How the Sept 11th Victims’ Families Search for Answers Was Met With Stonewalling, Lies and Political Theatre


On November 24, 2007, September 11th widow Lorie Van Auken whose husband Kenneth W. Van Auken had died in the North Tower spoke before an audience at the Episcopal Church-in-the-Bowery. In support of a campaign for the City of New York to investigate the ‘attacks,’ she remarked:

“It turns out almost everything about 9/11 was out of the ordinary, including the fact that it was never properly investigated…. The reason that we need an investigation into 9/11 is because we never actually had one. The 9/11 Commission was not a real investigation. It was political theatre. The family members who were involved with the commission actually had more questions after the 9/11 independent commission was completed than we had before it was begun” [1].

Lorie Van Auken was one of a dozen members of the Family Steering Committee for the 9/11 Independent Commission. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, families went to memorial services for their loved ones and grieved in private. Many waited for the Bush White House to announce an investigation into why the FBI, CIA, and America’s 750-billion-dollar defense establishment failed to prevent the attacks. Instead, Vice-President Dick Cheney said the nation couldn’t afford to divert funds on an investigation while fighting the War on Terror. In May 2002, U.S. Senate leader Tom Daschle told reporters he was concerned that on “several occasions” Cheney has asked that Congress not launch any investigation at all [2].

Families Press For Truth

Families rallied on June 11, 2002, at the Capitol buildings in Washington D.C. to press for the government to look into the attacks [3]. Lorie Van Auken, along with Mindy Kleinberg, Patty Casazza and Kristen Breitweiser each lost their husbands on September 11th. They became known as “The Jersey Girls” and appeared in a PBS special hosted by Gail Sheehy, news stories in the New York Observer, Chris Matthews’ Hardball, and more [4][5]. On September 18, 2002, Kristen Breitweiser testified before the Joint Inquiry of the U.S. Senate and Congress [6]. One staff member with the White House said of the victims’ family lobby, “There was a freight train coming down the tracks.” Bowing to pressure, in November 2002 President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Henry Kissinger to head a 9/11 Commission the White House never wanted. After a meeting with members of the Family Steering Committee (FSC) over concerns about conflicts of interest – such as having bin Laden family business clients – Kissinger abruptly resigned instead of disclosing his client list [7].

Kissinger was replaced by former Republican Governor Thomas Kean, a director of the oil consortium company Amerada Hess which was eager to build a pipeline across Afghanistan. As well, Kean had business ties with Khalid bin Mahfouz, a billionaire suspected of funneling money to al Qaeda. [8] Kean’s co-chair was Lee Hamilton, a longtime best friend of Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Hamilton was a former chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran and in 1992 the House October Surprise Task Force. Both were viewed by critics as part of a coverup [9]. At first, only $3 million was allotted to investigate events surrounding the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. This contrasts with $50 million to investigate the January 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle crash [10] and the $80 million devoted to investigating the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal in the 1990s.

Enter Executive Director Philip Zelikow

On March 2, 2003, newly appointed Executive Director of the inquiry, Philip Zelikow, sent a five-page memo to the eighty new 9/11 Commission staff. The memo was entitled “What Do I Do Now?” In his book The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission, author Philip Shenon details how Zelikow instructed staff members on how to go about their jobs on the Commission. The memo prescribed this controversial protocol. “If you are contacted by a commissioner, please contact [deputy executive director] Chris [Kojm] or me. We will be sure that the appropriate members of the Commission’s staff are responsive.” This disturbed experienced staff members who had worked on other federal commissions. Zelikow was shutting down any lines of communication that didn’t go through him or his deputy. Zelikow didn’t want the staff to speak directly with the 9/11 commissioners who they were responsible to [11].

It was Zelikow who decided who would testify before the 9/11 Commission, and seldom under oath. Zelikow made sure the dubious scholarship of Laure Mylroie – who asserted that Iraq attacked America on 9/11 (a contention echoed in President George W. Bush’s Authorization For Use Of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of October 2002) – was given ample air time before the 9/11 Commission [12][13]. As were other “Iraq attacked America on 9/11” witnesses. Zelikow had authored the paper that advanced the doctrine of pre-emptive war to bolster President Bush’s case to attack Iraq [14]. But whistleblowers like Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who wanted to testify about the DIA data mining project Able Danger, were among those passed over by the 9/11 Commission [15].

