June 24, 2021
When the families of victims of September Eleventh first began to lobby politicians in Washington D.C., they imagined they would get a responsive hearing. They wanted President George W. Bush and his administration to establish an inquiry into how the nations’ defenses had utterly failed in every agency, and on the part of all the key leadership. After all, it was just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that the FDR administration launched the Roberts inquiry.
However, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that any investigation would siphon off precious financial resources that America could not afford while it was waging its ‘War on Terror.’ It was Cheney who on May 8, 2001, had been appointed by President Bush to be in charge of the Office of National Preparedness. In this role, it was up to the Vice President to grasp the big picture regarding emerging terrorist threats to America. But it seemed he did little to help agencies connect the dots to the reported growing terrorist threat during the summer of 2001 when Richard Clarke, George Tenet and others were expecting an imminent attack.
As for President Bush, he preferred that Congress hold closed door meetings into the ‘Intelligence failures” of September 11. The September Eleventh families held a rally, spearheaded by the “Jersey Girls” and other family members principally from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The rally was held on June 11, 2002. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was in attendance, as were several members of Congress. Ellen Mariani of New Hampshire, whose husband was on the second plane to hit the World Trade Center, told those gathered on the lawn outside the Capitol buildings, “I want a real investigation. I don’t want lip service. I’m angry, and I’m not going away.” While Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband Alan died in the North Tower, said “I want to be able to look into the eyes of my children, and tell them the evil is over there, that they are safe and that their country is secure. Nine months have passed and I still cannot do that. I do not have answers.”
On September 18, 2002, the Joint Inquiry of Congressional and Senate Intelligence Committees heard testimony from Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband Ron had died in the South Tower on Sept. 11. She wondered how it was possible that the FBI was able within a few hours quickly create complete profiles on the 19 alleged hijackers. Referring a New York Times article, she noted that agents descended on flight schools within hours of the attacks. She asked the lawmakers “How did the FBI know where to go a few hours after the attacks? Were any of the hijackers already under surveillance?” Her testimony created political firestorm and there were finally signs of willingness on the part of the administration to agree to an investigation.
However, the Bush administration kept stonewalling the September Eleventh families’ efforts to establish an inquiry into the attacks for 14 months. Finally, bowing to more pressure, President George W. Bush signed a bill on November 15, 2002, mandating that “[The Commission] is to examine and report on the facts and causes relating to the September 11th terrorist attacks” and “make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.”
However, the first person appointed to head the 9/11 Commission was Dr. Henry Kissinger. Kissinger at the time was an adviser to numbers of people in the military-industrial-complex, and to a neoconservative group based in the Pentagon, and headed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. As what Rumsfeld was doing while the nation was allegedly under attack, it would seem close associates of Rumsfeld were not the best to head an independent inquiry. Kissinger was also long associated with being secretive back to the days of the Nixon administration, and viewed as complicit in the CIA-backed overthrow of the Chilean government of Salvador Allende – and his assassination – on September 11, 1973. When pressed Family Steering Committee member Lorie Van Auken to assure the FSC that no one by the name of bin Laden was one of his clients, Kissinger spilled coffee all over the coffee table. He partially fell off the sofa, blaming his clumsiness on a “fake eye.” Kissinger resigned the day after his meeting with the September Eleventh families. Kissinger refused to reveal the names of his business clients.
In the aftermath of Kissinger’s departure, Bush appointed New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean. He was a director on the board of Amerada Hess, and also a part owner. As it happened, Amerada Hess was in a business partnership with Delta Oil of Saudi Arabia. As 15 of the 19 alleged hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, it seemed a conflict of interest. And Delta Oil, along with the Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) was involved in negotiations with the government of Afghanistan for the creation of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline. This pipeline would run from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. The new Bush administration was eager for the Afghan government to permit construction of the pipeline. But when the Taliban walked away from talks in June 2001, some found it suspicious that the president approved a plan on September 9, 2001, to attack Afghanistan in October 2001. Having the inquiry headed by someone with clear connections to big oil and a consortium with interests in a pipeline through Afghanistan was problematic. Would Kean deter the inquiry from looking very closely at the coincidence of war plans to invade Afghanistan, given the green light days before the attacks of Sept. 11?
Democrat 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick was a member of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. In April 2003, her law firm was defending Prince Mohammed al Faisal, the third highest ranking member of the Saudi Arabian government, and who was being sued in a number of multi-billion-dollar lawsuits by September Eleventh families. While the law firm was not defending the Saudi Prince when she was first appointed to the 9/11 Commission, the optics looked bad.
There were others appointed to the 9/11 Commission by Republicans and Democrats who had embarrassing connections. Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste had been a member of Weil, Gotshal and Manges. This law firm had defended Enron when it filed for bankruptcy. Republican Slade Gorton was with a law firm in Seattle named Preston, Gates and Ellis. Its clients included Delta Airlines. Would Gorton’s involvement with a firm that defended airline companies in litigation make him partial to defending the airlines from scrutiny in the investigation of the attacks?
Republican 9/11 Commissioner, John Lehman, from the late 70s was a member of the anti-communist Committee on the Present Danger. They worked to turn back the politics of détente with the Soviet Union, spearheading the effort to prevent ratification of the SALT II Treaty between the USA and the USSR in 1978. Lehman was the Secretary for the Navy during the Reagan administration. He signed the September 20, 2001, letter to President George W. Bush authored by the Project for a New American Century that argued that “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” Lehman’s private business, J.F. Lehman & Company, was involved in investing in companies in the defense, aerospace and maritime industries. Lehman also served as staff member to Dr. Henry Kissinger on the National Security Council. While he was still serving on the 9/11 Commission, in March 2004, Lehman gave an address at the U.S. Naval Institute in which he argued that the United States was in a “religious war.” Having a partisan history of warmongering and saber-rattling, and recently been an advocate of regime change in Iraq – when Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and others were claiming that Iraq had attacked America on September 11, made Lehman the opposite of what most of the families hoped for in the kind of person who would sit on a truly independent inquiry.
