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Thursday, November 28, 2002

Bush appoints Kissinger to head 9/11 investigation


WASHINGTON -- President Bush tapped former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger yesterday to lead an investigation into intelligence lapses before the Sept. 11 attacks, urging the panel to "follow the facts wherever they may lead" even as White House advisers insisted that the president himself should not be called to testify.

Bush lauded Kissinger, who served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, for his "careful judgment" at a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room -- the third such elaborate bill-signing event in three days, part of a weeklong effort by the administration to promote the president's legislative accomplishments.

But the celebration overlooked the fact that Bush initially was reluctant to support the Sept. 11 panel, insisting it would distract the intelligence community as it tried to prevent future attacks.

White House advisers were concerned that Bush would become a target of the inquiry, after revelations in May that he had been warned about possible al-Qaida plots to hijack U.S. airplanes but chose not to reveal that information to the public.

Democrats named former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine to be the panel's vice chairman, saying he was uniquely qualified given his experience as a special envoy to Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

"There may be only one person in America who can bring to this commission the same extraordinary combination of diplomacy and understanding of international affairs and government as Henry Kissinger -- and that person is George Mitchell," the Democrats' leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said in a statement. "From Northern Ireland to the Middle East, George Mitchell has shown the courage to seek answers to some of the most difficult problems of our time."

The White House agreed to the panel under pressure from the families of Sept. 11 victims. Aides have denied that Bush had any inkling terrorists would use planes as missiles and said they do not expect him to be called before the panel.

In tapping Kissinger, Bush said he hoped investigators will "carefully examine all the evidence" about what government agencies knew before the four hijackings that brought down the World Trade Center and devastated one wing of the Pentagon -- not to expose past mistakes, but to provide clues about how to block a strike in the future.

"We must uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th," Bush said. "My 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."

Despite his early objections, Bush relented under political pressure from relatives of the Sept. 11 victims, who yesterday expressed mixed feelings about Kissinger's appointment.

"He's a born and bred Republican, so if the president says, 'Don't go in that direction,' my sense is that he won't," said Thomas Roger of Longmeadow, Mass., whose daughter was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11.

Roger is president of Families of September 11, which has about 1,500 members.

"He comes in with all the right credentials and he understands all of the issues they'll be dealing with," he said, "but he also has some fairly heavy Republican political baggage."

Carie Lemack of Framingham, Mass., whose mother was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center, said many relatives were pushing for dual chairmen -- one Democrat, one Republican -- to ensure bipartisanship.

Lemack, who is vice president of Families of September 11, also said she was dissatisfied with a compromise on the panel's subpoena power. Under the deal, six of the 10 members would have to approve a subpoena.

Nevertheless, Lemack said, the inquiry into Sept. 11 will be an important step toward preventing another similar tragedy.

Bush also faced fierce lobbying from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who together co-sponsored the original legislation demanding an outside panel nearly a year ago.

"As we went forward we were motivated by the wrenching pleas of the families of victims of Sept. 11," Lieberman said in a statement yesterday. "They endured terrible pain because they did not know the whole story, and feared they might never be able to tell their children that their government had learned every possible lesson from its own fatal failures."

Although Lieberman applauded Bush for launching that investigation, he said the panel must make a "full, fair, and unflinching assessment" of what went wrong.

Kissinger, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, pledged to meet with victims' families once a month for the duration of his investigation.

"The families are an integral part of the process," Kissinger said.

Kissinger also said it was too early to know whether Bush will be asked to participate.

"I don't know whom we will want to question, but we will get at all the facts, and the president has promised us that all the facts should be made available," he said.

Democrats said Bush was likely to be asked to testify before the independent commission about events leading up to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people. President Reagan testified before a panel he appointed to investigate the Iran-Contra affair and President Ford testified before a House subcommittee about his pardoning of President Nixon.

"I would be surprised if this commission, in pursuit of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, did not want to speak with this president and high officials in this administration," said Lieberman.

The panel -- officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- was created as part of what officials described as a sweeping budget increase for all federal intelligence agencies, the third and final item on Bush's domestic agenda this week after he signed legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security on Monday and approving federal terrorism insurance on Tuesday.


Name: Henry A. Kissinger

Age-birthdate: 79; May 27, 1923

Education: A.B., M.A., Ph.D., 1950, 1952, 1954, Harvard University

Experience: Harvard University faculty, 1954-69; Nixon and Ford administrations, national security adviser, 1969-75, secretary of state, 1973-77; Nobel Peace Prize, 1973; founder and chairman, Kissinger Associates Inc.; chairman and member, various commissions

Family: Wife, Nancy; son and daughter from previous marriage

Quote: "We will go where the facts lead us."

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