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Terror Investigators Say They Are Getting Increased Cooperation from Bush Administration - 2003-09-23

Leaders of the independent commission probing the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington say they are getting better cooperation from the Bush administration on access to government documents. The commission is preparing a series of public hearings on the September 11 attacks beginning early next year.

A few months ago, leaders of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, informally known as the 9/11 commission, complained that the White House and other government agencies were not cooperating with their requests for documents and information concerning the 2001 terrorist attacks.

But commission chairman Thomas Kean, the former Republican Governor of New Jersey, says there has been "a significant improvement" in access in recent weeks.

Mr. Kean is quick to add, however, that more delicate negotiations with the White House and other agencies lie ahead. "We have not got everything that we feel we need to do our job, and that is why the negotiations are continuing," explained Mr. Kean. "And these are not easy negotiations for either side at all times. But we expect to get everything we need to do our job and we have had assurances from the White House that if we show the real need of a document to do our job that that document will be made available to the commission."

Mr. Kean says that, to date, the commission has been given more than two million pages of government documents as part of its investigation of the attacks.

The commission plans to release its final report on the 9/11 attacks by May 2004. That report will also include numerous recommendations on how the United States can better prepare itself against future terrorist attacks.

"The commission is not choosing between examining the past or the future," stressed the commission's vice chairman, former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton of Indiana. "We are doing both. We are looking backward in order to look forward. We will try to learn how and why America was attacked so that we can suggest ways to keep such a tragedy from happening again."

Beginning in January, the commission will hold a series of extensive public hearings featuring current and former high-ranking government officials.

Chairman Tom Kean says the commission has not yet decided whether to call either President Bush or former President Bill Clinton to testify before the panel. But Mr. Kean insists the commission will not shy away from pointing fingers of responsibility where appropriate.

"We are going to write, to the best of our ability, the real history of what happened on that day and answer a number of the questions that many people still have and need answers [to]," stressed Mr. Kean. "And in the process, yes, people will be held accountable for their actions."

It is expected the commission will offer a wide range of recommendations in its final report touching on such issues as intelligence gathering, border security and emergency preparedness.

Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says the commission is also looking at what motivated the terrorists and who supported them.

"We must understand the enemy that chose war against America. We are seeking to understand militant forces within the Islamic world and the religious, governmental and financial institutions and ideologies that support them," said Mr. Hamilton.

The 9/11 commission is an independent, bipartisan panel created by Congress with the agreement of President George Bush in late 2002.