New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani walks the streets immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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Rudy Giuliani Remembers 9/11

In one of the most bizarre moments on the 2016 campaign trail thus far, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani today suggested there had been no terrorist attacks in America prior to Barack Obama being elected president.

“Under those eight years, before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attack in the US,” said Giuliani in Youngstown, Ohio introducing Donald Trump. “They all started when Clinton and Obama came into office.”

Of course, America’s worst terrorist attack happened on September 11, 2001, during the George W. Bush presidency. Giuliani was mayor of New York at the time, and it propelled him into a presidential campaign in 2008.

From my book Front Row Seat at the Circus:

We now know, from the 9/11 Commission Report, thirty-six days before the terrorist attack, President George W. Bush received a Central Intelligence Agency briefing paper called “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.”

The brief warned of terrorism threats from bin Laden and his supporters: “Al-Qaeda members—including some who are U.S. citizens—have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks.”

The CIA memo pointed out bin Laden’s history of aggression during the Clinton presidency including the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the bombing of the USS Cole, which left seventeen American sailors dead. The brief also stated the CIA had not been able to corroborate the “sensational threat” that bin Laden planned to hijack a U.S. aircraft.

Thirty-six days later, a total of nineteen hijackers attacked America. Ten flew two commercial jets into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center in Manhattan—both 110-story towers crumbled to the ground in less than two hours. One jet with five hijackers crashed and blew a huge hole into the Pentagon in Washington, DC—the symbol of America’s military might. A third jet with four hijackers was set to target either the White House or U.S. Capitol but it was courageously brought down over rural Pennsylvania by the passengers on board.

Osama bin Laden, as he later publicly admitted, personally directed all nineteen hijackers. In the end, 2,973 innocent people were killed in a single morning, making it the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.

Despite the long-held view that bin Laden’s hatred of America started during the Gulf War in 1991, in a speech in 2004, he said his plans for the attack started shortly after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 during the Reagan administration:

“As I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children… So with these images and their like as their background, the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs.”

One thing is certain: bin Laden had left the American government plenty of clues through several administrations.

Despite a Tomahawk cruise missile attack by Clinton on bin Laden’s suspected training camps in Afghanistan in 1998, he had alluded capture or death until it was too late.

In the days following the September 11th attack Bush said about bin Laden, “I want him, I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West as I recall that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’”

Six years later, with wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq ongoing, the question on the minds of many voters was, “where is bin Laden?” The lack of an acceptable answer promised to be an issue in the upcoming 2008 campaign. 

Jim Heath interviews former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Jim Heath interviews former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani during his 2008 presidential campaign.

I was scheduled to interview former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in early April 2007 during the home opener of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans baseball game. Giuliani, a die-hard Yankees fan, was scheduled to throw out the first pitch.

At the time, he was leading in the South Carolina polls and had an impressive campaign team which included state treasurer Thomas Ravenel. Locally, he was backed by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes.

During the third inning, talking in the stands, our conversation turned serious. I told Giuliani that America got to know him on 9/11. In the middle of chaos and destruction, the mayor of the nation’s largest city was seen on television walking the streets, his head and shoulders covered with ash. Fearless of the press, he answered reporters’ questions with the little facts he had in an attempt to portray a sense of calm.

“Every day of my life I remember it, I remember parts of it every day of my life,” Giuliani said.

“Sometimes it’s the very sad parts, the very tragic parts. Sometimes it’s the very brave and unbelievably wonderful things people did and tremendous spirit they had. So it’s a mixture of very bad memories and very good memories. Seeing people twenty minutes before they died, seeing some of the horrible things that happened to people when things were falling off the building or people jumping off the building. I’ve learned I’m going to think of it every day of my life.”

As for bringing bin Laden—the person who claimed responsibility for directing the attack that wreaked so much havoc on his city—to justice, Giuliani said: “It’s also something I think about every day. I think it’s very, very important that in addition to everything else we’re doing on the war on terror, that we catch him. We need to crush al Qaeda because they were the ones responsible for it, but it really is important we don’t lose sight of the fact that we need to catch bin Laden and bring him to justice.” 

After years on the run, bin Laden was finally captured and “brought to justice” during Obama’s first term. Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State, despite Giuliani’s recent loss of memory.

About Jim Heath

Jim Heath is the author of the new best seller Front Row Seat at the Circus - One Journalist's Journey through Two Presidential Elections. The book is about Jim's experiences covering the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns - from South Carolina, the first southern primary state, to Ohio, the ultimate battleground state in presidential elections. A recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Television Political Journalism, Jim is also a two-time Emmy award winner with more than 15 years experience as both a main evening anchor and political reporter. A longtime advocate of social media, GQ Magazine listed Jim on their Top 5 political "Power List" and the Washington Post named him to their "Best Super Tuesday Twitter List." Jim's news career has taken him from Arizona to South Carolina to Ohio.

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