- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

President Bush yesterday named Henry Kissinger to head a commission to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks, instructing the former secretary of state to "carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead."
Mr. Bush said the panel will seek to "uncover every detail and learn every lesson of September the 11th," but, unlike a proposed commission he initially opposed, it will have a firm deadline to complete work within 18 months.
"This commission will help me and future presidents to understand the methods of America's enemies and the nature of the threats we face," the president said at a White House ceremony with congressional lawmakers, attack survivors and members of victims' families.
Mr. Bush said he wants the process concluded quickly. "After all, if there's changes that need to be made, we need to know them as soon as possible," he said.
The commission, created by legislation Mr. Bush signed yesterday, will be composed of nine more appointees picked by the congressional leadership. Democrats yesterday announced George J. Mitchell, the former Democratic senator who has worked for peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, as their choice to serve as vice chairman of the commission.
That leaves each party with four more selections, expected to be announced early next month.
The commission will examine issues such as aviation security and border problems, along with intelligence. It will have the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents by agreement of the chairman and vice chairman or a vote of six of the 10 commission members.
Democrats said the president is likely to be asked to testify before the independent commission about events leading up to the attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
"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 Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Mr. Bush did not envision testifying before the panel, asserting it would not be "within the precedents of any congressional commission."
Mr. Kissinger, 79, told reporters on the White House driveway that the commission will have no restraints.
"We are not restricted by any foreign policy considerations. We are under no restrictions, and we would accept no restrictions," Mr. Kissinger said, adding that Mr. Bush had given him assurances in private that "he has every intention to carry out the recommendations of the commission."
Mr. Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, pledged a thorough investigation, including an examination of any ties between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which carried out the September 11 attacks.
The White House disclosed in May that Mr. Bush was told in the months before the attacks that al Qaeda might hijack U.S. passenger planes. The disclosure prompted some liberal Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, to accuse the president of knowing terrorists' plans before the September 11 attacks.
A senior White House official said the selection of Mr. Kissinger allays administration concerns about classified information.
"You need someone like a Henry Kissinger because of his security clearance. You're not going to find too much he doesn't already know," the official said.
While some of the law's provisions establish requirements for the president to disclose sensitive information, Mr. Bush said in a statement that "the executive branch shall construe such provisions in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to withhold information the disclosure of which could impair foreign relations, the national security, the deliberative processes of the executive or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."
Although critics of the Kissinger appointment quickly voiced opposition, a spokesman for the families of September 11 victims welcomed the move.
"We look forward to working with [Mr. Kissinger] to make the commission effective in uncovering the problems that led to the September 11 attacks," said Stephen Push, whose wife died on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Said Mr. Kissinger: "There is nothing that can be done about the losses they have suffered, but everything must be done to avoid that such a tragedy can occur again."
The nomination of Mr. Kissinger won an endorsement yesterday from a Democratic senator with whom he often has been at odds.
"There's nothing wrong with being impatient or brash or having a temper, I've been accused of both, sometimes by Henry Kissinger," said Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, referring to at least one congressional hearing in which he and Mr. Kissinger had an angry exchange about the issue of prisoners of war inVietnam.
"What matters is that Henry Kissinger is one of a handful of leaders capable of leading this kind of effort. He's one of the smartest and most experienced foreign policy hands we have. He won't be intimidated by the intelligence community or military brass," said Mr. Kerry, a prospective presidential candidate in 2004. He added that Mr. Kissinger has a strong ability to detect being snowed by disinformation or propaganda.
Mr. Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, two years after he made a secret trip to China, ending a Sino-American estrangement that had lasted more than two decades.
Mr. Mitchell, who represented Maine in the Senate, more recently led the negotiations that produced the landmark Good Friday peace pact of 1998 for Northern Ireland.
Yesterday's bill signing was the third major accomplishment for the White House this week, beginning with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security on Monday. On Tuesday, the president signed into law legislation to bolster insurance companies, a move he said would kick-start $15 billion in construction projects nationwide.
"This has been a week of accomplishment for the American people, particularly on our two highest priorities protecting the American people and strengthening our economy," Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Bush flew to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Twelve Bush family members, including the first couple's twin daughters, who turned 21 on Monday, will gather at the ranch for dinner today. On the menu: free-range "brined" turkey, corn bread dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, fresh cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, fruit salad, green beans with anchovy and red peppers, and crescent rolls.
"And for dessert, pumpkin pie and pecan pie," Mr. McClellan said.
Mr. Bush returns to Washington on Sunday.
Joyce Howard Price contributed to this report.

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