: Sir, I believe that this is, indeed, the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.
WARNER: Does that make America safer?
PET: Sir, I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind. What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational force, Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps the general's diplomatic counterpart at the witness table, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, used to serve at the embassy in Pakistan, has sorted out in his mind of prioritizing the threat of al Qaeda or perhaps not.
CROCKER: The presence of al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area is a major challenge to us. And I...
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: How concerned are you about al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan?
CROCKER: We're all - we're all quite concerned.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Which is more important? To defeating al Qaeda, the situation in Pakistan or the situation in Iraq, Ambassador?
CROCK: I would say just one...
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: That is surely within your expertise.
CROCK: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: I mean, you've been the ambassador to one and the ambassador to the other.
CROCK: Yes, sir, which is why I'm addressing this. The challenges in confronting al Qaeda in the Pak-Afghan border area are immense and complicated. I did not feel, from my perspective as ambassador to Pakistan, that the focus, the resources, the people needed to deal with that situation weren't available or weren't there because of Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: What's more important though, to fighting al Qaeda, the situation in Pakistan or the situation in Iraq?
CROCKER: Senator, in my view, fighting al Qaeda is what's important. Whatever front they're on. Fighting al Qaeda in Pakistan is critically important to us.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: But, Ambassador, surely...
CROCKER: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq is critically important to us.
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: Surely you have to have priorities. Some are more important than others.
OLBERMANN: Our priority now to bring in Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Richard, thanks for your time tonight. Good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: After all this time having been told let's just wait until we hear from the general, from General Petraeus, he had literally not finished speaking today and the president actually says, in effect, we heard from General Petraeus, everything is going well. I'll do what he says. That was the entirety of the debate?
WOLFFE: Yes, it was, actually. You know, if I didn't know better I'd say the president was intent on staying the course. Only they don't use that phrase anymore.
Look, he's the decider as we all know. And he decided a long time ago that this is what he wanted to do. And General Petraeus may like to think he is shaping the policy and the president may say that. But you only have to look at the sad experience of General Casey, Petraeus' predecessor, to figure out that when the president doesn't like what he hears from his generals, he kicks them out.
OLBERMANN: So at the end of two long days of testimony during which we learned that next summer, after five and a half years of war, we'll be in the exact same place we had been after four years of war. Is the overriding lesson that should be taken away from this is that the president intends to leave the hard decisions about getting the U.S. out of Iraq to his successor?
WOLFFE: Yeah, absolutely. Senior officials have told me that is clearly their strategy. They want to get this in a position where they can hand it on in some shape to the next president, whoever that is. Frankly, they think it's more likely to be Democrat than Republican.
But, yes, this is - this is all about passing it on. Now the president would like to think that the hard decision is staying put. The easy decision is to leave. But he is so invested in this war that he - it's really impossible for him to take an independent view.
OLBERMANN: But as for these withdrawals that will eventually get us back to the pre-surge levels, the 30,000 out after 30,000 more in, the Joint Chiefs of staff, the chairman, General Pace was warning last month that military is not going to be able to maintain the current troop levels beyond next April. So instead of this extraordinary effort to present progress on the ground, as Petraeus claimed this week, might the accurate assessment be that the administration has to bring the forces home because the military is broken anyway?
WOLFFE: Well, let's take them at their word. And I hate to sound like Mr. Spock here. But that position isn't logical, captain. What you have is a surge, they say, is working triumphantly well and, therefore, the troops can come home. Actually, if the surge is working, the surge should continue. Because General Petraeus has actually got a strategy that is just in Anbar Province and Baghdad. It doesn't deal with the south or north. Given that politics haven't improved in Iraq, the security situation is still fragile, those troops should stay. Of course, they are coming home because it's unsustainable.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, Richard, the timing of all this, Senator Obama of Illinois, a candidate himself, was not alone in questioning that timing. He said - let me read the quote exactly. "I think we should not have had this discussion on 9/11, 9/10 or 9/9 because I think it perpetuates the notion that the Iraq situation had something to do with the attacks on 9/11."
