Bush: U.S. feels 'quiet, unyielding anger'
By Ian Christopher McCaleb
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush responded Tuesday night to the events of a day of unfathomable death, destruction and heartbreak in America's centers of commerce and government by expressing the "steel" will of the United States to heal her deep wounds, and to administer justice to those responsible for carrying out the most shocking simultaneous acts of criminal violence in U.S. history.
"Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, and our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts," Bush, speaking from the Oval Office, said of the destruction of New York City's landmark World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and the crash of a hijacked jetliner in rural Pennsylvania.
"Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror," Bush said. "The sight of planes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger."
That anger, Bush said, would be turned into resourcefulness and resolve, as the United States seeks to retain her mantle as the "brightest beacon of freedom and opportunity in the world," and as she ferrets out those responsible for Tuesday's multi-pronged attacks.
"These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of America's resolve," Bush said. "Our military is powerful, and it is prepared."
"Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks," Bush continued.
And, sounding an ominous note not only for suspected terror organizations but also for the nations that may give them aid and shelter, Bush said, "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts, and those who harbor them."
Intelligence and law enforcement officials are focusing the early part of their nascent investigation on fugitive Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda group is thought to be responsible for a number of successful -- and some thwarted -- attacks worldwide in the course of the last four years. Bin Laden is thought to be hiding out in the portion of Afghanistan controlled by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban, which denied any knowledge of the attacks Tuesday.
The president's odyssey
Bush left the Oval Office following his speech Tuesday night and convened a high-level security meeting in the White House. The speech was likely his last public appearance of this long day. The president arrived back in Washington early Tuesday evening after Air Force One cut an angled swath across U.S. airspace through the afternoon, in a tightly orchestrated effort to keep the chief executive's whereabouts under wraps. Bush's unexpected odyssey began early in the day, as he and his staff learned only the most scant details of the worst terror attacks the United States has ever endured.
Bush and a small entourage of his closest advisers departed Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, late in the afternoon, en route to Washington, after the president received a security briefing from the National Security Council.
Key Bush adviser Karen Hughes, speaking to reporters as Bush was being briefed, said the president was in "continuous contact" with the White House situation room where Vice President Dick Cheney was keeping apprised of events.
"We are taking all precautions and are working to identify those responsible for these despicable attacks on the American people," Hughes said. "The federal government continues to function effectively."
Shortly before, Bush had been at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where he deplaned just long enough to deliver a resolved statement to pool reporters. Bush began his day in Florida, where he was to give a morning speech.
Upon departure from Barksdale, pool reporters on board Air Force One were not told of their next destination until they arrived, and no reporter on the ground was allowed to witness the presidential jet's ascent.
In flight, Bush spoke with New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki.
At Offutt, the president was whisked away in a black sedan to a meeting room where he was to join his NSC advisers in a conference call.
Speaking at the Barksdale installation Tuesday afternoon, Bush said the United States would find and punish those responsible for the horrific, catastrophic terror attacks on New York and Washington.
"Make no mistake, the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts," he said in a hastily arranged statement to White House pool reporters.
The president said the U.S. military had been put on "high alert status" and said he had taken security precautions to ensure the functioning of the U.S. government.
"We have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people," he said.
"Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended," Bush said.
"The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test."
The White House and the U.S. military, particularly the Air Force, took precautions throughout the day to see that Air Force One was protected in its long flight with fighter escorts. When Air Force One arrived in Washington on Tuesday evening, it was escorted by two F-15 fighters and one F-16.
Back in Washington
While Bush was in the air, the White House was evacuated, with many employees running away from the premises on orders from Secret Service agents.
Cheney remained and received regular updates on the unfolding developments in the White House situation room.
The Secret Service implemented security checks on the streets near the White House and deployed snipers atop nearby buildings. A helicopter gunship was seen patrolling the airspace between the White House and Pentagon -- an area that includes the National Mall.
The Pentagon, home of the Department of Defense and center of coordination for the armed services, was struck by an airliner midmorning Tuesday, collapsing the portion of the building that houses offices of the U.S. Army, setting off a massive fire and sending vast clouds of black smoke over Arlington, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
The attack followed the catastrophic destruction of lower Manhattan's World Trade Center towers, both of which were struck by hijacked commercial aircraft.
Thousands were feared dead in both locations.
First lady Laura Bush was scheduled to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday morning, offering her husband an assist as he promoted his education agenda through the week.
The hearing was canceled when word reached the committee room of the first attacks in New York. An ashen Mrs. Bush, accompanied by committee Chairman Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, approached a microphone and offered some words of comfort.
"Parents need to reassure their children everywhere in our country that they're safe," Mrs. Bush said. "Our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims of this act of terrorism."
Mrs. Bush was later taken to an undisclosed location, where she later spoke to the president via secure military telephone.
Evacuations were also ordered at the Capitol, the Justice Department and the State Department. The buildings of the Smithsonian Institution were also ordered closed, as well as the Supreme Court.
Later, all federal office buildings in the city were closed and workers were told to go home.
Secretary of State Colin Powell was returning to Washington from Lima, Peru, cutting short his attendance at an international gathering.
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