WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and CIA Director George J. Tenet will testify publicly next month in a federal commission inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.
The two-day hearing in late March, to focus on U.S. counterterrorism policy, will be unprecedented in its review of high-level officials in the administrations of Presidents Clinton and Bush, Philip Zelikow, executive director of the Sept. 11 commission, said Tuesday in an interview with Associated Press.
Also scheduled to testify are Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; his predecessor, Madeleine Albright; and Clinton's Defense secretary, William S. Cohen.
"We're going to break new ground as we shift the focus from officials in the field to the highest officials in government and foreign policy both before 9/11 and today," Zelikow said.
In previous hearings, the commission has highlighted government missteps before the 2001 attacks, including miscommunications about Al Qaeda operatives dating back to the mid-1990s and hijackers who were allowed to enter the nation repeatedly despite lacking proper visa documentation. Up to now, however, the panel has not assigned blame beyond midlevel officials.
The bipartisan panel is preparing to hold private meetings with Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore about what their administrations knew before the attacks.
On Friday, Bush agreed to meet privately with commissioners but said it was unnecessary for him to testify publicly, and he would not. Cheney also has said he would meet with some commissioners, and Clinton and Gore have said they will cooperate in private meetings while not saying whether they would testify publicly.
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims have demanded that the top leaders testify publicly, under oath. Administration officials said Bush wants to meet privately with a few commissioners, not all 10 members of the panel.