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9/11 Commission Members Fault US Response on Nuclear Proliferation, Detainee Treatment

Members of the commission that probed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have criticized the U.S. efforts at countering nuclear proliferation and the treatment of detainees captured in the war on terror. They also called for stepped-up efforts to bolster the U.S. image abroad.

In the latest in a series of so-called report cards on government response to their recommendations, members of the 9/11 Commission said U.S. efforts to secure nuclear weapons stockpiles in the former Soviet Union have been too slow.

Chairman Thomas Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, said the government response has not matched the gravity of the threat.

"The thing that strikes us is that the size of the problem still totally dwarfs the policy response," said Mr. Kean.

There are deep concerns about a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorist groups. Congress passed a law in 1991 to finance the securing and dismantling of nuclear weapons in states of the former Soviet Union. But Mr. Kean pointed out that about half of the nuclear sites in Russia do not have upgraded security. He added that it will take 14 years at the current rate to complete that task.

The 9/11 Commission, formed by Congress to investigate the 2001 terrorist attacks, officially disbanded last year. But members stayed together as the 9/11 Public Discourse Project to track implementation of the recommendations of their final report.

Co-Chair Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, said the United States remains deeply unpopular abroad not only because of the war in Iraq, but the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.

"However, mistrust and dislike of the United States remains extremely high in the Muslim world. Detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere undermines America's reputation as a moral leader. Opposition to U.S. policies in the Middle East remains high. Public opinion approval ratings for the United States throughout the region remain at or near historic lows," commented Mr. Hamilton.

He said the members reiterate their call for a common approach among coalition members toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists based upon the Geneva Convention. However, the Bush administration has so far refrained from adopting such a standard.

Members called for more aggressive efforts at public diplomacy, which is aimed at securing international good will, especially through foreign exchange programs. Commission member Fred Fielding said judging progress in public diplomacy is difficult.

"We must put forth an agenda of opportunity," he said. "We must have an alternative to present. And this won't be done overnight. We're not going to change the minds of people who are already committed to kill. But we can plant the seeds of opportunity for the future."

In congressional testimony last week, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes said her office was just getting started.

"We have a lot under way. We have a lot more to do. We're just beginning, and our work is critically important," said Ms. Hughes.

Ms. Hughes, accompanied by U.S. business leaders, visited the earthquake-damaged zone in Pakistan Monday to assess the need for more aid to quake victims.