Washington After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush gave the military orders to intercept and shoot down any commercial airliners that refused instructions to turn away from Washington, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.
"I wholeheartedly concurred in the decision he made, that if the plane would not divert, if they wouldn't pay any attention to instructions to move away from the city, as a last resort our pilots were authorized to take them out," Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Bush gave the order after two planes slammed into the two towers in New York and a third rammed the Pentagon. A fourth plane also was hijacked and appeared to be on a course for Washington.
U.S. officials have said that the White House or even Air Force One might have been targets for that jet.
That plane crashed in a rural area of southwestern Pennsylvania. "As it turned out, we did not have to execute on that decision," Cheney said.
"People say that's a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens _ civilians _ captured by terrorists. Are you going to in fact shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board?"
The alternative, he said, could have been worse.
"If we ... had the opportunity to take out the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center, would we have been justified in doing it? I think absolutely we would have. "
"Now, it turned out we did not have to execute on that authorization. But there were a few moments when we thought we might, when planes were incoming and we didn't know whether or not they were a problem aircraft until they diverted and had gone elsewhere," Cheney said.
"We had reports ... that there were six airplanes that might have been hijacked, and that's what we started working off of was that list of six," Cheney said.
Bush was in Sarasota, Fla., at the time. Instead of returning directly to Washington, Bush was shuttled to Air Force bases in Louisiana and Nebraska before returning to the capital.
Cheney said that he strongly had strongly advised Bush not to come directly back.