Bush picks Kissinger to lead 9/11 probe (THE BOSTON GLOBE) By Anne E. Kornblut and Scott Greenberger WASHINGTON 11/28/02 page A1)
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WASHINGTON - President Bush tapped former Secretary of State Henry
Kissinger yesterday to lead an investigation into intelligence lapses
before the Sept. 11 attacks, urging the panel to ´´follow the facts
wherever they may lead´´ even as White House advisers insisted that
the president himself should not be called to testify.
Bush lauded Kissinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford
administrations, for his ´´careful judgment´´ at a ceremony in the
Roosevelt Room - the third such elaborate bill-signing event in three
days, part of a weeklong effort by the administration to promote the
president´s legislative accomplishments.
But the celebration overlooked the fact that Bush initially was
reluctant to support the Sept. 11 panel, insisting it would distract
the intelligence community as it tried to prevent future attacks.
White House advisers were concerned that Bush would become a target
of the probe, after revelations last May that he had been warned
about possible Al Qaeda plots to hijack US airplanes but chose not to
reveal that information to the public.
Democrats named former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of
Maine to be the panel´s vice chairman, saying he was uniquely
qualified given his experience as a special envoy to Northern Ireland
and the Middle East.
´´There may be only one person in America who can bring to this
commission the same extraordinary combination of diplomacy and
understanding of international affairs and government as Henry
Kissinger - and that person is George Mitchell,´´ the Democrats
leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said in a
statement. ´´From Northern Ireland to the Middle East, George
Mitchell has shown the courage to seek answers to some of the most
difficult problems of our time.´´
The White House agreed to the panel under pressure from the families
of Sept. 11 victims. Aides have denied that Bush had any inkling
terrorists would use planes as missiles and said they do not expect
him to be called before the panel.
In tapping Kissinger, Bush said he hoped investigators
will ´´carefully examine all the evidence´´ about what government
agencies knew before the four hijackings that brought down the World
Trade Center and devastated one wing of the Pentagon - to not expose
past mistakes, but to provide clues about how to block a strike in
´´We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September
the 11th,´´ Bush said. ´´My administration will continue to act on
the lessons we´ve learned so far to better protect the people of this
country. It´s our most solemn duty.´´
Despite his early objections, Bush relented under political pressure
from relatives of the Sept. 11 victims, who yesterday expressed mixed
feelings about Kissinger´s appointment.
´´He´s a born and bred Republican, so if the president says, ´Don´t
go in that direction,´ my sense is that he won´t,´´ said Thomas Roger
of Longmeadow, Mass., whose daughter was a flight attendant on
American Airlines Flight 11. Roger is president of Families of
September 11, which has about 1,500 members. ´´He comes in with all
the right credentials and he understands all of the issues they´ll be
dealing with, but he also has some fairly heavy Republican political
Carie Lemack of Framingham, Mass., whose mother was a passenger on
American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade
Center, said many relatives were pushing for dual chairmen - one
Democrat, one Republican - to ensure bipartisanship. Lemack, vice
president of Families of September 11, also said she was dissatisfied
with a compromise on the panel´s subpoena power. Under the deal, six
of the 10 members would have to approve a subpoena.
Lemack said the inquiry into Sept. 11 will be an important step
toward preventing a similar tragedy from happening again.
´´Before you create a department of homeland defense that can protect
the country, you have to know what went wrong in the first place,´´
she said. ´´You can´t fix the problem without first knowing what the
Bush also faced fierce lobbying from Senators John S. McCain,
Republican of Arizona, and Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of
Connecticut, who together co-sponsored the original legislation
demanding an outside panel nearly a year ago.
´´As we went forward we were motivated by the wrenching pleas of the
families of victims of September 11,´´ Lieberman said in a statement
yesterday. ´´They endured terrible pain because they did not know the
whole story, and feared they might never be able to tell their
children that their government had learned every possible lesson from
its own fatal failures.´´
Although Lieberman applauded Bush for launching that investigation,
he said the panel must make a ´´full, fair, and unflinching
assessment´´ of what went wrong.
Kissinger, a diplomat who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, pledged
to meet with victims´ families once a month for the duration of his
investigation. ´´The families are an integral part of the process,´´
Kissinger also said it was too early to know whether Bush will be
asked to participate. ´´I don´t know whom we will want to question,
but we will get at all the facts, and the president has promised us
that all the facts should be made available,´´ Kissinger said.
Democrats said Bush was likely to be asked to testify before the
independent commission about events leading up to the attacks that
killed more than 3,000 people. President Reagan testified before a
panel he appointed to investigate the Iran-Contra affair and
President Ford testified before a House subcommittee about his
pardoning of Nixon.
´´I would be surprised if this commission, in pursuit of the truth,
the whole truth and nothing but the truth, did not want to speak with
this president and high officials in this administration,´´ said
But White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said there was no
indication that Bush will be called to testify. He also said it could
take months for the commission to get itself in working order. The
remaining eight members of the panel have not yet been chosen, and
the new law gives investigators 18 months to return its findings to
Bush, who has promised to implement recommendations rather than
relegating the report to the White House library. Bush said he hopes
that the commission will report back more quickly.
´´After all, if there´s changes that need to be made, we need to know
them as soon as possible, for the security of our country,´´ Bush
said. ´´The sooner we have the commission´s conclusions, the sooner
this administration will act on them.´´
The panel - officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States - was created as part of what
officials described as a sweeping budget increase for all federal
intelligence agencies, the third and final item on Bush´s domestic
agenda this week after the creation of the Department of Homeland
Security on Monday and the approval of federal terrorism insurance on
Tuesday. (© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company. 11/28/02)
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