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Giuliani's Rhetoric on Terror Contrasts With His Record

On Sept. 12, 2001, then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani toured the World Trade Center site with then-Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the days after the Sept. 11 attack, Giuliani sought to keep terrorism in perspective, saying,
On Sept. 12, 2001, then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani toured the World Trade Center site with then-Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the days after the Sept. 11 attack, Giuliani sought to keep terrorism in perspective, saying, "America's not going to stop as a result of this." (By Robert F. Bukaty -- Associated Press)

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By Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007

As Rudolph W. Giuliani campaigns for president, he rarely misses a chance to warn about the threat from terrorists. "They hate you," he told a woman at an Atlanta college. They "want to kill us," he told guests at a Virginia luncheon.

The former New York City mayor exhorts America to fight back in what he calls the "terrorists' war on us" and accuses Democrats of reverting to their "denial" in the 1990s, when, he said, President Bill Clinton erred by treating terrorism as a law enforcement matter, not a war.

Democrats, he said in July, have "the same bad judgment they had in the 1990s. They don't see the threat. They don't accept the threat."

It is a powerful message coming from the man who won global acclaim for his calm and resolve after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But it is undercut by Giuliani's record as mayor and by his public statements about terrorism since the 1990s, which document an evolution in thinking that began with a mind-set similar to the one he criticizes today.

In presenting himself as the candidate most knowledgeable about terrorism, Giuliani stakes the same claim he used to build a successful consulting firm after leaving City Hall: that he is not only a strong leader in a crisis, but someone who was deeply engaged with the Islamic extremist threat long before planes hit the World Trade Center.

But for most of Giuliani's career as a Department of Justice official, prosecutor and New York's chief executive, terrorism was a narrow aspect of his broader crime-fighting agenda, which was dominated by drug dealers, white-collar criminals and the Mafia. Giuliani expressed confidence that Islamic extremism could be contained through vigorous investigation by law enforcement agencies and prosecution in the court system -- the same approach he now condemns.

His public warnings about the threat were infrequent. To the extent that he mentioned terrorism in his aborted run for the Senate in 2000, for example, it was to call for more spending on intelligence. Even in the weeks after Sept. 11, he framed the attacks in the language of crime, describing the hijackers as "insane murderers" and calling for restoration of the "rule of law."

As mayor, Giuliani made decisions that seemed to discount the gravity of the terrorist threat, such as placing his emergency command center at the World Trade Center a few years after the 1993 bombing attack there, against the wishes of top advisers. By his own account, it was after Sept. 11 that he started reading up on al-Qaeda, devouring a book that his then-girlfriend Judith Nathan bought for him.

As terrorist incidents occurred sporadically in the 1990s, Giuliani sought to keep them in perspective. He urged against publicizing terror drills, to avoid needlessly scaring New Yorkers. He resisted branding as terrorism smaller-scale acts of Islamic violence in the city.

In late 1999, as authorities scrambled to unravel a worldwide "millennium plot" and a top former FBI official advised people not to attend the New Year's Eve festivities in Times Square, Giuliani warned against overreacting. "I would urge people not to let the psychology of fear infect the way they act. Otherwise we have let the terrorists win without anybody striking a blow," he said.

Among those who have watched with interest as Giuliani takes up the antiterrorism mantle is Peter Gross, a New Jersey lawyer. Gross's son suffered brain damage when he was shot by a 69-year-old Palestinian man on top of the Empire State Building in 1997, an outburst that killed one and injured six.

Giuliani declined to label the shooting as terrorism, saying the gunman was just deranged, even though the shooter had a note declaring hatred for "Zionists" and their American allies and a wish to "strike at their own den in New York."


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