Sept. 11 Commission Faces Challenges
January 20, 2003
By The Associated Press
Sixteen months after the terrorist attacks of
Sept. 11, an independent commission charged with investigating
what happened is only beginning to confront a task complicated by
a ticking clock, limited finances and the high expectations of
those who lost loved ones.
The commission, which holds its first meeting next
Monday in Washington, will have just $3 million and 16 more
months to explore the causes of, preparations for and response to
the terrorist hijackings that killed more than 3,000 Americans at
the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
By comparison, a federal commission created in
1996 was given two years and $5 million to study legalized
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks came
to life last year in a compromise between Congress and the Bush
White House, which had initially opposed it. Relatives of Sept.
11 victims had lobbied strenuously for the independent panel.
The 10-member commission, chaired by former New
Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, was given 18 months to get its work
done, and the clock started ticking in late November.
Mary Fetchet of Connecticut, who lost her son Brad
on Sept. 11, said time is of particular concern because lawmakers
spent months debating whether even to have a commission.
"I would have hoped this would be up and moving
forward by now," Fetchet said. "I'm concerned about (an attack)
happening again, yet so much time has passed before we've taken a
good complete look at what the failures were."
Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and some of the victims'
relatives say they doubt the commission can do a thorough job
with only the $3 million authorized by Congress. Corzine predicts
a push on Capitol Hill to raise the amount.
During a conference call last week, about a dozen
relatives decided to dig more into possible conflicts of interest
that commission members might face as they probe the inner
workings of American government.
"We simply want to alleviate any worry, on
anyone's part, that this commission will not go where the facts
lead them," said Kristin Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband
Ronald died at the World Trade Center.
There is no shortage of ideas on how the
commission should expend its limited time and resources.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., has urged the commission
to probe the nation's procedures for approving visas.
Steve Morello Jr. of South Carolina, whose father
Steven died at the World Trade Center, said he hopes the
commission investigates the role of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, in
the attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
Sally Regenhard of New York, whose son Christian
was among the firefighters killed, said the commission should
study the response on Sept. 11 by the Port Authority of New York
and New Jersey, which operates the metropolitan New York airports
and owned the World Trade Center towers.
"What happened or didn't happen in those precious
minutes before the second plane hit? What information did the
Port Authority have or know? These are issues that remain in the
darkness," Regenhard said.
Bush signed the law creating the commission on
Nov. 27 and named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as
chairman. But Kissinger, who runs an international consulting
firm, resigned 17 days later in response to questions about
potential conflicts of interest.
Bush then turned to Kean, a popular Republican
with little experience in intelligence and foreign affairs but
with a reputation for independent thinking. Soon after accepting,
Kean met at Drew University in New Jersey _ where he is president
_ with 13 relatives of Sept. 11 victims.
Breitweiser said Kean assured the group he would
not hesitate to issue subpoenas and would treat the commission's
Democratic vice chairman, former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, as an
Breitweiser said she and others listed for Kean
some examples of warnings not pursued before Sept. 11, including
hints throughout the 1990s that terrorists might try to crash
planes into significant buildings.
According to Breitweiser, Kean replied, "That's
Kean has been on a previously planned island
vacation and did not respond to interview requests last week.
One potential conflict that interests some
victims' relatives is the tie that three commission members have
to law firms that lobby for airlines.
Another is Kean's service as a director of energy
company Amerada Hess Corp., which entered a 1988 alliance with
Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia on a venture in Azerbaijan. Delta Oil
reportedly is controlled by two Saudi families who have been
investigated for financial ties to Osama bin Laden.
Amerada Hess ended its role in the venture in
November. A spokesman for Amerada Hess, Carl Tursi, said one
company official who remembers the 1998 deal says there was no
hint at the time of any possible link between Delta Oil and
Tursi added that he doubts whether Kean, whose
term expires in 2004, played any role in creating what was, for
Amerada Hess, a relatively minor deal.
BACK TO TOP
© Copyright 2003 Newsday, Inc. All Rights Reserved.