9/11 Commission Offers Critiques on Many Fronts
Report to Be Released Today
By Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 22, 2004; Page A01
Today's report by the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will roam far beyond the hijacking plot and the government's failure to detect it, touching on issues including weapons-proliferation policies and the United States' treatment of detainees captured in the war on terrorism.
An excerpt of the report obtained by The Washington Post, for example, indicates that the panel will address the Bush administration's controversial decision not to grant prisoner-of-war protections to captured al Qaeda suspects, calling for the development of "a common coalition approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists."
The report also urges more aggressive efforts to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining weapons of mass destruction and reveals that in 1998 U.S. officials worriedly discussed reports that al Qaeda "was intent on carrying out a 'Hiroshima,' " according to the excerpt.
The nearly 600-page report is a broad indictment of the government's efforts to combat al Qaeda before the Sept. 11 attacks. The document, to be released at a news conference here this morning, identifies as many as 10 opportunities to potentially unravel the plot and recommends a dramatic overhaul of counterterrorism efforts, including creation of a Cabinet-level intelligence chief, according to officials who have read the document, which has been the subject of a strict embargo.
President Bush and lawmakers from both parties were briefed on the findings yesterday by the commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean (R), and vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton (D). Before his meeting, Bush told reporters that the government was doing everything it could to protect the country from terrorists and defended his administration's handling of the al Qaeda threat before Sept. 11.
"Had we had any inkling, whatsoever, that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and Earth to protect America," Bush said. "And I'm confident President Clinton would have done the same thing. Any president would have."
The commission's report includes sharp criticism of congressional oversight in terrorism and intelligence issues and proposes reorganizing the way committees are structured, lawmakers said.
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he wants the Senate to start work "immediately" on ways to streamline Congress's management of intelligence issues, although a six-week recess begins Friday.
"The question is about congressional oversight, or is Congress doing its job?" Frist said. "The answer is Congress is doing a very good job, but there are going to be very clear areas of improvement."
But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said yesterday that Congress will be unlikely to consider any major changes this year, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signaled administration opposition to the idea of a new intelligence chief.
"I don't think you need a czar," Ridge said on Fox News Channel. "We already had one level of bureaucracy that we don't need."
Republican and Democratic lawmakers continued to spar over who is responsible for failures outlined by the commission. Hastert, while saying he did not want the report to become a "political football," noted Tuesday that it "covers eight years of the Clinton administration and eight months of the Bush administration."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) responded, "It happened on President Bush's watch," but she added that the report was not focused on assigning blame.
More details about the report dribbled out yesterday, including confirmation from lawmakers who have been briefed that the commission is not recommending creation of a domestic intelligence agency akin to Britain's MI5.
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