Given that this is not, yes, anyway, any other day in this country, is anybody in the administration or Capitol Hill truly insistent, truly believing this was all was an accident of scheduling?
WOLFFE: Well, they will claim so. But it says a lot about the politics right now and the politics as this administration constructed them. The people are so suspicious. Look at that first September after 9/11. What happened? The administration rolled out its pre-Iraq policy. Having the debate in Congress, trying to put pressure on Democrats and line things up for the midterm elections in 2002. They poisoned the atmosphere. And that's why those suspicions are lingering with us with now. It's no way to build national support for a war and the president has got this tremendous blowback right now.
OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine. As always, sir, thanks for joining us.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: More politics amid the claim that this is not about politics. Rudy Giuliani, alone among the presidential hopefuls, speaks out at the memorial here, yet closes down the campaign web site today because this is not a day for politics.
And six years later, we don't know if 9/11 is more like the Fourth of July or Halloween. Tom Brokaw joins us here. How did we get from that grim September Tuesday to this one?
You're watching "Countdown" from Ground Zero on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: You can argue that if any politician has a right to speak at the memorial today, I was Rudy Giuliani. What happens when he closes the campaign web site insisting this is not a day for politics? Having it both ways on 9/11 and the increasing desperate plight of those that didn't have to be here six years ago tonight but who volunteered and found no part of the government willing to help them and to soothe their ruined health ahead on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: In another context it would be a beautiful image, the eternal beams of light shooting up from lower Manhattan on this, the sixth anniversary of 9/11. It cannot be a beautiful image in the context.
A year ago this evening the president of the United States used the occasion of the fifth anniversary to do what he's done on every day of the last five years of his presidency, sell the war.
But in our fourth story on the "Countdown," today the president did not give a speech and his critics owe him thanks for that.
The many Democratic presidential candidates, even one that was a sitting Senator representing this state six years ago tonight, made no public comments, only issuing written statements. There was a video statement from Senator Clinton.
Yet, over the protests, and even of the first responders, families of the victims, one candidate inserted himself as center stage of the most prominent and most solemn of the commemorations. Rudolph Giuliani, who insisted he retain the right to read aloud the names of the victims here, even though all around him in the political landscape were recusing himself on the premise that he lost many friends here.
It cannot be because of the breadth and length of his campaign for the Republican nomination and perhaps the White House sits on the most hallowed ground of the events on that day six years ago, a day during which Giuliani was largely seen and portrayed himself as a hero. But a day and time during which, with hindsight and revelation and perspective, his legacy seems mixed and perhaps even that is generous.
Giuliani is much criticized for exploiting his roll and perhaps endangering the life and health of first responders and of having not conducted any high-rise evacuation or counterterror drill in this country, even though his tenure began at the Trade Center.
In a bazaar twist, Giuliani's campaign web site was closed today. The candidate declaring this was no day for politics.
"Newsweek's" senior editor Jonathan Alter joins us now with analysis. He covered several of Mr. Giuliani's visits to Ground Zero, including the very first ones after the attacks.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: He's going to get a difference of opinion on whether his participation in the memorial here made it a political day. But why underscore that issue by shuttering the web site? Would he have gotten less flack if he left the web site running and said, no, I'm not being political?
ALTER: He would have gotten less flack maybe from us, although we probably would have hit him for just appearing in the first place.
Look, he had a choice. He could either really make it a nonpolitical day and stand down and let a firefighter or somebody who was on the pile, a rescue worker substitute for him. Or he could do what he has done ever since 9/11 and that is to exploit it politically. And he chose the latter.
I was very complimentary of Mayor Giuliani in my - in the time I spent with him in the weeks after 9/11. I thought he did a terrific job of rallying this city. But I feel like kind of eating my words a little bit that I wrote in that period because in the years since, he has shamelessly exploited 9/11 for his own political and financial gain. He has made literally millions of dollars off of 9/11 and in consulting and speaking and trading on his reputation from that day.
