Kerrey joins 9/11 panel
By Lincoln Anderson
Named a member last week to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Bob Kerrey, New School University president, is raring to take on the responsibility, yet at the same time is 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 information it may have had about the attacks prior to their occurrence.
Kerrey, formerly a Nebraska senator for 12 years, said the commissions work will likely be compared with the likes of the Warren Commission, which investigated President John F. Kennedys assassination 40 years ago.
The 9/11 Commissions basic goal, as Kerrey put it, is To issue a final report that the American people trust; so we dont 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.
Access to information will be the key challenge. So far, the commissions progress has been slowed by a combination of the administrations 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 Kerreys 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, its very different, Kerrey said. As I said to Sen. Daschle, Im 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 of the Democratic wannabes until concluding his work on the 9/11 Commission, which is led by another university president, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, now of Drew University.
As former vice chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kerrey noted that congressional oversight is 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.
Kerrey brings something to the committee as a New York City resident. Hes 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 hes probably the only New York City resident on the commission.
Because of my experience, I think I can contribute, Kerrey said. And now Im in New York. I feel Ive got to communicate represent the [victims] families interests.
Kerrey regularly goes for a morning jog in the Hudson River Park and used to always go 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.
Ive already communicated with the families committee, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly, Kerrey noted. New Yorks got a big stake in this and in preventing it from happening again.