What's Fact, What's Fiction in 'The Path to 9/11'?

Sept. 11, 2006 — -- "The Path to 9/11," ABC Entertainment's two-part miniseries about the events leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, has been in the headlines for days because of fictionalized scenes that portray members of the Clinton administration obstructing attempts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.

Because of the criticism, led by President Clinton, ABC Entertainment said it was editing some of the scenes. So what aired, and what was fact and what was fiction?

The first -- and most controversial -- part of "The Path to 9/11" aired Sunday night.

John Lehman, a Republican 9/11 commissioner, watched it and said the episode portrayed events fairly.

"It very well portrayed the events in a way that people can understand them without doing violence to the facts," he said.

Close to Catching Osama bin Laden?

Clinton and many Democrats thought otherwise.

A Clinton spokesman said, "ABC's claims of edits notwithstanding, the scenes ABC put on its air [Sunday] night are completely false and directly contradicted by the 9/11 Commission report. ABC regrettably decided not to tell the truth [Sunday] night and instead chose entertainment over the facts."

Three times during Sunday's episode, ABC Entertainment ran disclaimers that it contained "fictionalized scenes" for "dramatic and narrative purposes."

One scene, edited by ABC, shows Clinton's National Security Adviser Sandy Berger refusing to give the order to take bin Laden out, something contradicted by Berger and the 9/11 Commission.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the 9/11 Commission, says "that never happened."

But Lehman says there's a larger truth to keep in mind.

"The Bush administration and the Clinton administration made big mistakes," Lehman said. "The Bush administration did not take Osama bin Laden or the overall terrorist threat nearly as seriously as they should have, and the Clinton administration pulled back from it because of legal concerns and diplomatic concerns."

In the movie, the opportunities to capture bin Laden were clear cut.

The 9/11 Commission report, however, says such opportunities existed but were not so clear cut in reality.

Former CIA Director George Tenet testified before the commission in 2004 about one close call with the al Qaeda leader in 1999.

"There's also a question, I believe, as to whether bin Laden was inside or outside the camp," Tenet said.

"The Path to 9/11" shows Clinton administration successes, such as the capture of terrorist Ramzi Youssef -- but no one would confuse this with a pro-Clinton film.

Clinton staffers say they had been assured by ABC Entertainment that changes would be made to better reflect the 9/11 Commission report, and say they are disappointed that that didn't happen.

ABC Entertainment had no comment.

Tonight the miniseries focuses on the Bush administration and its failures -- whether fact or fiction, or a little bit of both.

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