If the assassination of a president warranted an independent commission, it is difficult to argue that the murder of nearly 3,000 people on American soil should receive any less.
As the Warren Commission was convened to determine who was behind the assassination of President Kennedy, so should a 9/11 commission be named to investigate what, if anything, the government of the United States could have done to head off the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
This is not an issue of what President Bush knew and when he knew it. It is a question of why somebody in the government wasn't able to pull together everything that was known by the end of August 2001 and act on it.
Frankly, there is little doubt that leaders of the administration, up to and including President Bush, have until recently lied, or at best dissembled, about what was known prior to Sept. 11.
What they said
When President Bush said weeks after 9/11 that "America never dreamt before September 11th anybody would attack us," he wasn't telling the truth. He may not have known the nature the attack would take, but he had been briefed on the likelihood of some kind of attack. And when his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said, "I don't think anybody could have predicted these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center," she was being less than candid. The man in the street may not have been aware that earlier plots to crash planes into the Eiffel Tower and the Pentagon were foiled, but she was. And certainly, based on the 1993 bombing of the trade center, the government had reason to believe the Twin Towers were a potential target.
The president continues to enjoy enormous popularity with the American people, but such popularity is not a birthright. He built his reputation on being a straight shooter, and that's how he's going to have to maintain it.
The president has said he is willing to have Congress investigate the events leading up to 9/11, but not an independent commission. But the president's initial reaction to revelations last week that he had been warned in August about the possibility of Al-Qaida hijackings was, "I smell politics."
The best way to remove politics from the equation is to assemble a distinguished bipartisan commission to investigate. Appoint people who are above reproach and who have no political ambitions to the commission, and then let them do their job.
Certainly it would be embarrassing and could carry a political cost if it were shown that the administration should have read the signs available to it and taken action. But is important to know what went wrong, and even more important to know what should be done in the future, in the on-going war against terrorism and terrorists.