It has been nearly two-and-a-half years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, killed 2,976 people on American soil. Yet there are still many unanswered questions regarding the events leading up to those attacks. Extending well beyond the issue of the public’s right to know is the undeniable fact that, in order to insure national security, we must understand how such an attack inside the U.S. was able to occur. However, the Bush administration has consistently blocked efforts to thoroughly investigate precisely this question.
The investigation begins
An initial investigation began on Feb. 14, 2002, with a joint inquiry set up by both houses of Congress, headed by then Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Robert Graham (D-Fla.) and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.).
After months of examination and hearings plagued by controversy, the inquiry concluded with a final report on July 24, 2003 that contained several recommendations but failed to answer the core questions of what led to the terrorist attacks. However, the report’s final chapter, “Access Limitations Encountered by the Joint Commission,” prompted further questions regarding the secrecy of the Bush White House. Among other things, the congressional commission was denied full access to what is known as the President’s Daily Brief.
The Sept. 11 Commission
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, an independent, bipartisan 10-member panel created by Congress, had a fitful start.
The Bush administration initially opposed creation of the commission, resisting its implementation for nearly a year, but it finally yielded to pressure from the families of victims, Congress and the American public. The first commission, created in late November 2002, was to have been co-chaired by Henry Kissinger and former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell, but failed to get off the ground after the two nominees withdrew their appointments under public questioning of their impartiality.
The current panel, co-chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (R) and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), has the deadline of May 27 to issue a definitive account of the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks, including preparedness and immediate response. The commission is holding its seventh public hearing on Jan. 26-27.
But getting the answers has not proven an easy task for the commission, with stalling tactics by government officials threatening to render its attempts null until the clock runs out, just five months before the presidential election. To the dismay of the commission, government “minders” have been present with witnesses called to testify.
By the end of last year, the panel had voted to subpoena the Federal Aviation Administration and the City of New York for documents and, in November, voted to subpoena the Pentagon. The panel has also met with continued resistance in obtaining sensitive information from the White House, including warnings given by FBI and CIA officials regarding possible al Qaeda attacks.
Fourteen days of public hearings are to be held between January and April. The commission has decided to ask Bush and Vice President Cheney as well as former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to meet with the panel. The commission has asked for an extension to its May deadline, but Bush and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) have decided to oppose granting more time, according to the Washington Post.
On Dec. 18 Kean dropped a bombshell when he said in a broadcast interview that the attacks could have been prevented, blaming the Bush administration and threatening a subpoena to gain access to the President’s top-secret daily briefings.
“This is a very, very important part of history and we’ve got to tell it right,” said Kean. “As you read the report, you’re going to have a pretty clear idea what wasn’t done and what should have been done. This was not something that had to happen.”
Yet, hours after the initial news reports broke, including critical comments from former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, former U.S. Commission on National Security Co-Chairman Gary Hart, and retired four-star general and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, an apparent news blackout silenced the story.
All this cloak-and-dagger public policy by the Bush administration regarding national security has to be seen in the present context and in light of an agenda other than ending terrorism and ensuring national security.
* Since Sept. 11, over 10 terrorist attacks by groups and individuals with alleged ties to al Qaeda have hit U.S., Western or Jewish religious targets, killing over 400 people.
* Although Bush linked the war on Iraq to the next step in the post-Sept. 11 “war on terror,” to date no weapons of mass destruction have been found and there were no proven ties between the Hussein regime and bin Laden’s group.
* Insider revelations by Bush’s former Treasurer Secretary Paul O’Neill that Iraq was a target long before Sept. 11.
* Ideological “neoconservatives” inside and outside of the administration are seeking to remake the strategically-important, oil and labor-rich Middle East. The Project for a New American Century, a Washington based, neoconservative think tank, advocates “unilateral military intervention to protect against threats to America’s status as the lone global superpower,” according to MoveOn.org. Most of the founding members of PNAC held posts in the Reagan or elder Bush administration and other neoconservative think-tanks, publications, and advocacy groups. They include leading figures such as Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz.
* The extensive ties this administration has with energy corporations, military contractors and banking institutions, which all have financial and political interests in the Middle East.
* Osama bin Laden was a partner with the CIA in the 1980s, where the U.S. bank-rolled “terrorist” training camps to fight the Soviet military in Afghanistan and the progressive, secular government in Afghanistan.
* In Richard Labeviere’s book, “The Corridors of Terror,” released this month, the author claims that the CIA’s Dubai station chief approached Osama bin Laden on July 12, 2001, in an American hospital in the United Arab Emirates, where he was being treated for a serious kidney problem. According to the author, the CIA attempted to negotiate a nonaggression pact with the al Qaeda leader, in exchange for allowing him to return to Saudi Arabia, where he had been stripped of his citizenship, in 1994. Bin Laden allegedly declined the offer. The CIA has denied that the meeting took place.
Kean, at the Sept. 23 press briefing, told reporters that the history of the U.S. government’s relationship to bin Laden will be “part of the story” coming out of the commission.
* While demanding accountability and responsibility from others, Bush has taken no responsibility or accountability for the tremendous intelligence failures both on Sept. 11 and with Iraq.