Republican appointee to the 9/11 Commission, James Thompson, was a former Governor of Illinois. While he was on the 9/11 Commission, he was chairman of a Chicago law firm Winston & Strawn. The firm had received over 1.6 million in fees for lobbying on behalf of American Airlines. This was one of the two airlines whose planes, according to the Bush administration, were hijacked on September Eleventh.
9/11 Commission Vice-chairman, Lee Hamilton, had served on the Iran-Contra inquiry as its chairman. Hamilton got a reputation of believing the best about politicians, and was astonished to learn that Colonel Oliver North had lied to him. As someone who had a long-suit in avoiding any hint of government misdeeds, Hamilton was a dubious candidate to entrust the inquiry fulfilling its mandate to “make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.” On the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran, Lee Hamilton worked closely with Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney. They became close friends. In addition, Hamilton got to know Donald Rumsfeld in the 1970s, and was a good friend. He referred to them as Don and Dick, and went on holidays with both men and their spouses. When many on the Family Steering Committee met with Lee Hamilton early into the life of the inquiry, they were shocked by his attitude. Bob McIlvaine remembers that Hamilton was against having public hearings, describing them as “dangerous.” And Hamilton didn’t want to use any subpoenas to get people with information to testify before the 9/11 Commission. While Lee Hamilton was viewed with skepticism by numbers of people on the Family Steering Committee, he was cheered on by Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice and Andrew Card in the White House. His stance on
Former Georgia Senator Max Cleland resigned in November 2003 after blasting the 9/11 Commission. Cleland had tried back in May 2003 to get the 9/11 Commission to look into President Bush and his administration’s rationale for invading Iraq. Cleland felt there was a compelling case to suggest that Bush used the attacks of Sept. 11 as a justification to start the Iraq War, a was he had been itching to have from the first meeting of his new White House cabinet in January 2001. As well, Cleland suggests the reason there was no preparedness on Sept. 11 was because “They were focused on Iraq, they were planning a war on Iraq, they were not paying attention to the business at hand.” Meeting resistance to properly investigating all the avenues and where the evidence led, Cleland resigned. He said “I’m not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I’m not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions.” With his departure the Family Steering Committee lobbied to have one of its members nominated to sit on the 9/11 Commission. However, the effort was ignored.
Republican 9/11 Commissioner Fred Fielding was involved as Associate Counsel, and Deputy to John Dean in the Nixon White House from 1970-72. At the time, Fielding became good friends with Dick Cheney, who at the time was a Nixon White House Staff Assistant. Fielding later served as Counsel to the President from 1981-86 during the Reagan administration. Over the decades, Fielding also served as an ‘informal advisor’ to Dick Cheney. As an independent 9/11 Commission would properly look into the actions of Cheney prior to and during the day of the attacks, having another member of the inquiry as a close associate of the vice president was bad optics. Might the close association with Cheney prompt Fielding and Hamilton to prefer the “late-arrival” claim of the 9/11 Commission regarding when the vice president got to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center? Despite testimony before the commissioners by Richard Clarke, Norman Mineta and others to the contrary? After the 9/11 Commission, Fielding was legal counsel to Blackwater, the security firm that in 2003 won no-bid contracts for protecting military personnel during the Iraq War, and for the CIA. Blackwater needed defense counsel after the Nisour Square massacre in Iraq on September 16, 2007. Blackwater guards had, without cause, killed 17 Iraqi civilians and injured 20 more, while guarding a U.S. embassy convoy. The incident sparked five investigations.
9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer was one of two Democratic former members of Congress from Indiana, along with Lee Hamilton. He was an anti-abortion Democrat, and an original sponsor of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11.
The new member named to replace Max Cleland on the 9/11 Commission was former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey. He was on the Advisory Board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. That was a group, established in November 2002, that tried to get nations around the world to support the ouster of Saddam Hussein. While serving on the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI), Kerrey and other CLI members met in person with Bush administration officials, including Vice-President Dick Cheney, Senior Advisor to the President – Karl Rove, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Having another member of the 9/11 Commission being strongly associated with the march to war in Iraq should have concerned the Family Steering Committee, if they happened to know of Kerrey’s new membership on the CLI, weeks before he was appointed to the 9/11 Commission. Though he was a hawk on defense and regime change, it was Bob Kerrey who – after the 9/11 Commission published their Report in July 2004 – recommended that the government establish a “permanent” 9/11 Commission to further investigate the loose ends surrounding the attacks.
Speaking for the Family Steering Committee, Beverly Eckert said the FSC had hoped that the membership of the 9/11 Commission would consist of people who were seen to be independent. But, this was not what transpired. And the 9/11 Commissioner who pressed the hardest for investigating wherever the evidence pointed – Max Cleland – resigned in disgust.
Having commissioners with deep connections to big oil, the airline industry, the military-industrial-complex, the drumbeat for a war in Iraq, close personal associations with key leadership in the Bush White House, or having a Vice Chairman with a track record of preferring to preserve the status quo instead of risking discovery of evidence of misdeeds – all contributed to apprehensions that the inquiry would be a whitewash.