Dirty diapers were still in the bathroom; food sitting out on the kitchen counter; unopened mail on the table; a safe in the master bedroom stood open. Two recently-registered cars were in the driveway, a brand new PT Cruiser in the garage. The residents of 4224 Escondito Circle in the posh Prestancia community in Sarasota, Florida, had abandoned everything on August 30, 2001 and hurriedly fled in a white van.
Twelve days later, terrorists flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center.
The $600,000 home on Escondito Circle was owned by Esam Ghazzawi, a Saudi national and advisor to a high-level Saudi prince. Ghazzawi’s daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulazzi al-Hiijii and their small children, were the residents. Ghazzawi and al-Hiijii were already on the radar of the FBI and an agency which tracks funds being funneled to terrorists.
License plates automatically photographed by a mounted camera in the Prestancia gatehouse show that Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah were visitors to the home.
- Atta flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.
- Al-Shehhi flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower at 9:03.
- Jarrah was at the controls of United Airlines Flight 93 when passengers forced it down in Shanksville.
The FBI tied 11 other terrorists to the home.
Venice Municipal Airport sits 13.8 miles south of 4224 Escondito Circle. Atta, al-Shehhi and Jarrah all lived in Venice for most of 2001. Atta and al-Shehhi took flying lessons at Huffman Aviation at the airport. Jarrah obtained his pilot’s license from Florida Flight Training, a block away.
Emma E. Booker Elementary School is located at 2350 Dr. Martin Luther King Way in Sarasota.
It’s exactly 10 miles north of 4224 Escondito Circle.
As the Bush entourage gathered in front of Booker, a National Security Agency staffer informed him that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.
Bush entered the classroom just before 9:00 a.m.
As the Booker children were reading aloud The Pet Goat, al-Shehhi flew UA Flight 175 into the South Tower.
Chief of Staff Andrew Card immediately walked over to Bush and purposefully whispered directly into his ear:
“A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack.”
Bush mulled this dire and ominous information for 45 seconds and then, as Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces, he…
…calmly reached for his own copy of The Pet Goat and followed along with the children.
He had no idea what to do.
He had just been told that our country was actively under attack.
And he had no idea what to do.
Thirty-six days earlier, on August 6, 2001, the CIA had delivered a memo to the vacationing Bush in Crawford, Texas warning that Osama bin-Laden was determined to strike inside the US.
He was on day 26 of his 54-day vacation.
The 9/11 Commission found that Bush took no follow-up action at all in the 36 days between August 6 and September 11.
The unreleased daily briefings leading up to that August 6 memo have been seen in portions by journalists who say the earlier warnings were more dire and imminent and had been consistently given to Bush since the Spring of 2001.
Special agent Kenneth Williams of the Phoenix FBI office had sent an email to FBI headquarters in Quantico in July warning that bin Laden had been sending students to attend flight schools in the US. He advised interviewing flight school managers and Arab students.
His email — like the memo — was ignored.
I remember where I was.
I remember what I felt.
I remember a heart-broken county. I remember a unified country. I remember a swell of pride watching President Bush stand on the rubble with the megaphone. I remember the solidarity as we all tuned in to watch the prayer service at the National Cathedral, three days after the attacks. I remember the dean of the cathedral, a black minister, praying, and no one caring about the color of his skin. I remember a black pastor of a Methodist church in Houston reading scripture and no one saying he wasn’t “one of us.” I remember a Jewish rabbi reading the Hebrew lesson from Lamentations and no one saying “he killed Jesus.” I remember Iman Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America, praying, and no one saying he was a terrorist or his Quran “advocates the killing of Christians.”
I remember the physical frailties of Billy Graham and the humbleness and sincerity of his prayer.
I don’t remember him questioning the sincerity of the president’s faith, as his son would later do with President Obama.
I don’t remember liberals blaming Bush for the attack, as conservatives would do with President Obama exactly 11 years later when a diplomatic outpost in a foreign country would be attacked by terrorists who would kill 4 Americans, compared to the almost 3,000 Americans killed by terrorists this day.
I don’t remember liberals saying the 3,000 deaths resulted from Bush’s unprecedented number of vacation days or his failure to immediately return to Washington when presented with ominous news while on vacation.
I don’t remember liberals giving aid and comfort to the enemy by accusing Bush of being in cahoots with the enemy, as Trump is currently doing by accusing President Obama of being in cahoots with ISIS.
I don’t remember liberals giving aid and comfort to the enemy by lauding & applauding dangerous anti-American dictators, like Trump is currently doing with Putin.
I don’t remember liberals accusing Bush of giving a “stand down” order to those protecting our country, even though he did not immediately scramble fighter jets to escort remaining planes and did not immediately take us to DEFCON 4.
I don’t remember liberals accusing Bush of “killing 3,000 Americans” based on hindsight theories of how things might have been different had he immediately sprang into action rather than allowing the attacks to continue unimpeded while he read a fairy tale.
I don’t remember liberals exploiting the emotions of a grieving mother and parading her onto the stage of the Democratic National Convention in 2004 to tearfully call Bush a “murderer.”
I don’t remember liberals accusing Bush of secretly wanting our enemy to succeed, even though, out of all the places he could have been in a country that spans 2,800 miles from the Eastern Seaboard to the Golden Coast, he was only 10 miles from the terrorists’ probable planning-house on the very morning of the attacks;
Even though he was very near where three of the hijackers lived and had trained;
Even though he allowed a plane-load of Saudis to flee the country after all other flights were grounded;
Even though he held hands with and kissed-on-the-mouth the Saudi crown prince at the Crawford ranch seven months after 9/11;
Even though he effectively hid from public view the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission which — according to an interview conducted and published by the CEO of Trump’s campaign — linked Bush-family friend Saudi Prince Bandar to the 9/11 hijackers;
Even though he made 22 million emails from his administration disappear from a private server in violation of the Presidential Records Acts of 1978.
Liberals stood with Bush in spite of their disappointment over the Supreme Court stepping in, with no precedent, and shutting down a state’s recount, essentially appointing him to be president.
Liberals stood with Bush from the time he reached for The Pet Goat in Sarasota, through the time he stood on the rubble with the megaphone and hosted the prayer service in the National Cathedral and invaded Afghanistan to shut down the al-Qaeda training camps.
We only lost step with him when he took his eye off the ball, abandoned the legitimate mission and invaded a country that had no involvement whatsoever with 9/11;
When he launched Shock & Awe against an uninvolved country, obliterating homes and schools and roads and bridges and hospitals and churches;
When he slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children and noncombatant men, forever relinquishing our moral high-ground, creating new generations of aggrieved terrorists, preparing fertile ungoverned ground upon which they would grow and flourish.
May we all remember — on this 15th Anniversary of 9/11 — what happened when we put into our White House a person who projected superficial strength through masculine swagger and macho bluster but lacked the knowledge and experience to know what to do and the heart and will to learn.