Families of 9/11 Victims Pursuing Congressional OK for Independent Inquiry
By TERENCE J. KIVLAN
c.2002 Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON -- Relatives of Sept. 11 victims have launched an all-out lobbying drive to win approval for an independent investigation of last fall's terrorist attacks when Congress returns next month for a lame-duck session.
Lawmakers left town last week for their pre-election recess without acting on the legislation containing the proposal to set up a special outside commission to conduct the probe.
"We are going to keep the pressure on," said Stephen Push, a spokesman for Families of Sept. 11, a support group in Washington.
The commission concept has broad support among Sept. 11 family members, many of whom believe that the government is continuing to cover up failures that played into the hands of the terrorist hijackers.
"I know that the government had lots more information before Sept. 11 than we are aware of," said Cheri Sparacio of West Brighton, N.Y., whose husband was killed at the World Trade Center.
Push, who lost his wife in the plane flown into the Pentagon, sent e-mails this week to other Sept. 11 family members urging them to take part in "one final push" for the commission.
The e-mails included examples of messages touting the commission that could be sent to members of Congress and other officials.
Push, who has been leading the effort to win approval of the panel for several months, asked the survivors of Sept. 11 victims to concentrate their fire on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss of Florida and the White House.
"We need to let the president and Chairman Goss know how disappointed we are with their inaction," said Push in his e-mail.
Just before Congress recessed earlier this month, Goss announced an agreement under which the commission would have five Democratic and five Republican appointees and be headed by co-chairs named by each party. The panel would have unlimited power to issue subpoenas if they were backed by at least five members.
But Goss pulled out of the deal when White House officials, among them Vice President Dick Cheney, lodged objections to it. They want a presidentially appointed chairman. They also are opposed to subpoenas unless they have the support of at least one Republican member. Otherwise the investigation could become a partisan Democratic fishing expedition, the White House maintains.
Push said the changes sought by the White House would turn the commission into a tool of the Bush administration and will not be accepted by Sept. 11 families. "We would rather have no commission," he said.
He predicted that the stalled agreement would eventually pass Congress because the commission proposal has strong bipartisan support in both houses and because the White House does not want to play the spoiler roll.
"They don't want to be blamed for killing this," he said. "They would like to do it, but it would have their fingerprints all over it."
The administration initially opposed the commission outright, but then endorsed it after the plan gained overwhelming support in Congress.
Sparacio said the commission is needed to establish "for the record" that the government, especially the intelligence agencies, muffed opportunities to prevent the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It was bungle after bungle after bungle," she said, citing recent revelations that the FBI and CIA had long known that Middle Eastern men with links to Muslim terrorist groups were taking airline flight courses in the United States.
"I don't need any convincing" that government failures cleared the way for Sept. 11," she said. "I already know it. ... But there are people removed from the situation who still argue that point with me."
The panel would investigate all government operations that had a bearing on Sept. 11, including aviation, immigration and border security as well as intelligence.
(Terence J. Kivlan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)