On the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America's mainland, the 3,000 victims were on the minds of all Americans. President Bush, in an especially poignant moment at ground zero in New York City, had words of comfort and support for the families of those who had perished. Sept. 11 was their day. They talked about the loved ones they had lost and their lives without them. The country listened and mourned.
It was, therefore, unnecessary to have two spouses of the victims appear as the first witnesses in the public hearings being held this weeek by a House-Senate committee to determine the extent of intelligence failures leading up to the attacks.
"These public hearings are part of our search for the truth -- not to point fingers or pin blame, but with the goal of identifying and correcting whatever systemic problems might have prevented our government from detecting and disrupting Al-Qaida's plot," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, co-chairman of the hearings and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The search for truth is of utmost importance and as we have previously argued, should be conducted by an independent commission, as opposed to a congressional committee. Why? Because members of Congress can't help but look for ways to provide dramatic moments that are bound to get the press' attention.
And that's exactly what happened on Wednesday when the two spouses testified. As Kristin Breitweiser, whose husband Ron died at the World Trade Center, spoke, a group of family members and advocates sitting behind her in the hearing room began to weep.
With emotions running so high, it becomes difficult to conduct such hearings impassively. But that's what is needed. Members of the House-Senate panel have a responsibility not only to the intelligence community but to the American people to make sure their conclusions about what went wrong aren't influenced in any way by the loss of 3,000 innocent lives or the feelings of the family members.
This is about the security of the United States and about preventing future attacks. Global terrorism is difficult to fight, as the Bush administration is finding out, and while reports of possible terrorist activity might seem credible, it is impossible to predict with any certainty what will happen.
There is no doubt that Eleanor Hill, the staff director of the bipartisan Senate-House probe, and her investigators have shaken up Capitol Hill with their conclusion that U.S. intelligence agencies received numerous reports before Sept. 11 that terrorists were planning to attack the United States, in some cases using airlines as weapons, but consistently ignored or underestimated those warnings. But whether the attacks could realistically have been prevented is a matter that needs further probing.
Following the revelations from Hill on Wednesday, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, the ranking member on the Senate committee, said he now supports an independent commission to get to the bottom of what happened before Sept. 11.
Such a non-partisan commission would take politics out of the mix.