Remarkably, in March 2003, Philip Zelikow had already co-authored an outline of the 9/11 Commission Report. Though the inquiry had yet to hold its first public hearing, the outline offered a narrative. It happened that the 9/11 Commission Report released in July 2004 mirrored most of the chapter headings and sub-headings of the outline. The outline, according to Senior Counsel Ernest May, was “treated as if it were the most classified document the commission possessed.” Zelikow had the outline stamped “Commission Sensitive” on the top and bottom of each page. When the outline was leaked in the spring of 2004, many staff were shocked [16]. Did the outline establish in advance what the 9/11 Commission Report would conclude? For Bob McIlvaine, whose son Bobby died on 9/11, the existence of an outline for the official story before the first public hearings were even held was scandalous. He said, “That’s monumental news. The outline of the investigation of my son’s murder was out before the first day they started the investigation” [17]. At the first public hearing 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean stated “our fundamental purpose will not be to point fingers.” The inquiry was not going to “assign blame.” Kean said, “In the parlance of Congress this is not an investigative hearing, but an informal one” [18].

A National Scandal

One 9/11 Commissioner who was judged by the families to be the most dedicated to getting to the bottom of what happened was Max Cleland. He was appointed to the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and resigned in December 2003. Before he left the Commission, Cleland told reporters that the inquiry was “a national scandal.” He told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! that “the White House had played cover-up and a slow walk to this game from the beginning” [19]. Cleland pointed to the lack of access to government documents. He was also upset others on the 9/11 Commission didn’t want to probe into the Iraq War. Was it just a coincidence that a President who wanted a war in Iraq happened to have a political event unfold that gave him cause to preemptively go to war? Cleland also compared the 9/11 Commission to the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. When Max Cleland resigned, the Family Steering Committee and other Sept 11 families lobbied for a replacement they could trust. The replacement of Democrat Cleland was up to Democrat Senate minority leader Tom Daschle.

The families wanted 9/11 widow Kristen Breitweiser on the panel. Other suggestions the families offered were former Pentagon Inspector General Eleanor Hill and former Senator Gary Hart. Instead, Daschle appointed Vietnam Veteran and probable war criminal Bob Kerrey. Vietnamese and military witnesses claimed Kerrey ordered the slaughter of 21 unarmed women and children in a raid on the tiny hamlet of Thanh Phong in February of 1969 [20]. Kerrey was also a member of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) dominated Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Kerrey’s appointment contributed to the commission’s continued focus on Iraq as being complicit in the attacks. The dozen members of the Family Steering Committee presented over a thousand questions, and subsets of questions, to the 9/11 Commission in March 2003. Commissioner Jamie Gorelick told the press that the families’ questions would provide the inquiry with “a road map” to proceed with their task [21]. However, few public hearings took place. And 70% of the FSC questions were ignored.

September 11 Families Issue Report Card

In September 2003 the Family Steering Committee issued a Report Card on the progress of the 9/11 Commission. [22] They gave the inquiry a “D” for Investigative, Informative Open Hearings. The FSC noted only three public hearings had taken place in nine months. Kean and Hamilton had initially committed to holding monthly public hearings. Additionally, while the Joint Inquiry (Senate and Congress) had issued regular Interim Reports, none were being released by the 9/11 Commission. The FSC gave the inquiry a “D” for Staff Director Interim Reports. Without interim reports, it was hard for the public to verify that the 9/11 Commission was on track with their task. The FSC gave the inquiry a “D” for Structure and Conduct of Open Hearings. The families were “shocked” with the use of “minders” when witnesses came forward to testify from different government agencies.

The FSC wrote, “despite the Commissioner’s similar objection to minders, as stated at the last press conference, minders continue to be present during witness examination and questioning. The FSC does not want minders present during any witness examination and questioning; it is a form of intimidation and it does not yield the unfettered truth. Also (we are concerned about) the failure of this Commission to swear witnesses in prior to their testimony. Without sworn testimony, witnesses cannot be held accountable for what they testify about before the Commission” [23].

Alarm at the slow progress of the 9/11 Commission was reflected in an FSC press release on September 10, 2003:

“Since no substantive information about the investigation has been released, we are being asked to take on faith that an in-depth investigation is taking place and that it will not be a whitewash. But trust began to die when President Bush opposed an independent investigation for more than a year. We should not have had to fight our government for an independent Commission. Each subsequent misrepresentation or manipulation of facts by government officials has caused further erosion of trust. Lingering questions, and those that have been answered with half-truths or omissions, do not promote trust. Instead, they lead to conjecture and discontent” [24].

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