And now he's running for president on it, running to be essentially president of this national tragedy that we all suffered. And in doing so, I think that he's really doing a disservice to many of his friends and our friends who perished on that day.
OLBERMANN: Here in New York, Jon, many firefighters, victims' families blame him for not preparing the city after that first attack in 1993. Those missteps have been enumerated here. We don't have to quote them chapter and verse. One firefighter accuses him of - the quote was, "Running for president on the back of my dead son." Does any of that criticism leap across the Hudson? Has it made any impression on the rest of the country or is he still seen as he portrayed himself?
ALTER: So far, no. There is this weird paradox where people in New York really don't think he's temperamentally suited for the American presidency based on their experience. And almost, to a person, they would prefer Bloomberg, say, you know, in high office to Giuliani just because everything that New York bent through with him.
But on the other side of the Hudson, this is working tremendously well for him throughout the country in the Republican Party. And he has a very decent shot of getting that nomination.
So for the mixed record of Rudy Giuliani to penetrate for the criticism of firefighters and those who have been - who were not properly masked on the pile in the weeks after 9/11 and now have a lot of serious health problems, you can make a case that did not happen at the Pentagon because the people in charge there were insistent that the workers be protected. Giuliani did not do that. So you've got workers, firefighters and a number of other people who are very much against him.
The question is can they get their message out? And the only way they can is if Mitt Romney or somebody else decides to turn it into a negative ad against Giuliani. The media alone will not be able to convey that message. It will have to be introduced directly into the political bloodstream by one of his opponents, either in the primaries or the general election.
OLBERMANN: And we'll be talking to one of those victims of the health crisis that followed 9/11 later in the hour.
I want to give you a quote from the mayor during the last Republican debate last week. He said, "The reality is I'm not running on what I did on September 11th." You've seen the man close up. Can you explain that reasoning since he, as you said, never passed up the chance to mention it? Does he believe that or is he simply saying that?
ALTER: I think, in his heart, he believes he is also running on his record as mayor. And there were some very good things he got accomplished as mayor. So in his own mind, he's not.
But if you listen to the tenor of his stump speech, if you watch him closely, clearly this is the case he is making to the American people. And it extends from that to essentially the politics of fear. In other words, if there is another attack between now and the election, Rudy Giuliani has a very good chance of being our next president. Because he's positioned himself as the candidate who can protect us from terrorists. And that is essentially running on 9/11.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter, senior editor at "Newsweek" and, of course, an MSNBC political analyst. As always, great. Thanks for being with us tonight.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Today at the reading of the names of the dead here, a new name, a new victim added six years later.
And, please, ask for whom the bell tolls. Does it not toll for everyone? The construction worker who found the cross finds himself without any kind of medical help, the kind he desperately needs. He will join us here on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: For some, this sixth anniversary is a day for reflection and philosophy and, for others, a day of political opportunity and, for others still, a much more practical matter, another day fighting for another breath.
And how indeed did we get here? The history in the making, as assessed by Tom Brokaw.
What happened to all those who profited from or took advantage of six years ago today?
What happened to those men and women who said no matter the risks, we will try to rescue the injured and recover the dead?
The man who discovered the World Trade Center cross now lives without insurance in a trailer, parked at a friend's home. He'll join us when "Countdown" continues from Ground Zero.
OLBERMANN: There's not just 9/11 the day, but also the idea of it. Even with the advantage of retrospect, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly when its clarity was lost. But some culprits are clear; politics butted close to and overlapped with each successive anniversary. And the deterioration of a genuine feeling of national unity owes in almost direct proportion to the systemic, often intentional, polarization of this country.
Our third story on the Countdown, there is profound sadness on what the attacks brought that day and profound frustration and confusion about what has happened to the country in the wake. Today, the sixth anniversary memorials in New York, family members descending to Ground Zero as construction was stopped for the day. The actually ceremony was, for the first time, moved to a nearby park.
