Henry Kissinger’s abrupt resignation from the panel assigned to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks was greeted by families of the over 3,000 victims who died. But even so they expressed anger that he put his clients’ secrecy ahead of uncovering truth in the worst terrrorist attack in U.S. history.
George W. Bush hastily named former New Jersey Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean to replace Kissinger, whom he had appointed Nov. 27. Bush was opposed to the investigation but heavy pressure from the families forced him to set up the commission.
Stephen Push, acting treasurer of the Families of September 11, whose wife, Lisa J. Raines, died in American Airlines Flight 77, said the families are demanding “a more aggressive investigation” and perhaps Kean will do the job.
The 10-member bipartisan commission will probe why federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies failed to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks even though they received ample advance warnings. But it may also find fault with private security corporations that handled airport screening, and airlines may be subject to liability for wrongful deaths. Some of those firms may be Kissinger Associate clients.
Kissinger is also closely tied to the Saudi Royal family and oil companies that do business in Saudi Arabia, which also might fall in the commission spotlight.
Senate Democrats had chosen former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Me.) as vice chair. He too stepped down, replaced by former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.). Democrats also chose Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), defeated in his reelection bid Nov. 5. The Republican Senate leadership named former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) and former Reagan Navy Sec. John F. Lehman to the panel.
“It’s very disturbing that its so difficult to find qualified people to serve on this commission,” Push told the World by phone from his home in Great Falls, Va. “Kissinger suggested the only way he could serve is to shut down his entire business. I find that odd. It is kind of puzzling that he claims he had no conflicts of interest yet the question of who his clients are caused him to run for the hills. I wish he had put the country before his clients.”
Kissinger said he would share the information with the White House but not with the Senate Ethics Committee. He met with Sept. 11 family members in an attempt to reassure them. Finally, he wrote to Bush that the controversy “would quickly move to the consulting firm I have built and own. I have therefore concluded I cannot accept the responsibility you proposed.”
Push said the families will closely monitor the work of the commission. “It’s extremely important to know the truth and to learn whatever lessons can be learned from the death of our loved ones so that we can prevent other families from going through what we are going through,” he said.
Kristen Breitweiser, co-chairwoman of Sept. 11 Advocates, another family group, said Kissinger’s decision is “admirable,” adding, “This commission needs to be beyond reproach.”
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