The commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is trying to gain access to some members of al Qaeda in U.S. custody to pose questions to them, panel officials said yesterday.
Commission Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington that the panel is negotiating with the White House for access to some al Qaeda detainees.
"We have had a procedure in mind . . . whereby we are able to ask questions of these detainees, and that is still being processed and worked out," Hamilton said, according to a report by the Christian Science Monitor, which sponsored the breakfast. "We think the result will be that we will have the information we need from these people."
The Sept. 11 panel, which has sporadically feuded with the Bush administration over access to information and witnesses during the past year, already has had access to transcripts and reports about al Qaeda detainees in U.S. custody, officials said. But an ability to directly question them would give the panel a remarkable level of access to detainees held in secrecy and generally off limits to defense attorneys.
Hamilton and other commission officials declined to identify the detainees who are of interest to panel investigators. But among the most prominent operatives in U.S. criminal or military custody are al Qaeda deputy Khalid Sheik Mohammed, alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and alleged Sept. 11 organizer Ramzi Binalshibh.
"We continue to work closely with the 9/11 commission to ensure they have access to the information they need to do their job," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said, adding that "there are many ways to provide that information." Lisaius declined to discuss the specifics of the detainee request.