Widows Seeking Answers On 9/11
by Andrea Alexander, The Asbury Park Press
December 8, 2001
After fighting for months for an independent investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, four Central Jersey women thought they would finally get answers about how their husbands were murdered in the World Trade Center.
They did not realize the battle for information had only started. A year after the legislation establishing the commission was signed, the women say they do not know any more than they did in the fall of 2001.
They wanted hearings with hard-hitting questions put to high-ranking members of the current and past presidential administrations. Instead, they have heard testimony from insurance executives. They thought the airlines would have to explain how the hijackers could have slipped past security. Instead, they waited for months while the commission subpoenaed the Federal Aviation Administration for records.
Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a former New Jersey governor, has asked for patience, saying his panel will hear more substantive testimony in January. But, for now, the women say that what they had hoped for and what the commission has accomplished are worlds apart.
“There is a big discrepancy between what we wanted, and what is happening,” said Patty Casazza, 42, of Colts Neck, who lost her husband, John, in the attacks.
“I don’t know if I can stomach sitting through another hearing that doesn’t go to the heart of the matter,” said Mindy Kleinberg, 42, of East Brunswick. Her husband, Alan, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center.
“But if we don’t go,” she asked, “who is watching?”
A sixth hearing, focused on “liberty and security” and the Patriot Act, is scheduled for today in Washington, D.C.
Sitting through the hearing is sometimes unbearable for the victims’ families.
“It is excruciating on a lot of levels,” Kleinberg said. “The whole reason we are there, because we lost someone, is excruciatingly painful. It is excruciating because we are two years in and we are still begging for an answer.”
“I was looking for an investigation into Sept. 11, 2001,” said Lorie Van Auken, 48, of East Brunswick. “That is not what we got.”
Her husband, Kenneth, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
“The mandate set up for this commission was to investigate the facts that led up to Sept. 11,” Kleinberg said. “The commission is supposed to look at what went wrong, how did it go wrong and how could we fix it,” she said. “They shouldn’t be having policy discussions before they figure out what happened.”
“This commission is a big disappointment at this point,” said Kristen Breitweiser, 32, of Middletown. Her husband, Ron, was vice president at Fiduciary Trust Company International on the 92nd floor of the south tower.
“This was supposed to be an investigation that would re-establish faith and trust for the American people in the government and let the public know that things have been fixed,” Breitweiser said. “But the commission, in my opinion, has been very much kept secret.”
Kean is a sympathetic to the families with concerns. He said he understands their impatience and respects the gravity of the task.
But much of the investigation has to be done behind closed doors because the commission is reviewing highly classified documents, Kean said. While some of the information may never be made public, Kean promises the recommendations based on the panel’s findings will not be kept secret.
“I understand their frustration,” Kean said. “I think they will learn what happened, but we can’t do it today for them. This is the largest investigation of the U.S. government in history, and I believe they will get the answers.”
He said the final report, due May 27, will contain some sur-prises and shed light on the events.
Kean is going to be begin re-viewing the president’s daily intelligence briefings this week. The documents have nev-er been released, and the com-mission had to negotiate to be able to study them. The White House agreed to give access on-ly to the sections that pertained to al-Qaida and the attacks.
The victims’ families wanted the commission to press for greater access.
“I understand it is a sensitive issue and the White House doesn’t want to set a precedent, but this is a precedent-setting event,” Kleinberg said.
The commission is still consid-ering whether to ask Presi-dents Bush and Clinton to testi-fy, Kean said. Those hearings would likely be conducted be-hind closed doors because of the sensitive matters that would be discussed.
If a high-ranking witness refus-es to testify, the commission will do everything it can to compel an appearance, includ-ing issuing a subpoena, Kean said. He said the commission does not plan to keep secret who agrees to testify and who refuses to testify.
The report is due May 27, or 18 months after the commission was formed. The families be-lieve that there isn’t enough time to do a thorough job. Kean said he will ask for an exten-sion if the staff tells him it’s necessary.
“The time line is tight, there is no question about it,” Kean said. “I think everyone in the commission insists this report is done with integrity.”
If that is not possible, the com-mission will ask for an exten-sion. But there is a reason why Kean would like to have the report completed as soon as possible. He wants the recom-mendations to be included in the presidential platforms of both parties during the elec-tion.
“That would almost guarantee it would be made into law,” Kean said.
Once the report is complete, the commission will face the difficult task of trying to get changes made. Kean said he will travel the country, testify before Congress and appear on talk shows to pressure the fed-eral government to enact the recommendations.
Legislators weigh in
Some members of Congress who supported creating the committee agree more time might be needed, and criticized the government for withhold-ing information.
“The commission has a huge job and I think it was unrea-sonable from the begining to think the commission could op-erate on a small budget in a short time frame,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., says the government should have been more forthcoming with the information the com-mission requested, according to his spokesman, Andrew Sou-vall.
“The congressman hopes the ad-ministration will take the final report more seriously and charge its federal agencies to implement the final recommen-dations made by the commis-sion,” Souvall said.
Breitweiser continues to de-mand answers about how the hijackers could slip through “a multitude of safety nets” as they lived in the country, took flight lessons and eventually boarded the planes on Sept. 11.
“They slipped through safety nets the American public had faith in that would keep them safe,” Breitweiser said. “And yet we have absolutely no reconcil-iation as to how that could hap-pen and what could be done to make sure that never happens again.”
Kean knows there is only one thing that will satisfy the fami-lies.
“The only way to ally their con-cerns,” he said, “is to come out with the kind of report they expect.”
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