‘That’s when he became president’: The man who broke the news of 9/11 to Bush

The man who broke the news to President George W Bush that “America is under attack” on September 11th says there is a danger of Americans forgetting the significance of the attacks.

Andrew Card was Bush’s chief of staff in 2001 and had responsibility to pass on news of the unfolding drama in New York to the commander-in-chief.

Mr Bush was visiting an elementary school in Sarasota in Florida at the time of the attacks.

It has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. Pic: AP
Image:It has been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks. Pic: AP

By the time he took his seat in the classroom for a reading of the book The Pet Goat, early erroneous reports of a small plane hitting the World Trade Center had already arrived.

Minutes later the full horror became clear and Mr Card, in a now iconic moment, entered the classroom to brief the president.

“I decided to pass on two facts and make one editorial comment to the president.

“I thought about what I would say and then opened the door to the room, came in and that’s when I walked up to the president and I leaned over and I whispered into his right ear, ‘A second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack’.

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“I looked at the president and I honestly believe he was thinking about the burden that he accepted when he took the oath of office.

“I like to say that’s when he became the president.”

How 9/11 continues to shape the US and the world 20 years on

How 9/11 continues to shape the US and the world 20 years on

Mr Bush continued with the reading lesson for the next few moments.

Mr Card said: “I was very impressed that he did nothing to introduce fear to those students. He did nothing to demonstrate fear to the media that would’ve satisfied terrorists all around the world.”

But as America reflects on the significance of 9/11 and how it changed the country and the world, Mr Card is concerned that the lessons of that day are being lost.

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What is the legacy of 9/11?

“I’ve always felt that it was a slight danger. I think that it’s been exacerbated by what happened in Afghanistan over the last month.”

The withdrawal from a war that began in the weeks after 9/11 is a controversial backdrop to this year’s anniversary events.

President Joe Biden will attend the commemorations at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville in Pennsylvania.

The 9/11 terror attacks on the US - minute by minute

The 9/11 terror attacks on the US – minute by minute

This week Condoleezza Rice, who was Mr Bush’s national security advisor on 9/11, wrote that those who forget the attacks are “doomed to be reminded by another tragedy in the future”.

Mr Card added: “On the anniversaries I go out of my way to make sure that we keep the promise we made never to forget.”

He says some of what followed 9/11, the controversies that dogged the rest of the Bush administration, can be justified by a president who was following what the intelligence services were telling him.

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But a third of all Americans alive today were either children or not born on 9/11 and, he says, they need to learn the lessons.

“I am haunted by the images of 9/11 and I want other people to feel the emotion out of respect, not out of fear, out of respect for those who died.

“I remember September 11th 2001 every day. For me it’s not the 20 years ago, it is yesterday.”

Kay Burley will present Sky News live from New York from midday tomorrow as the US remembers 9/11 20 years on

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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