The reading of the name of the victims increasing by one, for a woman who died five months after the attacks from lung disease, blamed on the dust she inhaled, Felicia Dunn-Jones. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs, both offered brief speeches at the Pentagon commemoration and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, spoke at the ceremony on a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
And so it is a great pleasure to welcome NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw. Great thanks for coming down tonight.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Is it oversimplifying this to say that we got the post 9/11 America that we have now because of the war in Iraq?
BROKAW: I think that had something to do with it. I think that there was a failure on both parties. I think there was especially a failure on the part of the president to reach across party lines and to say to the country as well, we're in a war. It's a war being fought by young volunteers and families, most from working class backgrounds. But we all have a part in it, and I'm going to ask you for some sacrifices here, however he wanted to frame the sacrifices, an extra gasoline tax or something he could have done that would make the country feel connected to the war effort in the very beginning.
But, in fact, in the world in which we now live, and the political arena, especially, we go to respective corners very quickly and tend to stay there.
OLBERMANN: Did we go into those political corners - when - is there a way to look at it in recent history and say, this is the moment when we blurred the commemoration of this event and the political opportunities that were presented by it?
BROKAW: Was there a particular moment? I think it was inevitable once the machine started gearing up for the Iraq war. Because it was very divided opinion about that. There was no great clarity at the time about how necessary it was on the part of a lot of people. And then, of course, once there were no weapons of mass destruction and once the veil began to fall away, as it were, about the reasons for going there, I think the country was then instantly polarized.
And there was, it seems to me, on the part of both parties, frankly, not just the president, but on the part of the Democrats as well, a failure to find a way to say, hey, wait a minute. We have to work together to send a signal to the president, saying we disagree on the war. But there are some things we can be unified on. We're here to help. If you reject us, then let the country know that.
OLBERMANN: We immediately latched, six years ago, onto comparisons between the events that happened here and in Washington and in Pennsylvania to Pearl Harbor. You've done such work and such great work regarding that greatest generation and the Second World War. The comparison doesn't seem to have held up. Would that generation have gotten that same sort of ambiguity if what followed Pearl Harbor had not been the clarity of the Second World War, but had instead been something like this amorphous war on terror?
BROKAW: Well, the difference of magnitude is so great. I mean, Germany was already eating up Europe. The Japanese imperialistically were moving all the way through and across Asia. The whole world was engaged in a war. And Germany had declared war on us. It was a state war. Japan attacked us. Germany and the Axis declared war on us as well. The entire globe was up for play in a way that this was not.
This was a - and people won't like to hear this; this was a brilliant tactical move on the part of al Qaeda and the way that they attacked us. But we were not dealing with front lines in a state, in some fashion, and we still don't know for sure the depth and the magnitude and the reach of al Qaeda around the world. We know that we're fighting them now in Iraq. But what we still don't know is how long this Islamic rage will go on and how deep it is.
OLBERMANN: Brilliant, obviously, in the sense of the execution of evil.
BROKAW: That's the point. That's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about empirically. You talk to the military people, they say that as well. They say, look, they pulled something off. It exceeded well beyond their expectations, at this point. It was a cruel and inhumane act, using innocent civilians to attack other innocent civilians in this country. But for what they wanted to do, they did it very well. But we don't know whether it goes beyond that.
OLBERMANN: Is the political environment, with the president operating and still doing what he wants at such low poll numbers, as a consequence in some respects of what he brought into this equation after 9/11, specifically Iraq - is that the reason we're seeing such early interest in the race to succeed him?
BROKAW: I think it is in large part. Look, the war in Iraq, this attack, Islamic rage, which we don't still completely understand, these are the great defining events of our time. And the president's term will run out. He can't run again. A lot of people say we can change the direction of this country, and they want to do that.
I don't - I think it was appropriate for Rudy Giuliani to be here today. It's all about tone, however, and proportion. I think that's the real issue. He was the mayor. It is what put him on the political stage. And my own guess is that if any of those other candidates were the mayor, they would have been here today as well.
OLBERMANN: I suspect you're right. We normally, by this point in the news hour, will have done something to leaven the mood, even of a day like. And we're fortunate to have you here under these circumstances. You're a movie producer now?
