While the Bush administration never tires of reminding the American people that the president's war on terrorism, his invasion of Iraq, and the Patriot Act I and II are all rooted in the 9/11 attacks, it has tired of one little bitty aspect of this post-9/11 period: the investigation by the 10-member bipartisan independent commission.
White House officials, along with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), have decided to oppose extending the time limit for work by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "virtually guaranteeing that the panel" will have to be done with its work by the end of May, The Washington Post reported on January 19th. According to the statute that created the panel in late 2002, the comission needs to complete a report for the president and Congress by May 27th.
After months of stalling on even having a commission, then appointing Henry Kissinger to head it (and having to withdraw that appointment), the administration threw every conceivable roadblock in the commission's path, including the withholding of significant documents. Despite the growing consensus among commission members that they need more time, the president and his congressional allies want to shut the investigation down. The administration appears to be concerned that an ongoing investigation would bleed into the election season and hurt the president's reelection chances.
"With time running short," the Post reported, "the ... panel [chaired by the former governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean] has already decided to scale back the number and scope of hearings that it will hold for the public, [and it] is rushing to finish interviews with as many as 200 remaining witnesses and to finish examining about 2 million pages of documents related to the attacks."
In an early-January interview with The New York Times, Kean was asked whether 9/11 could have been avoided. "Yes, there is a good chance that 9/11 could have been prevented by any number of people along the way," Kean replied. "Everybody pretty well agrees our intelligence agencies were not set up to deal with domestic terrorism ... . They were not ready for an internal attack." Then the Times asked whether "anyone in the Bush administration [had] any idea that an attack was being planned." Kean: "That is why we are looking at the internal papers. I can't talk about what's classified. [The] President's daily briefings are classified. If I told you what was in them, I would go to jail."
The administration's decision to shut down the investigation cannot be good news for the victims' families and citizen watchdog groups that have been fighting tooth and nail since the commission was appointed. "The momentous nature of the event requires that this commission not be rushed to complete its work," said Kyle Hence, co-founder of 9/11 Citizens Watch.
"The commission is coming up with new information," said Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband, Ron, in the collapse of the World Trade Center. "As time goes by and more comes to light, we get a clearer picture of how this terrible thing happened. The commission's report will be the definitive official account. There is only one chance to get this right, so we plan to make sure they get all the time they need."
"We've had it," Breitweiser added. "It is such a slap in the face of the families of victims. They are dishonoring the dead with their irresponsible behavior."
At the end of January, after two days of hearing testimonies about the attacks, the independent commission announced it was formally requesting an extension of its deadline, from May 27th to July. The ball is in your court, Mr. Bush.
Bill Berkowitz writes for Working For Change.