The families of Bush and Saud
Of the 19 hijackers who attacked America on Sept. 11, 15 were of Saudi origin. Bin Laden himself is a member of one of that nation’s wealthiest and most powerful families. In the days following the attacks, two-dozen bin Laden family members and dozens of additional prominent Saudis were picked up by chartered aircraft in Los Angeles, Orlando and Washington, D.C., shuttled to Boston and, one week after the attacks, flown to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Recently, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, the former head of antiterrorism at the National Security Council, Richard Clark, stated that the Saudi Embassy, fearful of retribution, had requested clearance for the Saudis to leave the United States, even though the Federal Aviation Administration had grounded all private flights. Clark went on to say that permission was granted at the highest levels of the State Department, FBI and the White House. The administration has generally remained silent on the issue, but Secretary of State Colin Powell said on “Meet the Press”: “I don’t know the details of what happened, but my understanding is that there was no sneaking out of the country – the flights were well known and it was coordinated within the government.”
Saudi Arabia has reportedly long been a leading financier of extremist Islamic ideology and organizations. In 2002, the Congressional Committee discovered funds from a bank account, belonging to the wife of Saudi ambassador to Washington and Bush family friend, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, went to two of the 9/11 hijackers. Further reports indicate that Saudi charities and members of the royal family have also financially supported bin Laden. The Bush administration responded to the allegations by blacking out 28 pages of the 900-page official congressional report, released last July, that dealt with Saudi Arabia.
The roots between the Bush administration and the oil-rich kingdom of Saud continue to run deep. There is the well-documented close personal relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family; the Saudi and bin Laden family investments in the elder Bush’s Carlyle Group; the Saudi money that helped build the elder Bush’s presidential library; fruitful contracts granted to Dick Cheney’s Halliburton; and James Baker’s law firm, Baker Botts, retained to defend the Saudis against lawsuits by September 11 Families.
Sept. 11 families respond
The Washington-based group, Families of September 11, says that a number of its members have retained attorneys to sue the Saudi royal family and other prominent nationals for undisclosed damages. The plaintiffs have hired former Watergate prosecutor and head of Investigative Group International, Terry Lenzner, to examine the purported financial ties of the Saudis with terrorist groups.
Ellen Mariani, wife of Louis Neil Mariani, who died when United Air Lines flight 175 was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, is suing United Airlines, Bush and other government officials under the RICO Act for not taking steps to prevent the attacks on Sept. 11 and covering up the truth about Sept. 11, thereby violating U.S. laws.
“I want answers,” she told reporters. “We are living in fear, and it’s called orange, yellow and red. It’s also called Homeland Security and the Patriot Act.” Mariani spoke on Jan. 13, what would have been her husband’s 61st birthday. “This is not about money,” she said.
Some $1.5 billion has been paid to family members from the U.S. government fund, signed by the president, 13 days after the attacks. Compensation for individual deaths ranged from $250,000 to $6.9 million, with amounts averaging $1.8 million. Those physically injured in the attacks have received amounts ranging from $500 to $7.9 million.
Yet the fund has been strongly criticized by a number of 9/11 family members because recipients must waive their right to sue anyone found culpable in the attacks. As many as 73 families ignored the Dec. 22 deadline to apply for compensation, claiming that it amounted to blood money. Mariani said by taking money from what she refers to as “a shut-up and go away fund,” she would have given up her right to sue the airline and the government, which she believes is the only way she can get information about what happened and what led up to the events of that day.
Other family members of Sept. 11 victims, like Mary Fetchet, founder of the Connecticut-based group Voices of September 11, want answers. “It is extremely important that the investigation continues, to insure that nothing like this can ever happen again,” Fetchet told the World. Her son, Bradley, was killed in the WTC, where he was an employee with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
On the Family Steering Committee for 9/11 Independent Commission website (www.911independentcommission.org) there is a long list of “unanswered questions,” including the government’s relationship with bin Laden, the Taliban of Afghanistan and plans for oil pipelines in the region.
What will we have learned by May 27 that will keep our nation safe from another Sept. 11? The steady stream of news reports citing security failures at airports, bridges, tunnels, chemical and nuclear plants and at national monuments, along with the fluctuating terror alert warnings, seem to have created reactions among U.S. citizens ranging from perpetual fear to the notion that the Bush administration is crying “Wolfowitz” in order to secure its re-election.
How we, as a nation, finally emerge from the aftermath of 9/11 will be a test of our government, our Constitution and our individual characters.
C.F. Niles is a freelance writer living in New England. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warnings given White House in the Summer 2001:
* June 26: CIA sources report spike in intelligence traffic regarding possible July 4 strikes.
* July 1: Senate Intelligence Committee member, Diane Feinstein, says on CNN that intelligence informed her of a high probability of terrorist attack within three months.
* July 2: FBI warns law-enforcement of possible overseas and domestic al Qaeda attacks.
* July 5: CIA warns Bush that summer terrorist attacks are possible.
* July 6: National Security Council group meets at White House to discuss intelligence and potential attacks.
v Mid-July: CIA warns White House of possible al Qaeda attack on President at G-8 Summit in Genoa; Egyptian government warns of terrorists’ plan to crash airplane into building.
* July 18: FBI warns domestic law enforcement of threats connected to millennium bombing.
* Aug. 6: CIA gives Bush report on al Qaeda during daily briefing, at Crawford ranch, that mentions possibility of hijackings.
* Sept. 10: Sen. Feinstein asks for meeting with Vice President Cheney regarding terrorism threat. Cheney’s chief of staff puts off meeting for six months.
* Sept. 10: CIA plan to attack al Qaeda in Afghanistan is put on president’s desk. Bush is away in Florida.