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Michael Smerconish Headshot

Play the Tape!

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9:35:40 - "I don't want to die."

09:35:41 - "No, no. Down, down."

09:35:42 - "I don't want to die. I don't want to die."

09:35:44 - "No, no. Down, down, down, down, down, down."

09:35:47 - "No, no, please."

09:35:57 - "No."

09:37:06 - "That's it. Go back."

09:37:06 - "That's it. Sit down."

09:37:36 - "Everything is fine. I finished."

IT'S NOT enough just to read that. We need to hear it. Unfortunately, as things now stand, that's not going to happen.

Last week, in the midst of the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial, Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that the Flight 93 cockpit recording will not be made public. Ever. In her order she stated:

"The Court finds that the privacy rights of the victims and the concerns of family members about public disclosure of the audiotape outweigh any right of the public to have access to the recording. Moreover, the public availability of the transcript provides sufficient public access to the contents of the CVR" - the cockpit voice recorder.

I'm aware that three relatives of the 33 passengers and seven crew members on Flight 93 don't want the audio of the final minutes to be broadcast. "I don't want to hear it... Your nightmares are vivid enough," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

I know Debra very well, and I love her, but on this issue I respectfully disagree. And so do many of the families. "The transcript really doesn't give you a sense of the heroism on that flight... I would like to have it released," said Deena Burnett, whose husband, Thomas, fought against the hijackers.

And some of the families point out that every United 93 family either gave their blessing or was directly involved in the making of the new movie "United 93," so it surprises them that some vetoed the audio release.

"If you're going to promote the movie, why wouldn't you promote your family member's heroic actions? I don't understand that," said Carole O'Hare, whose mother, Hilda Marcin, was a passenger.

I respect the wishes of the few anonymous relatives who don't want the audio released, but I think they're trumped by the need to remind a nation that is not yet five years removed from the events of Sept. 11 of the barbarism committed that morning.

In a world defined by the free flow of electronic information, the lack of images of the planes hitting the twin towers is significant. Already, the footage is reserved only for the anniversary of the greatest act of terror ever committed against the U.S. That has to change. We need to see the images and hear the recordings so as never to forget.

Every time there's discussion about appropriate treatment at Guantanamo, we have to see the planes and hear the recording.

When civil libertarians complain about singling out young Arab men at borders and airports, we have to see the planes and hear the recording.

When debating whether to print cartoons of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb for a turban, we have to see the planes and hear the recording.

When the jurors in the Moussaoui trial heard the recordings, it was the first time they'd been played in public. As Neil Lewis reported in the New York Times:

"Although the general story of Flight 93 based on such official investigations has been known for some time, listening to the audio seemed nonetheless a harrowing experience for the jurors."

It should be a harrowing experience for us all - to hear the horror and recognize the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 seconds before crashing into the field in Shanksville, Pa. The violence in the cabin told the passengers that this wasn't just an ordinary hijacking. On Tuesday, jurors heard the phone call of Marion Britton, a passenger, to a friend on the ground.

"Don't worry," the friend consoled. "They'll probably take you to another country."

Ms. Britton replied, "Two passengers have had their throats cut."

10:00:22 - "Oh Allah, oh Allah, oh gracious."

10:00:25 - "In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die."

10:01:08 - "Is that it? I mean, shall we pull it down?"

10:01:09 - "Yes, put it in, and pull it down."

10:03:02 - "Allah is the greatest." *