Congressional Record: November 13, 2002 (Senate)
Page S10875-S10877                       


  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, the legislation Senator Lieberman and I 
introduced last year to create an independent commission to investigate 
the September 11 attacks passed the Senate as an amendment to the 
homeland security bill by a vote of 90 to 8 in September. Days before 
the vote, the administration issued a letter supporting the creation of 
an independent commission. But Congress is about to adjourn without 
having done so, to get it done.
  The agreement that was reached on the homeland security bill is a 
welcome development and will make our Nation more secure. But the 
agreed text does not include our independent commission proposal, 
despite an overwhelming Senate vote in September and despite its 
previous inclusion in both the Lieberman and Gramm-Miller bills.
  I believe President bush and his team have responded admirably and 
with a sense of purpose to the terrorist attacks, and the joint 
intelligence committee investigation into the associated intelligence 
failings has added to our understanding of what went wrong. But neither 
the administration nor Congress is alone capable of conducting a 
thorough, nonpartisan, independent inquiry into what happened on 
September 11, or to propose far-reaching measures to protect our people 
and our institutions against such assault in the future.
  To this day, we have little information on how 19 men armed with 
boxcutters could have so effectively struck America. After every other 
such tragedy in our Nation's history, like Pearl Harbor and President 
Kennedy's assassination, independent investigations were immediately 
appointed to examine what went wrong and recommend needed reforms to 
prevent such tragedies from happening again. There has been no such 
review since September 11.
  This is what our proposed commission would do. Its goal would be to 
make a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, 
including how prepared we were, and how well we responded to this 
unprecedented assault. The commission would also make comprehensive 
recommendations on how to protect our homeland in the future. It would 
examine not just intelligence but the range of Government agencies and 
policies, from border control to aviation security to diplomacy.
  Learning the lessons of September 11 will require asking hard 
questions. It will require digging deep into the resources of the full 
range of Government agencies. It will demand objective judgment into 
what went wrong, what we did right, and what else we need to do to 
deter and defeat depraved assaults by our enemies in the future.
  No such review has occurred to date. Passage of the homeland security 
legislation is a good start to making needed reforms, but to some 
extent we are flying blind in our efforts to reform our approach to 
homeland defense because we still do not know what parts and policies 
of the Government failed the American people last September 11.
  We do know, thanks to press leaks and the work of the joint 
intelligence committee, that significant failures occurred.
  The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee 
have suggested we might have prevented the September 11 attacks had we 
properly analyzed available information. They strongly support our 
independent commission legislation to carry on the work their joint 
intelligence investigation started. Together with Senators Bob Graham 
and Dick Shelby, we have been negotiating intensively with the White 
House and remain hopeful we might reach an agreement with them to 
create a commission, but we believe Congress must speak on this issue.
  The families of September 11 will not rest until they have answers 
about how their Government let them down and what we can do to make 
sure such tragedy never strikes America again. This is not a witch 
hunt. It is a search for the answers that will enable us to

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better protect our Nation against future attack by terrorists. It is 
about the future, not the past. It is worthy of the strong bipartisan 
support it has already received. I urge my colleagues to support this 
  I want to thank my friend from Connecticut for his efforts on behalf 
of this commission. I want to thank him for his efforts on behalf of 
the families, and I want to thank the White House for their continued 
negotiations. It is time we wrapped up these negotiations so this 
commission can be part of the Homeland Security bill.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I thank my dear friend from Arizona for 
his strong statement, for joining me in introducing this amendment, and 
for his characteristic steadfastness in pursuit of an important cause 
regardless of the opposition and where it comes from.
  He and I introduced legislation last December. We are approaching a 
year ago. It was a few months after the tragic attacks of September 11. 
We felt there should be an independent citizen commission, nonpartisan, 
with full powers of subpoena and adequate resources to investigate how 
could September 11 have happened, because clearly the fact it did 
happen said we were not adequately protecting the American people. We 
were insistent that this kind of investigation occur so we could learn 
how to prevent it from ever happening again.
  There have been roadblocks along the way, but we have continued to 
state, and we state again, we are not going to give up this fight until 
such an independent commission is created because we cannot rest until 
the truth and the whole truth, so help us God, as best as anyone is 
able to find it, is determined about September 11. Because without that 
unlimited, unvarnished, uninhibited truth, we are not going to be able 
to inform this new Department of Homeland Security adequately.
  This measure of ours passed the Senate earlier this year when we were 
considering the Homeland Security measure. It passed overwhelmingly 
with bipartisan support. In fact, the so-called Gramm-Miller substitute 
incorporated this provision, which I was very grateful to Senator Gramm 
and Senator Miller for doing, and Senator McCain was a great advocate 
for that cause.