BROKAW: I am a movie producer. One of my daughters' great friends was a grand daughter of somebody you know about, the legendary Toots Shore here in New York. I grew up in South Dakota, but I knew about him. He was probably the best known New Yorker. He was a saloon keeper. His best friends were Sinatra, DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, in his joint. Earl Warren would come in and sit in one corner, and Frank Costello, the mobster, would be in the other corner.
And if you're looking for some relief about what life is like today, this is a documentary that I helped Christy Jacobson's (ph) grand daughter produce. And it's a wonderful, wonderful portrait of New York City at a different time. His life didn't end well. He was mobbed up, as they like to say. And he was a real character.
OLBERMANN: And it is, as we evoke so many memories of 2001, it is nice to evoke memories of what preceded it.
BROKAW: You could be in his restaurant - one night he walked in, he said the crum bum stay in place. I have friends coming in. They don't know they're all going to be here at the same time; DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
OLBERMANN: Would that we were sitting here talking about that for an hour instead.
OLBERMANN: Tom Brokaw and the Toots Shore documentary "Toots" opens in theaters on Friday. All the best.
BROKAW: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And great thanks for coming and joining us.
BROKAW: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Six years ago at this moment they were risking everything to help. Many of them have lost too much to imagine to that 9/11 dust cloud that still sweeps through their lives. Frank Silecchia, the construction worker who found the cross, joins us here.
And where are they now? Not just the painfully obvious question about that man, but of all the other figures, great and small, of 9/11. We will inventory them when this special edition of Countdown continues from Ground Zero.
OLBERMANN: Six years after the twin towers collapsed, leaving behind the cloud of debris and noxious fumes, from the pile, from the burning pile, many of the living victims of the tragedy, the ones who breathed in that toxic soup, are still waiting for help. Now, in our number two story on the Countdown, Congress is finally talking about looking to do something for all of them. Three Congressional representatives from New York introduced the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act today, which would provide health care to all affected people, 400,000 people lived and worked around ground zero after the disaster. Out of them only 3,000, all kids, have been thoroughly monitored.
But over half of the children had some kind of respiratory problem. About 40,000 people were involved in cleaning up the World Trade Center site. And out of 21,000 workers being monitored, 69 percent had breathing difficulties. Included among them was Frank Silecchia, who was a construction worker, spent months at the site, and found the emblematic cross that offered hope to so many working down there.
His story is an extraordinary one. You know about the cross. We would like you to meet the man, as he is joining us now. Frank, thanks for coming down. What happened to you at Ground Zero?
FRANK SILECCHIA, FORMER GROUND ZERO WORKER: With all the chemical compounds that come from crushing a building down, we inhaled it. And we were eating it. We lived in it 12 hours a day, seven days a week for ten months.
OLBERMANN: And your protection against it was what?
SILECCHIA: In the beginning, nothing. They didn't bring in respirators until at least three months later.
OLBERMANN: A handkerchief and water?
SILECCHIA: I started off with a bandana wet down and put across my face as my own protection. But it didn't hold much back. But this site didn't have a bird flying over it until February. And coal miners use canaries in the coal mines to test the air. So when they sent Christy Todd Whitman down here to check the air, I don't know where she was checking it. But this air was inhabitable.
OLBERMANN: What did you think then? Did you believe it when they said it was all right?
SILECCHIA: I knew that it wasn't going to be all right. But I still came anyway. Because this here represents our country. Our - how do I put it - it's an institution of our country.
SILECCHIA: And 3,000 lives - at that time it could have been 35,000, if it wasn't for the brave men and women of the civil service. But I worked diligently with fire department and the police department and the EMS workers to try and recover some of the people; 47 bodies is what I came up with. And that's -
OLBERMANN: Let me take you back to the idea of what the country represents. Did you expect, when you thought, well it's dangerous; I might be putting myself at risk here - did you expect they would take - somebody would be taking care of you, even though nobody ordered you down there, and you weren't fire department and you weren't police?
