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Between 9:38 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001: Rumsfeld Spends Brief Time at Pentagon Crash Scene and Helps Carry a Stretcher; Accounts Conflict over Details

Rumsfeld show on a video broadcast on CNN helping carry a stretcher shortly after the Pentagon attack. He is in the center of the picture, wearing a dark jacket.Rumsfeld show on a video broadcast on CNN helping carry a stretcher shortly after the Pentagon attack. He is in the center of the picture, wearing a dark jacket. [Source: CNN]Within seconds of the Pentagon being hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rushed out of his office and headed toward the crash scene (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Officer Aubrey Davis, who is currently accompanying Rumsfeld as his bodyguard, when they reach the site, “There were the flames, and bits of metal all around. The secretary picked up one of the pieces of metal. I was telling him he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime scene when he looked at some inscription on it and said, ‘American Airlines.’” According to Rumsfeld, a person who’d seen the attack on the Pentagon informs him a plane had flown into it. Rumsfeld later recalls: “I saw people on the grass, and we just, we tried to put them in stretchers and then move them out across the grass towards the road and lifted them over a jersey wall so the people on that side could stick them into the ambulances. I was out there for a while, and then people started gathering, and we were able to get other people to do that, to hold IVs for people. There were people lying on the grass with clothes blown off and burns all over them.” (Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1-2) Versions of this story will appear elsewhere. (Doyle 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003) Video footage confirms that Rumsfeld helps carry a stretcher at the crash scene. (CNN 8/17/2002) One report will even describe him pulling budget analyst Paul Gonzales to safety from the burning wreckage. (Alderson et al. 9/16/2001) However, Gonzales later offers his own detailed recollections of pulling other people to safety, which fail to involve Rumsfeld in any way. (Vogel 3/11/2002) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say Rumsfeld is gone from the building for “about half an hour.” (Clarke 9/15/2001) A Pentagon spokesperson has Rumsfeld helping at the crash site for “15 minutes or so.” (Aldinger 9/11/2001) Another account will claim he loads the wounded onto stretchers for 15 minutes. (Sprengelmeyer and Alessi 9/11/2001) However, considering the time it would have taken to walk to the crash site—each side of the enormous Pentagon is the length of three football fields—journalist Andrew Cockburn later concludes that Rumsfeld could only have been at the crash scene for a brief period. (Cockburn 2007, pp. 3) Rumsfeld reportedly heads back into the Pentagon at the urging of a security agent, though in an interview soon after 9/11 he will claim the decision to go back inside was his own, saying, “I decided I should be in [the building] figuring out what to do, because your brain begins to connect things, and there were enough people there to worry about that.” (Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) He tells the 9/11 Commission, “I was back in the Pentagon with a crisis action team shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) While Rumsfeld is at the crash scene, others are frantically trying to get in touch with him but are unable to do so (see (9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).


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