Volume 73, Number 33 | December 17 - 23, 2003

Kerrey says 9/11 panel’s aim is ‘trust’

By Lincoln Anderson

Named a member last week to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, New School University President Bob Kerrey is eager to take on the responsibility, while at the same time aware of potential pitfalls and a need for a measured approach.

Kerrey was appointed to the commission by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

Known as the 9/11 Commission, the 10-member, bipartisan body was created last year by Congress to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has been working to get the Bush administration to reveal as much as possible about any information it may have had about the attacks prior to their occurrence.

Kerrey, formerly a Nebraska senator for 12 years, is fully cognizant of the gravity of the commission’s work, noting it will be compared with the likes of the Warren Commission, which investigated President John F. Kennedy’s assassination 40 years ago.

The 9/11 Commission’s basic goal, as Kerrey put it, is “To issue a final report that the American people trust; so we don’t have what we had after the Warren Commission, which is 40 years of a lack of trust by the American people. This will be seen as the Warren Commission [was], as a test of an open and Democratic society,” Kerrey said. The first meeting of the commission that Kerrey will attend will be Jan. 1.

Access to information will be the key challenge. So far, the commission’s progress has been slowed by a combination of the administration’s foot-dragging on supplying information as well as turnover on the commission, which saw former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Former Senator George Mitchell appointed as chairperson and vice chairperson, respectively, only to step down over potential conflicts of interest.

However, there are also political realities, and the commission should not be a vehicle to bash President Bush, in Kerrey’s view. The commission will have to do its work “respectfully — but forcefully,” he said, so as “not to embarrass the president.”

“In an election year, it’s very different,” Kerrey said. “As I said to Sen. Daschle, I’m not going to get involved in presidential campaigning until this is over. I want to make clear that my role is to participate in a process that people trust.”

A Democrat, Kerrey, ran for president himself in 1992, but, as he says, will not campaign for any candidate until concluding his work on the 9/11 Commission.

As former vice chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kerrey considers congressional oversight one of his strong points. Also as a former member of that committee, he still has his security credentials, meaning he can go to Washington, D.C., and look at classified information, which not all other members on the 9/11 Committee can do.

Also, he brings something to the committee as a New York City resident. He’s lived here — first in Chelsea, now in Greenwich Village — since taking over the New School presidency after retiring from the Senate in 2000. He thinks he’s probably the only New York City resident on the commission.

“Because of my experience, I think I can contribute,” Kerrey said. “And now I’m in New York. I feel I’ve got to communicate — represent the [victims’] families’ interests.”

Kerrey regularly goes for a morning jog along the Hudson River Park and used to always run down to the World Trade Center. On Sept. 11, 2001, though, he ran earlier than usual so he could be with his wife, writer Sarah Paley, who was recovering at a Hackensack, N.J., hospital from delivering their son, Henry, the day before by cesarean section. From the hospital in New Jersey, Kerrey witnessed the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

“I’ve already communicated with the ‘families’ committee,’ Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly,” Kerrey noted. “New York’s got a big stake in this and in preventing it from happening again.”


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