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April 15, 2004
New York Times: 9/11 Commission Talks Too Much

Jim Rutenberg wrote an analysis for today's New York Times that questions the relentless public-relations efforts by members of the 9/11 Commission, who have appeared on talk shows and written numerous opinion pieces during their work on evaluating America's failure to predict and defend against the al-Qada suicide hijackings. Rutenberg notes growing discontent from Republicans and Democrats alike over their open discussions of the evidence and voicing their preliminary conclusions before all of the evidence and testimony has been received:

Democrats and Republicans alike have raised concerns about the degree to which commission members are discussing their deliberations on television and, even, in newspaper columns to the point that they are spinning their views like the politicians that many of them are.

Americans can hardly turn on a television or pick up a newspaper these days without seeing or reading about a member of the commission. From the Fox News Channel to ABC to newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, panel members have been providing a running commentary about the investigation as it unfolds, sometimes drawing blunt conclusions months before the final report is to be published in late July.

The accessibility of the commissioners to the news media, not to mention the openness of their views, is a departure from similar independent commissions of the past. Its members' openness troubles some officials here, who say they worry that it is giving the panel an edge that will taint its conclusions especially when coupled with what some have called a partisan tone to members' questions at the hearings here.

The issue calls into question what Congress and the President intended as the nature of this commission. In the beginning, as Glenn Reynolds has noted on occasion during debate about recusals and conflicts of interest, the expressed intent for the commission was to give it a judicial-style role in order to minimize its politicization, especially in an election year. Rutenberg contrasts this expectation with the behavior of the commissioners, which matches up better with political-style Congressional hearings on Iran-Contra and similar issues.

Why is this important? At any level, a judicial functionary would not be allowed to say on television or write in newspapers anything that would give a reasonable conclusion that the person had made up their mind well before hearing the evidence. As exmaples, Rutenberg reports on a few recent statements from some of the more visible members of the panel:

One commissioner, Bob Kerrey, has written two newspaper opinion pieces, including one for The New York Times on Sunday in which he asserted "9/11 could have been prevented." Another commissioner, Richard Ben-Veniste, said on CNN last week that before the attacks "we had some very useful intelligence." ...

Late last month, John F. Lehman, a Republican commissioner, said of Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism official who has said the Bush administration did not take his warnings about terrorism seriously before the attacks, "I think he has a credibility problem."

Last week, Jamie S. Gorelick, a Democrat on the commission, was asked if she agreed with testimony from Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, that there was no piece of evidence that "would have led to connecting all of those dots." Ms. Gorelick said on CNBC that she did not.

"There are dozens of pieces of information which, if they had been brought to one table," she said, "you have to believe we would have had a shot at preventing this."

I've discussed Gorelick's role on the panel in detail and I intend to return to this quote in a later post on that subject, but that example along with those others clearly indicate a bias on the part of each. For instance, how can Gorelick claim to fairly evaluate Rice's testimony before having heard from Ashcroft, Tenet, Mueller, and Pickard about the legal impediments preventing all of that data being "brought to one table"? Can Kerrey, having publicly stated that 9/11 was preventable, be open to evidence to the contrary?

Commission members offer the secretive Pearl Harbor and Warren (Kennedy assassination) commissions as a defense, claiming that secrecy created the lack of trust in their conclusions, but in fact the problem with at least the Warren commission wasn't secrecy, it was their willingness to endorse the FBI's bias, and their own, that a lone gunman was responsible for Kennedy's murder. Rather than energetically pursue other lines of investigation, the Warren Commission never challenged their own assumptions and allowed their bias to carry the day.

What we see now with 9/11 commissioners is the equivalent of the OJ jury coming out every night to debate the day's proceedings with Geraldo Rivera and Charles Grodin. National-security resources have been exposed in the media spotlight as witnesses are hauled before the camera by day and their testimony dissected every night by the people who are supposed to be listening with open minds. The process has become more open, but it's entirely inappropriate. We have rules preventing bias from affecting judicial-style proceedings in the US, for juries and for judges, for a very good reason: bias is widely recognized for producing bad results.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 15, 2004 6:06 AM

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