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Some 9-11 Victims' Families Say Hearings into Attacks Leave More Questions Than Answers - 2004-03-26

Here in the United States, there's been strong reaction from relatives of those who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to two days of testimony from top Bush and Clinton administration officials on whether those attacks could have been prevented. Some family members say the hearings left them with more questions than answers.

Top officials of the Bush and Clinton administrations ended two days of testimony Wednesday on whether anything could have been done to prevent the worst terrorist attack on the United States.

Chairmen Thomas Kean of the 9-11 Commission summed up the hearings by saying, "We've learned of systemic failure." Co-chairman Lee Hamilton said, "we are also left with the impression that the national security priorities of both administrations were to a large extent focused elsewhere."

But some of the relatives of those killed in the attacks came away from the hearings disappointed at the responses to many of their questions about why earlier attacks by al-Qaida on American targets had not drawn a more forceful military response from either the Bush or the Clinton administrations.

"In general, the hearings were frustrating," said Carie Lemack, who lost her mother in the attacks. "What we saw yesterday and Tuesday turned into partisan games."

This is a view shared by Kristy Coombs, who lost her husband in the collapse of the World Trade Center. "I think there's been a lot of finger pointing," she said. "Sitting there at the table and saying 'I didn't do it, I didn't do it, I didn't do it,' is really not getting them anywhere. Somebody needs to stand up and say we're sorry it resulted in so many deaths, let's see what we can learn from it."

Among family members who spoke to reporters, all had praise for one witness the White House tried to discredit, Richard Clarke. The former counter terrorism official served four consecutive presidents including George Bush but now accuses the White House of failing to take swift action against al-Qaida in the months before the September 11th attacks.

Steven Push lost his wife on that day and agrees with Richard Clarke's criticisms. "I do agree that the Bush administration put too little emphasis on counterterrorism prior to 9-11 and that contributed to our vulnerability on that day," he said.

Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died when the World Trade Center was attacked, said of Clarke, "He is the first person who has apologized to the families and that means an awful lot to us because clearly nine eleven was a colossal failure."

Some family members are hoping White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will reverse course and agree to testify before the commission in open session and thereby clear up still unanswered questions. President Bush has agreed to meet with commission members privately before the independent panel completes its report in July.