WASHINGTON – Lawmakers investigating intelligence failings leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks have scheduled their first public hearings for next Wednesday and have invited the spouses of two victims to be the first witnesses.
Stephen Push and Kristin Breitweiser said they received faxed invitations from the House and Senate intelligence committees on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the attacks.
"I think that it's very nice, but certainly very fitting that they listen to the family's voices at this time," said Breitweiser, of Middletown, N.J. Her husband, Ronald, died at the World Trade Center.
The intelligence committees have been meeting behind closed doors since June 4. Public hearings were expected to begin in late June, but have been repeatedly postponed. Closed-door sessions resume Thursday after a seven-week break.
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims have been privately pushing lawmakers for permission to appear before any public proceedings.
"I think it's extremely important to the country because I think we have a perspective we can bring to these questions that others cannot," said Push, of Great Falls, Va. His wife, Lisa Raines, was aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
Intelligence agencies opposed having relatives appear, saying that testimony from the victims' families would be inappropriate and counterproductive. They said emotional appeals would do little to fulfill the purpose of the investigation: to root out problems in the structure, management and funding of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Push said he wants to make sure lawmakers understand the families' concerns about intelligence failings, such as analytical problems and the lack of communication among agencies. He said he would make recommendations for improving intelligence.
Breitweiser said she would urge lawmakers to create an independent commission to examine the Sept. 11 attacks. That has been opposed by the Bush administration, which says the congressional inquiry makes an independent investigation unnecessary. Advocates of the commission say it could look beyond the intelligence issues being examined by lawmakers, exploring problems in aviation, defense and other areas.
Public hearings have been delayed because of concerns about the release of sensitive documents, leaders of the inquiry have said. Justice Department officials wanted to ensure that the hearings don't interfere with its prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, who is charged with conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers.