The most egregious example of commission scapegoating concerns the stalwart service on 9/11 of Deputy Assistant Chief Joseph W. Pfeifer. Chief Pfeifer arrived at the north tower six minutes after seeing the first jet strike, helping to bring order to the fearful chaos in the lobby and direct rescue units to the upper floors. He also sent his only brother, Fire Lt. Kevin Pfeifer, up the stairs. "We spent a couple of seconds looking at each other," Chief Pfeifer told The New York Times. "He didn't say anything. It was just a look." Lt. Pfeifer was among the 343 members of the NYFD who died in the inferno.
Now, two and half years later, Chief Pfeifer is being raked over 9/11's coals for a command decision he made to switch radio channels from a stronger signal the chief says wasn't working that morning, to a weaker, functioning alternate, thereby losing the ability to communicate with all units, and thereby failing to learn immediately when the south tower collapsed. The commission finding is that an unnamed chief -- Chief Pfeifer -- was mistaken: The better, stronger radio channel was indeed working. The chief robustly disagrees. He also points out that even with the weaker radio signal, he was able to direct the evacuation of the north tower for a hellish hour-plus until it, too, collapsed, saving the lives of countless civilians and firemen.
Why should this man be called on to sweat over and defend his undeniably valiant service on 9/11? Is Chief Pfeifer -- a dutiful, courageous fireman who, following his best instincts, helped saved thousands of Americans on 9/11 -- to blame for even one death? Two deaths? One hundred deaths? The implications of the commission's findings -- that America's heroes share blame for the carnage -- are outrageous.
When commissioner Bob Kerrey asked WTC director Alan Reiss whether he was "angry" (is this "Oprah"?) the FBI didn't reveal more about Al Qaeda before 9/11, Reiss, according to the New York Post, "shot back" he was angry at "19 people in an airplane," not the FBI.
Nineteen men in an airplane is right. Of course, if the "chatter" before 9/11 had been listened to, these men would have been racially profiled right off their flights. That's the only logical conclusion of any serious inquiry into how 9/11 might have been prevented -- one the 9/11 Commission will never get to.