McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Sep 14, 2001 12:00 AM
LONELY VIGIL An unidentified woman stood outside the still-smoldering Pentagon early Wednesday morning as a bright sun came up. In her hands, she held a pair of binoculars. "What are you looking at?" the woman was asked. "I'm waiting for my husband to come out," she answered, matter-of-factly. Rescue officials doubt the woman's husband, who had recently moved into a newly refurbished office in the Pentagon's crumbled west side, will ever come out alive. PAYBACKS ARE HELL Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) found himself on the phone Tuesday with the husband and daughter of a friend, who moments before had been aboard United Airlines Flight 175 that crashed into the second World Trade Center tower. "The pain and depth of loss in their voices was excruciating," recalls Kerry, "and the helplessness to do anything but to share that pain and offer comfort brought an even deeper sense of anger and of resolve for the acts that have occurred." The angry Democrat went so far as to say: "It is critical that all of us remember, as we talk about responses and war against terrorism, that our rhetoric be matched by our actions." HAUNTING LETTER "Dear Friends, September 11, 2001, will be a great day for our city!" -- A letter from first lady Laura Bush, dated July 31, 2001, drawing attention to a museum groundbreaking for the Historical Society of Washington. MYRIAD EMOTIONS "As an American, as an elected representative, I am outraged. As a husband and a father, I am pained beyond words." -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) thrusting Congress into anything but an ordinary session Wednesday. LIFE'S NOT THE SAME Washington Life magazine postponed its 10th anniversary celebration that was supposed to be held Wednesday evening at the Ritz Carlton, one of hundreds of events canceled throughout the shellshocked city that is now patrolled by troops in military Humvees. Washingtonians, come to think of it, suddenly don't care anymore whether Michael Jordan plays basketball again or not. Hopefully, Michael will be back. OLLIE'S CHARGE It was May 29, following a four-month-long trial in New York, that four members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist organization were convicted on all 302 charges against them surrounding the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Then on June 21, the FBI announced the indictment of 13 Saudis and one Lebanese in connection with the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel. The next day, fewer than three months ago, bin Laden -- who also had been bragging about the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 sailors -- warned in no uncertain terms: "It's time to penetrate America and hit them where it hurts most." To be certain the U.S. government knew he wasn't kidding, the seldom-seen bin Laden videotaped the threat. Uncle Sam's response? "The official U.S. response to this overt threat has been, at best, strange," retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North wrote in a syndicated column last July. So North, who handled national security in the Reagan White House, went a step further: "He (bin Laden) has declared war on the United States, and we should give him what he wants: war." In an interview with this column Wednesday, North repeated for a second time that "the time has come to declare war." "There is no safe place for this man to hide." The retired Marine said if he were only able, he would personally lead the charge. UPON OUR TURF "The 21st Century has begun," declares Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington. "Throughout the 20th Century, Americans felt safe at home. We weren't always safe, particularly after the dawn of the atomic age, but we felt safe," she notes. "To 20th Century Americans, America was an invulnerable fortress. At home, we were safe. September 11 ushered in a new era. We're 21st Century Americans now. We know, not just in our minds, where we've long acknowledged it, but in our hearts, where we never did, that it can happen here."