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Book review: The Ground Truth 

John Farmer was senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, and in The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 (Riverhead Trade, $16), he draws on a large number of recently unclassified tapes and transcripts to create the first definitive, documented account of our government's actions on that day.

A number of book-review adjectives come to mind for Farmer's work: revelatory, devastating, shattering. None of those words, however, expresses the shock, not to mention the goosebumps, this writer felt while reading Farmer's account of our government's disjointed, deer-in-the-headlights, chaotic, incompetent actions that day. What compounds the shock is realizing that the tales we heard of all the heroic stuff the government and its mighty forces did on 9/11 were little more than official lies. Cheney's stories of tense, emergency meetings in the White House basement? The military's readiness to shoot down United 93 before it could hit Washington? Total b.s. Remember how, through it all, the Bush administration kept the chain of command functioning? How Bush authorized the military to shoot down hijacked commercial flights? Or how FAA headquarters coordinated their actions with the military? All lies.

The FAA and the Defense Department, it's now obvious from Farmer's research, were so unprepared and scattered, they never knew what was happening on the ground until the attacks were finished. Bush and his cohorts on Air Force One knew only a little more, and were themselves flailing around, largely useless. And, needless to say at this point, most government agency reports released afterward were little more than CYA exercises. Farmer's main conclusion is that " whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation's response to the 9/11 attacks." Chumps paraded as heroes, incompetents became "forceful leaders," and everyone really wanted to believe it, and so they did. It's high time we got John Farmer's wake-up call.

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