'We will not relent until justice is done'


NEW YORK - Capping a day of somber remembrance, President Bush implored Americans last night to recognize that the Sept. 11 attacks forced America to take on a new mission: "to rid the world of terror."

"We have made a sacred promise, to ourselves and to the world," Bush said in a televised address from Ellis Island in New York Harbor, a lighted Statue of Liberty and a billowing American flag forming his backdrop. "We will not relent until justice is done and our nation is secure. What our enemies have begun, we will finish."

For the president, the seven-minute speech was the final public event in a day when he joined Americans in mourning the horrific terrorist attacks of last year. Earlier, Bush traveled to the three places that were directly hit: the Pentagon, the hamlet of Shanksville, Pa., and the eerily hollowed-out site of the World Trade Center.

And while much of the day was subdued and reflective, it was clear from his evening speech that Bush also sought to express the bristling anger and resolve that he has often projected toward those he says who threaten America.

At Ground Zero in the afternoon, at a presidential ceremony that was mostly staid and formal, Bush reached out - literally and emotionally - to victims' relatives. For nearly two hours, the president embraced and chatted with people whose loved ones had left for work at the World Trade Center on a crisp September morning last year or had boarded one of the doomed jetliners.

Throughout the day, Bush's emotions appeared to mirror those of people around the country, vacillating between grief and determination, looking back a year and trying again to come to grips with the unthinkable events that transformed the country.

But aides say the president had another goal, which he pursued carefully: using the anniversary, and the anguish it evoked, to persuade Americans that the war on terrorism that began last year must go on.

In his speech, he never mentioned Iraq by name. But White House officials said the president intended to signal that last year's attacks made it urgently important for the United States to confront other dangers throughout the world.

Iraq seen as threat

And Bush left little doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime, which the president says possesses weapons that could imperil America or its allies, was the prime threat he had in mind last night.

"We will not allow any terrorist or tyrant to threaten civilization with weapons of mass murder," he said. "We have no intention of ignoring or appeasing history's latest gang of fanatics trying to murder their way to power."

Bush will be more explicit today, when he lays out his case in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly for why Hussein's regime must be ousted, though no convincing evidence has linked Hussein's regime with the terrorist attacks of last year. The president and his advisers say Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction that could land in the hands of terrorists and is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Last night, Bush underscored the foreign policy he has sketched out and pursued since last year, a policy that some foreign leaders fear he may carry out unilaterally. It is grounded in the notion that the world's largest nations, some of them former enemies, can share common democratic values. But to do so, Bush has warned, such allies must act together to confront terrorists and rogue nations.

"Ours is the cause of human dignity, freedom guided by conscience and guarded by peace," he said. "This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness. And the darkness will not overcome it."

The president made public remarks only twice, on his visit to the Pentagon and in last night's address. He took part in events elsewhere but allowed mayors, religious figures, local residents to play leading roles, too.

Just before 5 p.m., the president descended a 460-foot ramp, taking him with his wife, Laura, at his side, into the depths of Ground Zero. The Bushes stood among about 1,000 relatives of victims, just steps from where the north tower of the World Trade Center once soared a quarter-mile into the sky.

The president was scheduled to be at Ground Zero for an hour. He stayed for nearly two.

The event began in a formal manner, with Bush methodically greeting family members arrayed in a circle around him. It ended with Bush immersed in the crowd, hugging relatives, posing for pictures, signing photographs of loved ones and planting kisses on the faces of people who broke down crying.

"He didn't seem like he was in a hurry," said 26-year-old Norman Wahlstrom, whose grandmother and aunt died on one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center. "Everyone who wanted a piece of him got it."

Wahlstrom's brother, Nathan, said that he shook Bush's hand and thanked him and that the president responded: "'Nothing like this will ever happen again.'"

Three days after last year's attacks, the president made his first visit to Ground Zero, where he stood in the shadow of a smoldering mountain of mangled steel, concrete and debris. Yesterday, Bush saw a cleaned-out site, one that resembles a construction zone yet is remarkable for its quiet emptiness.

Powerful gusts of wind off the Hudson River rushed through the site, whipping up dust where the towers used to stand and ripping a large American flag draped from a nearby building into two pieces.

The president seemed to take his cues from the family members. He shared a laugh with some. In other cases, women said nothing to Bush, only falling into his arms, crying.

Bush, aides said, had spoken privately of wanting to restrain his emotions yesterday. Not until he leaned down to speak with some children did he finally begin crying.

'Symbol to the world'

Bush kept his busy travel schedule yesterday despite intelligence received by the FBI, prompting the agency Tuesday to issue a heightened terrorist alert. Vice President Dick Cheney, for precautionary reasons, remained at a secure location yesterday and did not attend the morning church service or the Pentagon visit as planned.

The president's day began shortly before 8 a.m., when he and his wife left the White House, where the flag atop it flew at half-staff, to attend a service at nearby St. John's Episcopal Church.

The president then returned to the White House and stood solemnly with his wife, gazing onto the South Lawn, for a national moment of silence beginning at 8:46 a.m. He was marking the time exactly a year ago when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a moment when many Americans thought the destruction might be some kind of accident.

Bush arrived at the Pentagon just before 10 a.m. It, too, looked far different from when the president visited last September, when a noxious odor hung in the air and a gaping gash remained where a jetliner flew like a missile into the building.

In brief remarks, Bush said the "symbol to the world of our country's might and resolve" had "been made whole again."

"We rededicate this proud symbol, and we renew our commitment to win the war that began here. ... The Pentagon is a working building, not a memorial. Yet, the memories of a great tragedy linger here. And for all who knew loss here, life is not the same."

'Let's roll'

At lunchtime, the president saw tiny Shanksville, a town that before last year's attacks exuded small-town innocence, with charming streets and neighbors who tend to know one another. Bush had never seen Shanksville but had spoken of the events there often. He has frequently invoked the rallying cry "Let's roll," which was borrowed from Todd Beamer, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93.

Officials believe that passengers confronted hijackers in the cockpit and forced the plane to crash in the farmland of Pennsylvania rather than in Washington, where, it is thought, it would have targeted the Capitol or the White House.

In Shanksville, Bush took part in a wreath-laying ceremony and joined victims' relatives, standing shoulder to shoulder in a barren field to sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

As much as yesterday was a day of remembrance, Bush still took frequent opportunities to harness the grief from Sept. 11 and to draw a link between those attacks and a broader campaign against those who Bush says threaten freedom:

"We resolved a year ago to honor every last person lost.

"We owe them, and their children, and our own, the most enduring monument we can build: a world of liberty and security made possible by the way America leads, and by the way Americans lead their lives."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad