9/11 Commission Offers Critiques on Many Fronts
Also yesterday, the Associated Press released a portion of a surveillance tape from Washington Dulles International Airport showing several hijackers being pulled aside for extra scrutiny on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Commission investigators found in an interim report released in January that three of the five hijackers who boarded American Airlines Flight 77, which would crash into the Pentagon, set off magnetometers but were eventually allowed to proceed. Investigators believe the hijackers were probably carrying knives used in the hijacking.
In its report, the commission appears to raise questions about the Bush administration's legal approach to al Qaeda detainees apprehended overseas, although the extent of the panel's critique is not clear because an excerpt obtained by The Post is incomplete.
"New principles might endorse the application of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict," the report says, according to the excerpt. "That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law."
The recommendation appears to reinforce the views and longtime understanding of the military legal community, while rejecting the claims of some Bush administration officials that some detainees are not entitled to Geneva protections as a matter of standard practice.
The administration has said that while the Geneva Conventions apply to combatants captured in Iraq, they do not apply to suspected al Qaeda members such as those held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Justice Department has also said the conventions do not apply to unlawful combatants, including many of those detained in Afghanistan.
In a separate section, the report finds that government actions to freeze the financial assets connected to Osama bin Laden or his suspected supporters "appeared to have little effect," even when working through the United Nations. And it noted that in many cases, when confronted with legal challenges, the United States and the United Nations were often forced to unfreeze the assets.
Another section says that efforts to combat Islamic terrorism should "be combined with a parallel, vital effort to prevent and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
The commission recommends initiatives including the development of an international legal regime with universal jurisdiction that would enable the capture, interdiction and prosecution of weapons-of-mass-destruction smugglers; an expansion of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which allows the United States and some allies to board ships suspected of transporting illegal weapons materials; and increased support for a 1991 plan to secure dangerous nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union.
One source who has been briefed on panel findings said the report casts doubt on whether the Bush administration has justified its use of some expanded powers under the USA Patriot Act, which gave the FBI broader authority to conduct surveillance and searches in terrorism investigations following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Staff writers Mike Allen, Dan Morgan and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.
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