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America's Chaotic Road to War

After Bush's statement at Booker Elementary School, his motorcade raced back to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. As Bush boarded Air Force One, a Secret Service agent, showing a trace of nervousness, said, "Mr. President, we need you to get seated as soon as possible."

The plane accelerated down the runway and then almost stood on its tail as it climbed rapidly out of the airport. It was 9:55 a.m.

Ten Days in September:
A Multimedia Presentation

At 9:30 a.m., President Bush spoke publicly about the unfolding events. "Terrorism against our nation will not stand," he said. (AP Photo)

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___ Post Series ___
Ten Days in September

Part 1: America's Chaotic Road to War (The Washington Post, Jan 27, 2002)
Part 2: 'We Will Rally the World' (The Washington Post, Jan 28, 2002)
Part 3: Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges (The Washington Post, Jan 29, 2002)
Part 4: A Pivotal Day of Grief and Anger (The Washington Post, Jan 30, 2002)
Part 5: At Camp David, Advise and Dissent (The Washington Post, Jan 31, 2002)
Part 6: Combating Terrorism: 'It Starts Today' (The Washington Post, Feb 1, 2002)
Part 7: A Presidency Defined in One Speech (The Washington Post, Feb 2, 2002)
Part 8: Bush Awaits History's Judgment (The Washington Post, Feb 3, 2002)

Post Exclusive:
Excerpts from a Washington Post interview with President George W. Bush on the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Read the Transcript

Post reporter Bob Woodward answered readers' questions and discussed the "10 Days in September" series.
Read the Transcript

_____ From Sept. 11 _____

Photo Galleries:
The Day in Photos

Video Features:
Flash: Fall of the Twin Towers
Tower 1: Attack | Collapse
Tower 2: Attack | Collapse
Attack on the Pentagon
President Bush's Address
Full List of Audio/Video

Live Online Discussions:
Robert Kaiser, Post Associate Editor
Jim Walsh, terrorism expert
Steve Mufson, Post Staff Writer
John Steinbruner, international security expert
Full List of Discussions

News Graphics:
Attack on the Pentagon
Animated Flight Paths of Hijacked Planes
Full archive of graphics, maps and images searchable by topic.

President Bush speaks for the first time after the attack
President Bush's second remarks
President Bush addresses the nation from the Oval Office
Attorney General John Ashcroft
Full List of Transcripts

Special Report:
America at War: Full coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and retaliation, and the ongoing war on terrorism.

___ About This Series ___

This series is based on interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and many other key officials inside the administration and out. The interviews were supplemented by notes of National Security Council meetings made available to The Washington Post, along with notes taken by several participants.

This account is inevitably incomplete. The president, the White House staff and senior Cabinet officers responded in detail to questions. Some matters they refused to discuss, citing national security and a desire to protect the confidentiality of internal deliberations.

___ Correction ___

In some editions, a Jan. 27 article on the events of Sept. 11 incorrectly described the flight path of the American Airlines jet that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon. Flight 77 at one point appeared headed toward the White House, but it changed course before it reached the Potomac River.

9:55 a.m.

The Vice President in the Bunker: 'Should We Engage?' 'Yes.'

Once airborne, Bush spoke again to Cheney, who said the combat air patrol needed rules of engagement if pilots encountered an aircraft that might be under the control of hijackers. Cheney recommended that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any such civilian airliners-as momentous a decision as the president was asked to make in those first hours. "I said, 'You bet,'" Bush recalled. "We had a little discussion, but not much."

Louisiana Detour: Advised not to return to Washington, Bush confers with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card, Jr. on Air Force One. (By Eric Draper - The White House)
Bush then talked to Rumsfeld to clarify the procedures military pilots should follow in trying to force an unresponsive plane to the ground before opening fire on it. First, pilots would seek to make radio contact with the other plane and tell the pilot to land at a specific location. If that failed, the pilots were to use visual signals. These included having the fighters fly in front of the other plane.

If the plane continued heading toward what was seen as a significant target with apparently hostile intent, the U.S. pilot would have the authority to shoot it down. With Bush's approval, Rumsfeld passed the order down the chain of command.

In the White House bunker, a military aide approached the vice president.

"There is a plane 80 miles out," he said. "There is a fighter in the area. Should we engage?"

"Yes," Cheney replied without hesitation.

Around the vice president, Rice, deputy White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, tensed as the military aide repeated the question, this time with even more urgency. The plane was now 60 miles out. "Should we engage?" Cheney was asked.

"Yes," he replied again.

As the plane came closer, the aide repeated the question. Does the order still stand?

"Of course it does," Cheney snapped.

The vice president said later that it had seemed "painful, but nonetheless clear-cut. And I didn't agonize over it."

It was, "obviously, a very significant action," Cheney said in an interview. "You're asking American pilots to fire on a commercial airliner full of civilians. On the other hand, you had directly in front of me what had happened to the World Trade Center, and a clear understanding that once the plane was hijacked, it was a weapon."

Within minutes, there was a report that a plane had crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania-what turned out to be United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 that had been hijacked after leaving Newark International Airport. Many of those in the PEOC feared that Cheney's order had brought down a civilian aircraft. Rice demanded that someone check with the Pentagon.

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