Request for Documents Exposes Rift on Terror Panel
Editor s Note | Issues surrounding the problems surrounding the investigation into the 9/11 attacks were discussed recently in a truth out editorial entitled The Silence about September 11.By Laurence Arnold
Friday 25 April 2003
WASHINGTON - One member's attempt to review confidential transcripts exposed a rift Friday within the independent commission examining the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tim Roemer, a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, criticized the panel's leaders for not demanding immediate and total access to documents compiled during a congressional inquiry of the terror attacks.
The commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, said the panel will ultimately get unfettered access.
Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana, tried to review transcripts of hearings held last year by the joint House-Senate intelligence committee. He learned that he lacked permission to see them, even though he served on the joint committee and therefore had read the material before.
Roemer called the experience outrageous. He noted that the commission, by law, must build upon the work of the congressional inquiry, which found that organizational problems and human failings prevented intelligence agencies from unraveling the Sept. 11, 2001, plot.
"The basic foundational work of the commission is the joint inquiry's product," Roemer said. "To delay access to that, to hinder access to that, is out of bounds."
Zelikow said the commission has clear authority to view the documents but, as a courtesy, is giving congressional and White House officials several days to review the estimated 500,000 pages accumulated by the congressional inquiry.
He said the panel will fight any attempt by Congress or the White House to keep documents secret.
"If it becomes an issue of access, we will have a big issue, and I believe we will win on the merits," Zelikow said. "But that issue hasn't come up yet."
He said the commission already has received "an awful lot of other extremely sensitive material."
Regarding Roemer's experience, Zelikow said, "There's a particular commissioner who wanted to read a few hearings and is very upset he can't. But this is a temporary delay."
Roemer, however, said the commission should fight any delays or conditions. "Nobody should be filtering that data," he said.
Commission chairman Thomas Kean, a former governor of New Jersey, said he does not object to the decision by the panel's staff to wait until Congress and the White House review the documents.
"There are times when we're going to have big arguments over very serious matters," Kean said. "I don't think five days to a week is much to argue about."
Kristin Breitweiser of New Jersey, who lost her husband in the Sept. 11 attacks and was a leader in the movement to create an independent commission, said she was troubled to hear about limits on its review of documents.
"This is an independent commission, and there's no reason why any branch - legislative, judiciary or executive - should be filtering information or denying access," she said.
All 10 commissioners have obtained necessary security clearances, Zelikow said. That has allowed the commission to obtain, among other things, the joint congressional committee's final product, a report of several hundred pages.
The bipartisan commission has until May 2004 to report on causes of the Sept. 11 attacks, preparations to guard against future terror and the response to the airline hijackings that killed thousands at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in southwestern Pennsylvania.
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