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Congress Passes Bill to Create Commission on Terrorist Attacks

President's signature is expected. The panel, called for by victims' families, will report on failures leading to 9/11.

November 16, 2002|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An oft-delayed bill establishing a new commission to examine last year's terrorist attacks won final congressional approval Friday and will soon become law.

The creation of the commission ensures a continued focus on the intelligence and policy failures that preceded the brazen, destructive strikes against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The commission is modeled after similar panels that investigated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Advocates hope it will take a broader and deeper look at the government's pre-Sept. 11 lapses than inquiries by Congress and the Bush administration.

The legislation was championed by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as many other lawmakers sympathetic to the persistent demands for an outside probe from many families of those killed on Sept. 11.

Different versions of the bill won huge majorities in the House and Senate earlier this year.

President Bush initially resisted the proposal, saying a commission could prove to be little more than a distraction to his war on terror.

Later, though, he embraced the legislation and molded it to his liking. The final bill, for instance, lets the president name the chairman of the 10-member panel.

The House approved the final bill early Friday. Hours later, the Senate gave its unanimous consent. The bill, which Bush is expected to sign, was attached to annual intelligence legislation.

"It's long overdue," said Kristen Breitweiser of New Jersey, whose husband, Ronald, was killed in the collapse of the Trade Center and who is active in a network of victims' families. "We worked almost a year trying to get this done."

She said she hoped the commission would focus on how the government can prevent further attacks.

"My husband's dead; he's not coming back. What I want the commission to do is plug the holes, fix the problems, so that I know my daughter and I are safe," Breitweiser said.

The 10 members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States would be evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats. The chairman would serve with a vice chairman named by congressional Democrats.

The commission will be empowered to issue subpoenas upon agreement of the chairman and vice chairman or a majority of members.

The panel would examine such areas as intelligence failures, funding of terrorist networks, diplomacy, immigration policies and aviation security.

It is to report findings and recommendations to the president and Congress after 18 months.

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Times staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report.

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