Tales from the Trail

What were they thinking? 9/11 scare on the Potomac

It boggles the mind.

Why would the Coast Guard decide to conduct a training exercise on the Potomac River, a stone’s throw away from the Pentagon, where the president of the United States and others attended a memorial event, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks??? SEPT11/

The media, always on hyper-alert for anything terrorism related on the anniversary of Sept. 11, ran with reports of shots fired on the Potomac.

That unleashed never-far-from-the-surface fears of terrorism amid memories of that day 8 years ago when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and another into a field in Pennsylvania — shattering the country’s sense of security.

It turns out the Coast Guard was conducting a training exercise. “Somebody said ‘bang bang’ on the radio” and no shots were fired, Coast Guard Vice Admiral John Currier said, calling it a regular training exercise.

But still, what were they thinking?

The Coast Guard’s first line of defense over the incident was: “The best way that we in the Coast Guard can remember Sept. 11 and our security obligations to the nation is to be always ready and this requires constant training and exercise.”

Ridge says he was pushed to raise terror alert before election

The nation’s first Homeland Security secretary is airing some dirty laundry from the Bush administration: He says he was pushed to raise the terror alert level on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

The level was never raised but Tom Ridge reveals how threats of terrorism were used to influence voters in his upcoming book ”The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege … and How We Can Be Safe Again”.

According to the promotion material released by the book’s publisher, Ridge said the DHS was pressured to connect homeland security to the international “war on terror”. He also said he effectively thwarted a plan to raise the alert level before the 2004 election, which Bush won.

Obama talks Guantanamo with 9/11 and USS Cole families

USAWASHINGTON – President Barack Obama met with families of victims of the September 11 and USS Cole attacks to defend his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

Obama told about 40 family members in an at-times emotional discussion on Friday that his goal was to keep the country safe.

The prison for terrorism suspects is widely seen as a stain on the United States’ human rights record. Obama took action in his first week in office, ordering an end to controversial trials by military tribunals there.

Red team, blue team? Bush, Obama officials hold security drill

Officials from the Bush and Obama administrations crossed paths at the White House Tuesday to participate in a homeland security exercise.

BUSHThe scary hypothetical scenario was how the federal government should respond to a terrorist attack using improvised explosive devices on the transportation infrastructure and other economic targets in major U.S. cities.

They also looked at responses to other disasters like pandemic flu and hurricanes during briefings, including time spent in the White House basement “Situation Room” where  national security crises are handled.

Obama, McCain camps spar over bin Laden comment

binladen.jpgCHICAGO – Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign is attacking rival Barack Obama for saying that if al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is caught, the United States should avoid making him into a martyr.
Allies to McCain have suggested the comment shows the Democratic candidate opposes the death penalty for bin Laden — an interpretation the Obama campaign says is false.
The Illinois senator was asked on Wednesday how he would proceed if bin Laden were captured. He said he was not sure if bin Laden would be caught alive because of shoot-to-kill orders.
Concerning how to try the al Qaeda leader, Obama said it was important “to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he’s engaged in and not to make him into a martyr and to be sure that the United States government is abiding by the basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism.”
McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann seized on the word martyr.
“Now, the last time I checked the definition of martyr, it’s someone who dies for a cause or is killed for a cause and it seems to be that Sen. Obama is ruling out capital punishment for Osama bin Laden were he to be captured alive under U.S. jurisdiction,” he said.
The Obama campaign said that interpretation was wrong and noted Obama is on record saying he believed bin Laden “would qualify for the death penalty.”
When he spoke about bin Laden on Wednesday, Obama cited the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II as an example of how the United States “advanced a set of universal principles” in bringing to justice people who committed heinous acts.
After the Nuremberg proceedings, 10 top Nazi figures were hanged following the main trials and several dozen lower-lever figures were hanged following other trials.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage: http:www.reuters.com/globalcoverage/2008candidates

Photo credit: Reuters Afghanistan stringer (Bin Laden speaks at news conference in Afghanistan in 1998)