Family Steering Committee Report Card for the 9/11 Commission

September, 2003


Our purpose in providing this report card is to motivate the Independent Commission to better serve the public interest by informing them of their progress and work.

Our hope is that the Commission will view this mid-term Report Card and act upon areas of weakness. And, in doing so, better assure the American public that they are doing the job that needs to be done.

* We understand that much of the Commission's work is done behind closed doors. This mid-term report card reflects the limited information that we have gleaned from open-hearings, meetings and conversations with the 9/11 Commission staff director and 9/11 Commissioners. We are publishing this report card due to requests for information on the Commission's progress from victims' families and concerned citizens, alike.

Investigative, Informative Open Hearings         D

The topics and content of the prior three open hearings were disappointing. Both the selection of witnesses and the probing by Commissioners in public forum fell short of our expectations.

Preparedness and critical thinking/questioning is a keystone of a thorough and worthwhile hearing, and in turn, an effective commission. Because the Commissioners either lacked the information and education on certain issues (namely the FAA and NORAD protocols, the timeline of 9/11, the evacuation and emergency response protocols of the City of NY), or simply did not have the will, the Commissioners, individually and as a whole, did not carryout the necessary hard-hitting lines of questioning, cross-examination and crucial follow-up questioning all of which are critical in unearthing the truth.

The FSC feels that expert witnesses invited to testify before the Independent Commission should hold valuable and pertinent information that will yield fruitful insights into the systemic government failures that occurred on 9/11. As an example, in the most recent open hearing, we had an “expert” witness testifying on Iraq and no expert witness testifying about Saudi Arabia. The FSC would like to draw attention to the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, and none were from Iraq. Additionally, the 900-page Joint Inquiry Report shows no Iraqi connection to 9/11.

The FSC did attempt to recommend both Open Hearing topics and Open Hearing expert witness lists. Our requests were left unanswered. When invited to do so, the FSC has also supplied information and questions to the Commissioners for each open hearing. We will continue to do so. However, whether the Commissioners choose to use our line of questioning remains in their sole discretion.

Frequency of Hearings          C-

This Commission has been established for over nine months. Yet, there have only been three open hearings. At its inception, the Commission promised the FSC that there would be one open hearing per month.

To date, the FSC has expressed concern about the infrequency of open hearings. We have also requested that certain months “double up” on hearings. These requests remain unanswered.

The purpose and power of open hearings was illustrated during the Joint Inquiry’s investigation. Open hearings inform the public. Open hearings provide the impetus for change by shedding sunlight onto problems and failures. Perhaps, most importantly, open hearings ensure that not all of a committee’s work remains classified.

Family Member Testimony        B-

The FSC had hoped to have more than one opportunity to testify before the Independent Commission. The purpose of family member testimony is to draw better attention to areas that the Independent Commission is unwilling to address.

To date, the FSC has requested the opportunity for family member testimony at each hearing. These requests have remained unanswered.

Staff Director Interim Reports        D

The legislation mandating the Independent Commission does not require Staff Director Interim Reports. The FSC has requested public interim reports be given by Philip Zelikow, much in the same way that Staff Director Eleanor Hill gave interim reports during the Joint Inquiry’s investigation. Mr. Zelikow has denied such request.

One of the FSC’s goals for this commission was to better inform the public. It is evident that public awareness saves lives. United Airlines Flight 93 and Richard Reid the “shoe-bomber” are excellent examples of the power and importance of public awareness.

Interim reports are critical in making the public more aware. Two years have passed since September 11th. Nine months have passed since this Commission has been established. And yet, the public still remains very much in the dark.

Structure and Conduct of Open Hearings        D

This commission was established as an “independent” body of individuals to conduct an independent, non-political, bi-partisan, and unbiased inquiry into the failures that occurred on 9/11.

The FSC is shocked with the use of “minders” in the interrogatory process. And, despite the Commissioner’s similar objection to “minders”, as stated at the last press conference, “minders” continue to be present during witness examination and questioning. The FSC does not want “minders” present during any witness examination and questioning; it is a form of intimidation and it does not yield the unfettered truth.

Also a concern of the FSC is the failure of this Commission to swear witnesses in prior to their testimony. Without sworn testimony, witnesses cannot be held accountable for what they testify about before the Commission. While given assurances by the Staff Director that prior witnesses would be brought to task for their inaccurate statements made during open hearings, the FSC has been given no evidence that has been done.

The FSC has additional concerns regarding the Commission’s reticence to subpoena witnesses. The FSC had wanted the Independent Commission to “subpoena early and often.”

The Commission’s failure to subpoena, while polite, prohibits the ultimate claim by the Commission that they, themselves, were the victims of “stonewalling” by the agencies, organizations and councils. Nine months into their investigation, the Commission must use every avenue possible to gain the information and access to witnesses needed to make their investigation a success.

Understanding of the Commission's Mandate         incomplete

Public Law 107-306, which established this commission states that "the function of this commission is to conduct an investigation that investigates relevant facts and circumstances relating to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, including any relevant legislation, Executive Order, regulation, plan, policy, practice, or procedure; and may include relevant facts and circumstances relating to intelligence agencies; law enforcement agencies; diplomacy; immigration, non-immigrant visas, and border control; the flow of assets to terrorist organizations; commercial aviation; the role of Congressional oversight and resource allocation; and other areas of the public and private sectors determined relevant to the Commission for its inquiry.

The Commission is to identify, review, and evaluate the lessons learned from the terrorist attacks from September 11th, 2001, regarding the structure, coordination, management policies, and procedures of the federal government, and, if appropriate, state and local governments and non-governmental entities relative to detecting, preventing, and responding to such terrorist attacks."

Our interpretation of the Independent Commission’s mandate is that the Commission would have investigated the Timeline of events that transpired on the morning of 9/11. There are a finite amount of facts that revolve around 9/11. These facts reveal a finite amount of glaring failures that occurred on behalf of our government and its agencies and institutions.

If the Independent Commission’s open hearings are evidence of the Commission’s understanding of their mandate, then the Independent Commission’s obligation as required under law will not have been met. This failure will not only be for the 9/11 victims’ families, it will be a failure for all of the American people.