SILECCHIA: No, I - at that time I was unionized. I'm still a union member. And I thought that the benefits - I never expected the long term effect, you know? I came here. I was 110 percent. I left here, I was exhausted. So I took a month off. After the month of trying to go back to work, I found myself less exuberant, more fatigued, shortness of breath.
But I still went to work. I still tried. And then the companies used to cut me loose. And to the point where I said two years ago, that's it. I'm done. I can no longer compete in the field that I've been doing for 15 years.
OLBERMANN: Have we failed you as a nation? And everybody else who was here doing that job?
SILECCHIA: I won't go as far as failing me, because there still could be a chance of progress. You know, if they stop making this a political scene - it's all about politics here. It's all about money. You know? They forgot the human quality. You know, the people want to go in the pit to mourn their dead. They won't let them, because it's progress. You know, it's human emotion versus politics and finances.
OLBERMANN: And of all people to happen to, the man who found that cross. Does the cross still mean what it did for you then?
SILECCHIA: That cross represents faith. On that day these buildings came down, it crushed our faith. And it's not just for Christian or Catholic, it's for all faiths. A faith is a love, a love of our country. And if our forefathers - and I said I'd do this - I have to find it.
On our dollar bills and on our currency - if our forefathers can stand behind god, then we can too. That's what that cross represents to me. It's a symbol of healing, of hope, of comfort. And that's why I wanted to be a part of the memorial so badly. And Father Brian Jordan is working with me with the Port Authority and Silverstein and all the administrations to try and preserve it.
OLBERMANN: Frank Silecchia, I know what an effort a conversation is at this point. We thank you for making that effort for us and we wish you all the best.
SILECCHIA: Thank you very much for having me.
OLBERMANN: Thank you. Others who said much but did little of value on 9/11 and afterwards have fared far better. Where are they now? What rewards have they undeservedly reaped. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's nominees for Worst Person in the World, specifically limited tonight in term of the politics of the moment.
The bronze to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. After the arrest last week in Germany of three suspected terror plotters there, Mr. McConnell told senators yesterday that the new version of the FISA law, the one that eliminates those pesky warrants and judges and stuff, it's what allowed the U.S. to obtain the information that led to the arrests.
No, not so much. Another government official told the "New York Times" that the data on the suspect was actually obtained under the old version of the FISA law, complete with the warrants, and the judges and all those quaint constitutional protections.
The runner up, Brit Hume of Fox Noise. In a major shock, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker granted him, of all people, an exclusive interview after day one of the hearings yesterday. It began with Hume asking Petraeus for a synopsis of his testimony. Petraeus gave a 16-minute uninterrupted answer. Then they went to commercial. Then Hume asked Crocker to summarize his testimony. Crocker gave a 10-minute uninterrupted answer. Best of all, you never even saw the Marionette strings as much as vibrate when they made Hume's jaw and mouth move.
But our winner, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. He told Fixed News this morning that, quote, that unity we felt after September 11th, we have to find a way to get it back, because we have descended into terrible partisan political sniping. And what is Senator Lieberman's first steps towards finding that way back? He's going to attend tonight's so-called Freedom Concert, featuring Coulter-Geist, who just yesterday said that the Democrats want us to lose and that the media is, quote, treasonous. Featuring Ollie North, who said a year ago that electing a Democratic Congress meant, quote, nuclear weapons in the hands of fanatics.
Starring Newt Gingrich, who said that critics of the Bush administration are similar to, quote, those who enabled Hitler. And hosted by Sean Hannity, who last spring called Senate Majority Leader Reid a, quote, propaganda minister for our enemies.
A great start back towards unity, senator. Don't commune with the very people who wasted and manipulated that unity into the attempt to extinguish the media, one of the political parties and our freedom of speech. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: To this day, millions of Americans believe we invaded Iraq because of 9/11. A recent poll showed 33 percent still believe there was some interconnection between Saddam Hussein and the nightmares here and in Washington and in Pennsylvania. Iraq, of course, had nothing to do with 9/11, not then.
