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Families of 9/11 Victims Want Independent Probe of Attacks - 2002-07-19

Relatives of victims of September 11 have joined with congressional lawmakers in calling for an independent investigation into events leading up to the terrorist attacks.

There are already two investigations of events and circumstances leading up to September 11, a continuing joint House-Senate probe, and a separate just-completed examination by a House of Representatives subcommittee.

House investigators announced the results of their work this past Wednesday. That report highlighted a range of weaknesses in the intelligence community that contributed to security failures in the months and years before September 11.

But families of the victims feel these investigations won't provide a complete picture. "We deserve to have an independent investigation removed from the political process," explained Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the terrorist attacks. "We deserve to have answers not only for our psychological healing, to explain to our children how this could have happened, but also to know that we are safe living in this country. Because at this point in time, none of us feel safe here. And something has to be done. We have to find the problems, we have to get the answers and we have to fix the problems."

To do that, she and other activists have teamed up with lawmakers promoting a bill calling for creation of a 10-member bi-partisan "blue-ribbon" commission.

The principal sponsor is Democratic Congressman Tim Roemer of Indiana. He says this commission would complement the main House-Senate probe, and examine areas of concern the main investigation does not cover. "That's very important, not just to take a slice of this, as the intelligence committee looking at intelligence agencies, but the whole picture, the whole loaf of bread needs to be analyzed and looked at," he said.

A co-sponsor of the bill is New Jersey Republican congressman Chris Smith. He says the massive loss of innocent lives on September 11, and numerous unanswered questions, demand an independent commission.

"The time is now for a commission dedicated solely to the terrorist attacks of September 11, with the clear non-ambiguous mandate to aggressively investigate all relevant factors and circumstances concerning nine-eleven, and report back with an accurate accounting and recommendations for reform," he said.

Stephen Push lost his wife on September 11. She was a passenger on the plane that terrorists flew into the Pentagon. Mr. Push draws comparisons with the aftermath of Pan Am Flight 103, when families fought for changes in aviation security.

His voice breaking with emotion, Mr. Push says the September 11 families have learned a lesson that it takes perseverance to effect change. "People will forget. We won't forget. But the rest of the country will forget, and we will come back and remind them and, and help them see that this gets carried through to a conclusion," he said.

Next week, Congressman Roemer will attempt to attach his proposal for an independent commission, to a bill in the House authorizing funds for U.S. intelligence agencies.

That could be controversial, but Mr. Roemer says he has the support of 106 Democratic and Republican lawmakers.