Giuliani Defends NYC's Response to 9/11

Rudy Giuliani yesterday delivered a passionate defense of the city's response to the World Trade Center attacks - and denounced finger-pointing by members of the 9/11 commission.

"We have to channel our anger," the former mayor calmly told the panel as it wound up two days of hearings in Manhattan. "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us."

He added, "Blame should be directed at one source and one source alone: the terrorists who killed our loved ones."

Giuliani's stirring defense of the top city emergency officials came a day after commission member John Lehman blasted ex-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and ex-FDNY boss Thomas Von Essen for the handling of the attacks as "not worthy of the Boy Scouts" and "scandalous."

After his riveting testimony, Giuliani told reporters he had been "upset" by Lehman's over-the-top remark and said "it probably would be a good idea" if the commissioner apologized.

"I wish language like that were excluded. I think people get overly emotional and they get carried away," he said.

Lehman refused to say he was sorry and insisted his remarks were misunderstood.

Giuliani told the commission that quick thinking and bravery by city rescuers, many of whom perished, had saved thousands of people by getting them out of the World Trade Center in time.

"Maybe 8,000 more, maybe 9,000 more than anyone could rightfully expect" were evacuated, Giuliani said during his testimony at the New School, about a mile and a half from Ground Zero.

All told, some 25,000 people were brought to safety before the Twin Towers collapsed, the mayor said.

Giuliani acknowledged "terrible mistakes" were made during the first hours of the attack, but said that was to be expected under the chaotic circumstances.

"Catastrophic emergencies and attacks have acts of great heroism attached to them," Giuliani said. "They have acts of ingenious creativity attached to them. And they have mistakes that happen.

"When human beings are put under these conditions that's what happens."

The 10-member panel welcomed Giuliani warmly and questioned him respectfully - and that kid-gloves treatment outraged some relatives of 9/11 victims, who shouted protests from the audience.

Giuliani addressed several criticisms leveled the day before at his former commissioners when they were on the hot seat. The ex-mayor:

* Denied that rivalries between police and firefighters and problems with the emergency chain of command hampered the city's rescue effort.

"There was not a problem of coordination on Sept. 11," Giuliani said. "Nobody was asserting ego."

* Expressed doubt that the city would have responded differently if officials had been aware of an August 2001 White House intelligence briefing that warned of terrorists casing city buildings.

"If that information had been given to us, or more warnings had been given in the summer of 2001, I can't honestly tell you we'd do anything differently," Giuliani testified.

He said he received warnings of terrorist attacks, from the FBI and other agencies, "once a day . . . or five times a week."

The briefings he received before the attacks were "not terribly different" from ones Giuliani received in the previous four or five years and typically concerned targets such as the City Hall and the New York Stock Exchange.

Giuliani said he thought there might be suicide bombers and biological or chemical attacks - and he focused on potential targets such as bridges, tunnels and subways.

* Conceded the 911 emergency call system was "overwhelmed" by the volume and intensity of the emergency calls on Sept. 11.

"They weren't trained that way - even though they should have been," he said.

In regard to his "Boy Scouts" attack on city officials' handling of the attacks, Lehman told The Post that he was "misunderstood" and that he has nothing to apologize for.

"I was expressing real frustration at a system that is still not worthy of New York City," Lehman said. "It's scandalous that this has not been fixed after all these years."

He added, "Anybody that was in the [hearing] room knows that I was not criticizing those guys," referring to Kerik and Von Essen.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean said that while he disagreed with Lehman's comments, the commissioners are encouraged to be frank.

Kerik was still smarting from the sharp questioning of him and Von Essen.

"It's a little odd to see people sit on a panel who weren't there, who didn't have to respond, who didn't have to deal with the devastation, who didn't understand the enormity of the catastrophe and sometimes they don't take that into perspective," Kerik said during an appearance yesterday in Syracuse.

Kerik said some members of the NYPD and FDNY "were almost angry at us because we didn't fight back more" during Tuesday's hearing.

"But I think that was an inappropriate forum," he said.

Following testimony from Mayor Bloomberg and others yesterday, the commission adjourned and issued a statement "expressing our profound admiration for the first responders of 9/11."

"Their acts of heroism exceed our ability to praise."

But the commission repeated its staff report's criticism of planning, field communications, and the 911 system on Sept. 11.

Commissioner Bob Kerrey said the staff report "erred on the side of caution in taking some of the more painful things out of the story."