Six years later, that has changed. Iraq has distracted us from punishing those responsible for 9/11. If another 9/11 comes, our focus on Iraq will surely have been central to that next nightmare. How did we get here? What consequences have been paid by those who brought us here? Our number one story tonight, no one person is to blame. And only some of those who are even recognize it.
As we reported yesterday, former Secretary of State Powell tells "GQ Magazine" he is sorry he gave the world wrong information when he told the U.N. of the threat Iraq supposedly posed. He was not fired for having done so. He paid no price we know of, other than the admitted blot on his record and whatever toll his conscience has exacted.
Unrepentant, however, is former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also talking to "GQ Magazine," saying does he not lose sleep over the war, declining to apologize for it, despite pushing for it, despite using 9/11, the day after 9/11, for his own benefit, to pursue his goal of bombing Iraq. Rumsfeld, not fired for his performance but for politics, now in private life, reportedly trying to see how much he must tell to make for a profitable tell all.
Mr. Rumsfeld was served and the nation ill served by a flock of Pentagon hawks bent on war, seeing 9/11 not as an obligation to answer, but as an opportunity to exploit. Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who also tied Iraq to 9/11, who ridiculed warnings that we needed more troops to invade Iraq, not fired, named head of the World Bank until resigning in disgrace.
Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Pearl, not fired, forced to retire not for pushing the war, but for having allegedly profited off of it. Undersecretary Douglas Feith, who cherry picked anti-Iraq intel, not fired, despite a Pentagon report later refuting Feith's claim that Iraq and al Qaeda were in league.
And as you go higher in the administration, your reward for being wrong about this war grows proportionately. Deputy national security advisor Stephen Hadley, responsible for the 16-word lie about Iraqi pursuit of yellow cake from Niger, not fired, promoted to national security advisor. His boss, Condoleezza Rice, who threatened us with mushroom clouds, not fired, promoted to America's chief diplomat, secretary of state.
CIA Director George Tenant, who called the case for war a slam dunk, not fired, given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And within the president's circle of advisors, marketing the war, Andy Card and Dan Bartlett, neither fired. Card retired. Bartlett promoted, then retired. Karen Hughes, not fired, promoted, stunningly to the task of winning hearts and minds in the Muslim world.
Let us go higher still, Vice President Dick Cheney, creator of his cherry picking intel apparatus, gave its poisoned fruit to the media and then fed the lie to us on national television, even after truth and shame rendered its mendaciousness manifest. He continues to do so this day. Not fired.
Cheney's aide Lewis Libby came closest of all to suffering genuine consequences, convicted of covering up Mr. Cheney's role in slamming the critics of the war. His consequences nullified at the very last minute, when the president commuted his prison sentence, ensuring that no one in his circle, least of all him, paid any price for selling us the lie of Iraq, for failing to punish the bombing of the USS Coal, for neglecting the warnings pre-9/11, for turning back at Tora Bora, for ultimately ensuring that while the rest of the world suffers painful deadly consequences for his actions, only he does not.
Only he and one other, Osama bin lade Laden, the mastermind of 9/11. His reach and recruiting all benefiting from Mr. Bush's war. His group's strength today at a six-year high; his Afghan allies, the Taliban, as NBC reported last night, also resurgent, planning the deaths of Americans just 25 miles from Kabul. All while bin Laden himself operates freely, unmolested, with his own media operation, thanks to a regional Pakistani truce, endorsed by Mr. Bush, in a region where Mr. Bush will no go, cannot go, even if he chose to, because he spent so much American blood and treasure in the desert of a nation that had neither means nor motive to threaten us, but that tempted Mr. Bush and those around him who wished to transform the middle, so much so that he forswore the vow he made standing here, literally atop New York's dead, that their killers would hear us soon.
Six years later, we still hear them, because now, finally, Iraq and 9/11 really are connected by him. And we suffer the consequences. That's Countdown. This has been the 1,595th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann from Ground Zero; good night and good luck.
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