U.S. Changes Rules on Downing Threatening Planes

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U.S. Changes Rules on Downing Threatening Planes

September 27, 2001 9:16 am EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two mid-level U.S. Air Force generals have been given the power to order the shooting down of civilian airliners that threaten American cities without first checking with President Bush, The New York Times reported on Thursday. It said the change in rules of engagement regarding civilian aircraft was part of the military's rethinking of strategy following Sept. 11 attacks by hijacked passenger planes that left more than 7,000 people dead or missing.

"If there's time, we'd go all the way to the president," Gen. Ralph Eberhart, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, said in an interview with The New York Times. "Otherwise, the standing orders have been pushed down to the regional level."

The newspaper reported that Eberhart said Bush had authorized such decisions to be made by the generals only as a last resort when the attack was seconds away, instead of first consulting Eberhart or Bush.

Vice President Dick Cheney has said that in the hours after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the crash of a hijacked plane in western Pennsylvania, Bush had ordered the downing of commercial jets that endangered Washington. Eberhart told the Times that days after the attacks, Bush, Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld and the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the new rules.

The two generals who would make the decisions were Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, a two-star officer at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, with authority for the continental United States, and Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, a three-star officer at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, would have the authority for Alaska. Hawaii is covered by the United States Pacific Command, which is headed by Adm. Dennis Blair.

Eberhart, a four-star officer, declined to sketch a course of events that would result in the decision by someone other than the president to shoot down a civilian airliner, the newspaper said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 27, 2001

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