Washington, 28 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush named former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger yesterday to head an investigation into last year's 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States.
Bush made the announcement at the White House after signing legislation that creates an independent panel to probe intelligence and security failures that led to the attacks, which killed 3,000 people.
The president, who had previously opposed an independent inquiry into the attacks, said the bipartisan panel should be unflinching in its investigation to help the government learn from its mistakes, win the war on terrorism, and avoid future attacks. "This investigation should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead. We must uncover every detail [and learn every lesson] of September the 11th. My administration will continue to act on the lessons we've learned so far to better protect the people of this country," Bush said.
Bush said Kissinger, who has also served as the White House's national-security adviser, would bring experience, clear thinking, and sound judgment to the panel, whose 10 members will be appointed evenly by Republicans and Democrats. "An aggressive investigation into September the 11th with a responsible concern for sensitive information that will allow us to win the war on terror will contribute to the security of this country," said Bush. "This commission's findings may show a need for further reform and intelligence gathering in other areas."
The probe looks set to be broader than one already conducted jointly by the House of Representatives and Senate Intelligence committees, which underscored grave failures on the part of U.S. spy agencies. The new commission is expected to look at a variety of other matters, from aviation to immigration.
Kissinger, who served from 1969 to 1976 under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, won the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Vietnam War. But critics accuse him of being responsible for war crimes in that same conflict.
Speaking at the White House, Kissinger said investigators would be free to examine all facts in the 11 September case, including any ties between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, which Washington blames for the attacks. "We should go where the facts lead us and [not be] restricted by any foreign-policy considerations," Kissinger said.
Kissinger declined to comment on whether Bush himself will be called on to testify before the panel, which has 18 months to conclude its work.
Last May, the White House disclosed that Bush, in the months before the attacks, was informed that Al-Qaeda may be plotting to hijack U.S. airliners, but not necessarily to use them as missiles against U.S. targets, as they did on 11 September.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Bush did not anticipate appearing before the commission. But key Democrats suggested his testimony could be vital.
Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) said that if the panel wishes to know the truth, it will have to ask Bush and senior administration officials to testify.