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Video: Cheney: Iraq war was ‘sound policy’

Threshold Editions
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TODAY books
updated 8/29/2011 9:43:39 PM ET 2011-08-30T01:43:39

In his much anticipated new book, “In My Times: A Personal and Political Memoir,” former Vice President Dick Cheney talks candidly about some of the key moments, frank observations and difficult decisions during his history-making tenure in office. Here’s an excerpt.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

Special Agent Jimmy Scott burst through the door. “Mr. Vice President, we’ve got to leave now.” Before I could reply he moved behind my desk, put one hand on my belt and another on my shoulder, and propelled me out of my office. He rushed me through narrow West Wing hallways and down a stairway toward the “PEOC,” the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, located underneath the White House.

Video: Cheney: Iraq war was ‘sound policy’ (on this page)

We stopped at the bottom of the stairs in a tunnel outside the PEOC. I watched as Secret Service agents positioned themselves at the top, middle, and bottom of the staircase, creating layers of defense in case the White House itself should be invaded. Agent Scott handed out additional firearms, flashlights, and gas masks. He’d evacuated me from my office, he said, because he’d gotten word over his radio that “an inbound unidentified aircraft was headed for ‘Crown,’” code name for the White House.

Within moments another report came in. “Sir,” Scott said, “the plane headed for us just hit the Pentagon.” Now I knew for certain that Washington as well as New York was under attack, and that meant that President Bush, who was at an elementary school in Florida, had to stay away. I turned to one of the agents in the tunnel. “Get me the president.” He picked up the handset of a phone on the wall to patch through a call.

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This was the second call I had made to President Bush since hijacked airliners flew into the World Trade towers, and he’d been trying to reach me as well. A communications glitch had cut us off earlier, and as I waited to talk to him now, I watched images of the burning towers on an old television set that had been set up in the tunnel. When the president came on the line, I told him that the Pentagon had been hit and urged him to stay away from Washington. The city was under attack, and the White House was a target. I understood that he didn’t want to appear to be on the run, but he shouldn’t be here until we knew more about what was going on.

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My wife, Lynne, had been in downtown D.C. when the planes hit, and her Secret Service detail brought her to the White House. She arrived in the tunnel shortly before 10:00 a.m., and when I finished talking to the president, she went with me into the PEOC. I took a seat at the large conference table that occupied most of the wood-paneled room. Underneath the table telephones rested in drawers. On the wall across from me were two large television screens and a camera for videoconferencing. A side wall contained another video camera and two more TV screens. The wall behind me was blank except for a large presidential seal.

We hadn’t been in the PEOC long when the television sets showed the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsing. Both Lynne and I knew we had just watched hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent people die.

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Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who’d been one of the first in the PEOC, was making lists of airline flight numbers, trying to figure out which planes were confirmed hijacked and crashed, and which might still be threatening us in the air. Norm was working two telephones, with the FAA on one and his chief of staff on the other, trying to get the skies cleared until we knew just what we were dealing with. A commercial airline pilot usually has wide discretion to handle his aircraft in an emergency, and apparently someone said something to Norm about pilots deciding when and if to bring their planes down. I heard him say in no uncertain terms that pilot discretion would not be the rule today. “Get those planes down now,” he ordered.

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In those first hours we were living in the fog of war. We had reports of six domestic flights that were possibly hijacked, a number that later resolved to four. We had conflicting reports about whether the Pentagon had been hit by a plane, a helicopter, or a car bomb. We started getting reports of explosions across Washington, at the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, and the State Department. We heard there was an unidentified, nonresponsive plane headed for Camp David and another headed for Crawford, Texas; we also received word of a threat against Air Force One.

At about 10:15, a uniformed military aide came into the room to tell me that a plane, believed hijacked, was eighty miles out and headed for D.C. He asked me whether our combat air patrol had authority to engage the aircraft. Did our fighter pilots have authority, in other words, to shoot down an American commercial airliner believed to have been hijacked? “Yes,” I said without hesitation. A moment later he was back. “Mr. Vice President, it’s sixty miles out. Do they have authorization to engage?” Again, yes.

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There could have been no other answer. As the last hour and a half had made brutally clear, once a plane was hijacked it was a weapon in the hands of the enemy. In one of our earlier calls, the president and I had discussed the fact that our combat air patrol—the American fighter jets now airborne to defend the country—would need rules of engagement. He had approved my recommendation that they be authorized to fire on a civilian airliner if it had been hijacked and would not divert. Thousands of Americans had already been killed, and there was no question about taking action to save thousands more. Still, the enormity of the order I had just conveyed struck all of us in the PEOC, and a silence fell over the room. Then Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Bolten leaned forward in his chair and suggested we get in touch with the president to let him know what had just happened. At 10:18, I picked up the secure phone in the drawer beside me and called Air Force One, which had left Florida and was heading west as the president’s aides looked for a secure location from which he could address the American people. When the president came on the line, I told him about the shootdown order.

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There soon followed some tense moments when we got word that an aircraft was down, south of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Had it been forced down? Had it been shot down by one of our pilots following the authorization I’d conveyed? Eventually we learned that an act of heroism had brought United Airlines Flight 93 down in the fields near Shanksville. Aware of the fates of the other planes hijacked that morning, the passengers on Flight 93 stormed the cockpit. By sacrificing their own lives, those brave men and women saved the lives of many others, possibly including those of us in the White House that morning.

