9/11 finger-pointing is counterproductive

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 21, 2004

Tribune editorial staff

We thought the main purpose of the hearings of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was to educate, not degrade those who will be called upon if another such tragedy occurs.

Remarks by John F. Lehman, a former Navy secretary who serves on the panel investigating the attacks, at Tuesday’s hearing in New York City were completely out of line. He chastised New York's emergency command and communications system as a scandal, and called its disaster-response plans "not worthy of the Boy Scouts, let alone this great city."

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The outburst came after former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had acknowledged "that there were some terrible mistakes" made in New York City.

The panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks need to focus on preparing for future attacks rather than pointing fingers. Such hostility does nothing to better prepare us for future attacks.

As expected, Lehman's attack resulted in furious reactions from police and fire officials and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

In reality, investigators can offer invaluable lessons for the nation's emergency responders. Rather than using such rhetoric to belittle them, shouldn't

the so-called experts be pointing out their mistakes and then offering suggestions to correct them?

Giuliani put it best when he said "Our enemy is not each other but the terrorists who attacked us, murdered our loved ones and continue to offer a threat to our security, safety and survival. The blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone, the terrorists who killed our loved ones."

Hindsight is 20/20. It is easy to recognize mistakes after the fact. When the events of that fateful day were unfolding, however, responders had little time to plan - they had to react.

Lehman should have kept that in mind before he made such counterproductive comments. He was not wrong to point out flaws, it was the way he did it that we have a problem with. After all, as Giuliani said, our enemy is not each other.