NEW YORK – Families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001 (search), have been coming out in full force to the hearings probing the military and intelligence issues surrounding the attacks — and almost three years later, many are still hurt, angry and looking for answers.
The family members, many of whom wore picture pins of lost ones on their lapels and held signs with images from the attack and the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died that day, say they want to make sure officials of all administrations know they're watching.
"I think most of us come because we really do want to be informed — we do want the folks at these hearings to know that we're here," said Joy R. Stella of Butler, N.J., whose friend, Colleen L. Fraser of Elizabeth, N.J., died on Flight 93, which flew out of Newark and crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
"I want them to know we're here," Stella said.
"People basically know what happened, it's different to hear it from the horse's mouth," said Elaine Hughes, whose son Kris was on the 89th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center (search) before he perished.
During Tuesday's hearings in New York City, commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, placed the blame for the attacks on government officials.
"These 19 people ... defeated the INS, they defeated the Customs [Bureau], they defeated the FBI, they defeated the CIA," he said as family members erupted in applause.
More applause was heard when commission member Slade Gorton — a former Republican senator from Washington — asked former police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, ex-fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen and Richard Sheirer, former Office of Emergency Management chief, tough questions about the city's 911 emergency system.
This week, families cried as they painfully watched videos of the World Trade Center collapsing, clapped when commissioners criticized former officials and shook their heads as communication problems were highlighted.
During earlier hearings, when President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and other Bush administration officials were in the hot seat before The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States in Washington, D.C., audience members — many of which were Sept. 11 family members — cheered and clapped when Rice received critical questioning from some panel members.
They also cheered for Richard Clarke, former Clinton and Bush counterterrorism adviser who said President Clinton took the terrorism threat more seriously than Bush.
"Given the historical significance, there's gonna be a certain amount of [goading] — whether it's applause or hissing or whatever," Stella said.
Some of the response may seem to place more blame on the Bush administration for failures leading up to the attacks. And on Wednesday, hecklers interrupted the proceedings as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (search) answered questions from the panel.
"My son was murdered, murdered, because of your incompetence," shouted one woman, who was holding a sign saying "fiction." Other chanted: "One sided!" and "Put us on the panel!"
"Three thousand people murdered … how was that leadership?" yelled one person in the audience.
"We want three minutes to ask some real questions," bellowed one man who was thrown out.
But Giuliani did get some support from the audience.
He received applause when he declared in his opening statement that although mistakes had been made, "Our enemy is not each other, but the terrorists who attacked us ... the anger should be directed at one source and the blame should be directed at one source and one source alone — the terrorists who killed our loved ones."
While some families are frustrated with what they call a lack of transparency in the commission process, many families say they're not looking to point the finger of blame.
"I don't really view it as a partisan thing, to be honest with you," said Colleen Kelly, New York area coordinator for the September Eleventh Families For Peaceful Tomorrows (search), who has attended some of the hearings.
"If your family member was just murdered in New York City, there's got to be a public trial with access to information about that trial. This may be the closest thing we get to a venue like that, in all honesty. So I think you see a lot of raw emotion."
Blaming one administration over the other "isn't going to solve anything," added Hughes.
"I don't think the families want to point the finger because they know who's responsible — you start with the terrorists and you work your way down — or up."
Lynn Faulkner's wife Wendy died on the 104th floor of the South Tower. A picture of Bush hugging Faulkner's daughter in an emotional moment was recently splashed across newspapers throughout the country. Faulkner said as painful as it is for families to sit through some of the hearings, focusing on the past won't help.
"I think it's more important for us to focus, really focus ahead," Faulkner said. "We cannot bring back our loved ones. Yes, if there was some gross negligence, something really gone wrong, yes, we need to find out.
"But what's most important is to try to prevent further attacks and prevent other families from feeling what my family and some of the others have," he said.