Nov 27, 12:18 PM (ET)
By JENNIFER LOVEN
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Wednesday to lead an independent investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and said the probe "must uncover every detail and learn every lesson" of the terrorist strikes.
Kissinger pledged to "go where the facts lead us."
"We are under no restrictions, and we will accept no restrictions," Kissinger told reporters at the White House.
Kissinger, 79, will lead an investigative commission created under a bill Bush signed authorizing intelligence activities in the 2003 budget year.
"This commission will help me and future presidents to understand the methods of America's enemies and the nature of the threats we face," Bush said at a White House ceremony with lawmakers, survivors and victims' families.
"This investigation should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts wherever they lead," said Bush, who was initially cool toward creating an independent commission. "We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th."
Kissinger spoke briefly to family members before talking with reporters after the ceremony. "To the families concerned, there's nothing that can be done about the losses they've suffered, but everything must be done to avoid that such a tragedy can occur again."
Kissinger is one of the best known diplomats of the 20th century, but also a controversial figure.
He was secretary of state to Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 with North Vietnam's Le Duc Tho for cease-fire negotiations during the Vietnam war. Kissinger also made a determined peacemaking effort in the Middle East and made repeated trips to the region. But he has also been called a war criminal by his harshest critics, for the role he played in Vietnam and other hot spots, working at times with corrupt governments in pursuit of U.S. interests.
The commission has a broad mandate, building on the limited joint inquiry conducted by the House and Senate intelligence committees. The independent panel will have 18 months to examine issues such as aviation security and border problems, along with intelligence.
Bush called on members to report back more quickly than 18 months, saying the nation needed to know quickly how it can avoid terror attacks in the future.
However, Bush did not set as a primary goal for Kissinger to uncover mistakes or lapses of the government that could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead, he said the panel should try to help the administration learn the tactics and motives of the enemy.
"This commission is not only important for this administration, this commission will be important for future administrations until the world is secure from the evildoers that hate what we stand for," Bush said. He pledged his administration will "continue to act on the lessons we've learned so far to better protect the people of this country. It's our most solemn duty."
It was Bush's third major bill-signing in as many days and served as a holiday send-off for the president, who was leaving immediately afterward to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
Like the Homeland Security Department, the independent commission was an idea to which Bush's support came late.
The White House held that only Congress should investigate, arguing that an independent probe could distract administration officials from anti-terrorism efforts and produce leaks that could compromise intelligence operations. The change of heart came in September, as family members of Sept. 11 victims applied pressure and congressional hearings began to uncover intelligence and law enforcement failures.
The White House had concerns about the leadership and subpoena powers of the panel. Bush insisted only a bipartisan group should be able to compel testimony and documents, fearing that one-party subpoenas would lead to ineffective finger-pointing and allow the panel to be used merely to score political points.
The 10-member commission will be evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush does not envision testifying before the panel.
But Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a leading advocate of the commission, said it is likely Bush will be asked to address the panel.
In addition to serving as secretary of state, Kissinger also was national security adviser for Nixon and Ford from 1969-75. He made history in July 1971 when he made a secret trip to China, ending a Sino-American estrangement that had lasted for more than two decades.
He is the only secretary of state to have held down the job of national security adviser at the same time. He served in both posts from October 1973 to October 1975, when he left the NSC while retaining his role as secretary of state.
Kissinger also is well known for his efforts to achieve detente with the Soviet Union. The idea was to strengthen trade and economic ties with Moscow, giving the Soviets a stake in stable relations and perhaps taming Moscow's expansionist ambitions. The policy had mixed results.
HMMMMM..... I wonder what they'll find?