Before the Smoke Cleared: Decision-Making in the Immediate Aftermath of 9/11

BY BRIAN M. STEWART — “My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass.” It is September 11, 2001, approximately 9:43 a.m., and the President has just been informed that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon. By this time, two planes have already crashed into the World Trade Center, and it is clear that the United States is under attack. The President—and the nation—would experience a wide range of emotions over the next several days, but the decisions made during that time frame would reshape American foreign policy and international law forever. This Article will explore the decisions made during the unprece- dented chaos and uncertainty of the four-day time span from September 11, 2001, (when the United States was attacked) to September 14, 2001, (when Congress authorized the use of military force to hunt down those responsible). This Article will examine the biases and heuristics that affect decision-making in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack and will argue that many major decisions following a terrorist attack should be subjected to a “cooling off” period to more effectively allow rationality to guide those choices. Read More

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