Excerpted from "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir" by Dick Cheney with Liz Cheney. Copyright © 2011 by Dick Cheney with Liz Cheney. Excerpted with permission by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

Photos: The private and public lives of Dick Cheney

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  1. Dick Cheney is seen in this 1964 photo, during his junior year photo at the University of Wyoming. He had previously attended Yale University, but returned home due to failing grades. (University of Wyoming via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. This White House file photograph shows President Gerald Ford as he meets with Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld, center and Dick Cheney, a staff assistant, in the Oval Office, April 22, 1975. (David Hume Kennerly / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Dick Cheney in the White House on Nov. 4, 1975. When Donald Rumsfeld became secretary of defense, Cheney was named chief of staff. At 34, he was the youngest chief of staff in White House history. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. President Gerald R. Ford and Chief Of Staff Dick Cheney look over documents in the living room of the Aspen Lodge during a weekend trip to Camp David, on August 7, 1976 in Thurmont, Md. (David Hume Kennerly / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Congressman Dick Cheney and wife Lynne pose for a photo with their two children Liz, left, and Mary, right, at their home in Casper, Wy., in 1978. Also seen is their basset hound "Cyrano." (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. President Ronald Reagan is flanked by House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois, left, and Rep. Dick Cheney of Wyoming during a meeting with House Republicans in the White House Cabinet Room, Monday, March 21, 1983. (Ed Reinke / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Rep. Richard Cheney, ranking Republican on the House panel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, and Rep. Lee Hamilton, the panel's chaiman, hold a news conference in Washington on June 19,1987. (Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney stands by as General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs reporters at the Pentagon on Dec. 20,1989 about the operation to remove Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega from power. (Bob Pearson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney shakes hands with a tank crew from the 82nd Airborne Division, during his visit to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, Aug. 19, 1990. The "SECDEF," as he is known by military acronym, caught the soldiers off-guard with his impromptu visit. (Scott Applewhite / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell give a press conference in Washington about the military situation in Somalia. (Robert Giroux / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Dick Cheney, CEO of the Halliburton Company, talks former President Gerald Ford during a party for their mutual friend, Richard Growald in San Diego in 1994. Cheney served as Ford's chief of staff and eventually ran his 1976 presidential campaign. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Governor Geoge W. Bush announces that Dick Cheney will be his running mate in Austin, Texas, on July 25, 2000. Cheney, who was serving as Halliburton CEO, headed Bush's vice presidential search committee. (Paul Buck / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney, center, leaves George Washington University Hospital in Washington, Friday, Nov. 24, 2000, accompanied by unidentified secret service agents. Cheney, who has a history of coronary artery disease, left the hospital two days after he checked himself in with chest pains. He has had five heart attacks since 1978. (Kamenko Pajic / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Dick Cheney, with his daughter Liz holding the Bible, is sworn in as vice president of the United States by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist Jan. 20, 2001 outside the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Vice President Dick Cheney flyfishing on the Snake River in his home state of Wyoming on Sunday, July 8, 2001. (David Bohrer / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. After returning to the White House from Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., President Bush talks with Vice President Dick Cheney in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center on Sept. 11, 2001 in Washington. (Eric Draper / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice meet with President Bush in the White House Oval Office on Oct. 7, 2001, after the president informed the nation that air strikes were made against Afghanistan. (Eric Draper / The White House via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. President George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29, 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney is seated behind. During this speech, Bush first used the term "axis of evil." (Paul J .Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. President George W. Bush meets with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outside the Oval Office shortly after authorizing Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, 2003 in Washington. (Eric Draper / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Vice President Dick Cheney listens to Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards during a debate at Case Western Reserve University on Oct. 5, 2004 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Stephen Jaffe / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Vice President Dick Cheney listens to his daughter and campaign scheduling director, Mary Cheney, and wife, Lynne Cheney, on a flight the day after the vice presidential debate with Democratic challenger John Edwards on Oct. 6, 2004. As a lesbian, Mary Cheney's sexual orientation has often been in spotlight because of her father's conservative views. (David Hume Kennerly / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr, right, chats with Vice President Dick Cheney as they walk down a street in Gulfport, Miss., touring areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2005. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Left: Harry Whittington talks to reporters outside Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, in Corpus Christi, Texas, in his first public statement since being shot by Vice President Dick Cheney in a hunting accident. Whittington told reporters he was sorry for all the trouble Cheney had faced over the incident. Right: A file photo from Nov. 5, 2002 , provided by the White House, shows Vice President Dick Cheney hunting quail in Gettysburg, S.D. The Whittington accident marked the first time a sitting vice president shot someone since Alexander Hamilton's duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The White House) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, leaves federal court after a hearing in Washington Friday, Feb. 3, 2006. He was later convicted in connection with the leak of a covert CIA agent's identity and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. In 2007, President George W. Bush commuted his prison sentence. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A U.S. soldier shouts as he tries to control the crowd after a suicide attack at the main U.S. air base of Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2007. A suicide bomber killed at least 14 people and wounded about a dozen more outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said Cheney, who was not injured, was the target. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks to the press as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 20, 2008. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan for talks with President Hamid Karzai to assess the fight against extremism ahead of a summit of NATO partners in the battle. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Vice President Dick Cheney, suffering from a back injury he sustained while moving into his new home, is wheeled out of the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Jan. 20, 2009 on the way to the inauguration of Barack Obama. Vice President-elect Joe Biden follows at right. (Larry Downing / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Former Vice President Dick Cheney hugs his daughter, Liz Cheney, after she surprised the Conservative Political Action Conference by bringing him as her guest, on Feb. 18, 2010, in Washington. (Cliff Owen / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura listen to former Vice President Dick Cheney at the ground breaking for Bush's Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, on Nov.16, 2010. Southern Methodist University is the future site of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and the George W. Bush Institute that is to be completed in 2013. The appearance was Cheney's first after a summer of recouperating following heart surgery and he looked much thinner than in recent years. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
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