  In the substitute introduced by Senator Thompson, in coordination 
with the White House and the House, the commission proposal is not in 
it, and that is not acceptable. Senator McCain has said happily we 
continue to negotiate with the White House up until this moment, 
hopeful that an agreement can be secured that will create the 
aggressive, independent, nonpolitical commission this tragedy requires. 
But if it is not, and we have not reached an agreement yet, we are 
going to do everything we can to reinsert this commission into this 
Homeland Security bill where it belongs.
  I think I can say for my friend from Arizona and myself if for some 
reason that does not work, we are going to keep introducing it wherever 
and whenever we think we can get a vote that will make it law. We owe 
this to the families of the September 11 victims.
  I have met with them, as Senator McCain has, several times. Their 
desire for this commission is in some ways the strongest and most 
compelling argument anyone can make on its behalf, because they asked 
us and they asked America, having lost loved ones, how could September 
11 have happened? We owe them an answer to that question, and we have 
not given it to them yet.
  As Senator McCain said, the work by the Joint Intelligence Committee 
has revealed information, media investigations have revealed 
information, that only increases our understanding of how much more we 
need to know. The Senate coleaders of the Intelligence Committee, 
Senator Graham and Senator Shelby, are now strong supporters of this 
commission idea.
  Going back to the families of the September 11 victims, I do want to 
say the persistent advocacy of these families, led by Steve Push, 
Kristen Breitweiser, Mary Fetchet, Beverly Eckert, and so many others, 
despite their great personal loss, has inspired not only my deep 
admiration but our continuing commitment to fight for this commission 
until it comes to fruition. We are not interested in pointing fingers. 
This is all about our common security, and improving it is our common 
  I hope our colleagues will join us in supporting this amendment to 
the Homeland Security bill and restoring this provision to create an 
independent commission on September 11.
  Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield?
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. I yield to my friend.
  Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator agree it is a bit surprising we have not 
been able to make greater progress on this commission since there was a 
recorded vote in the Senate of 90 to 8, and it was included in the 
Homeland Security bills prior to this latest iteration?
  Again, I want to thank the White House for their active 
participation, but I hope that mandate would be felt by one and all. A 
90-to-8 vote usually does not seem to have difficulty, at least from 
the Senate side, in becoming a part of legislation.
  Interestingly, we do not find it in the Homeland Security bill. In 
the interest of straight talk, if there is a cloture vote and it is not 
in there at that time, then the amendment for a commission will fall 
because of nongermaneness, a situation which I do not think is really 
what was intended when we had a 90-to-8 vote on this issue in the 
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. The Senator from Arizona is quite right. He remembers 
the numbers exactly. It was a 90-to-8 vote--very strong bipartisan 
support for this idea. That support ought not be frustrated.
  I have seen public opinion surveys that say it represents the desire 
and opinion, quite naturally, not just of the families of September 11 
victims but of the American people. So while I join my friend from 
Arizona in expressing my gratitude that the White House has again today 
restarted negotiations to try to reach an agreement, I must say leaving 
this proposal for a commission out of this substitute that is now put 
in to create a Department of Homeland Security is inexplicable. I hope 
we can explain it by either putting it back in or coming to an 
agreement with the White House. It is that critical.
  Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield for one more question?
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. I would be glad to.
  Mr. McCAIN. Is it not true, from conversations with the families, 
that the families do not want this commission created by executive 
order because then it would not have the input of the legislative 
branch? And second of all, that other commissions in the past have all 
been created by acts of Congress, not by executive order? Is that the 
Senator's understanding?
  Mr. LIEBERMAN. The Senator from Arizona again is correct. There have 
been some commissions created by other bodies. But the ones in the most 
important cases have been created by Congress. On the first point, 
which is a powerful point, it is the clear desire of the families of 
the victims of September 11 that this commission be created by 
Congress. We ought to create it. This was a national catastrophe.

  As we create a Department of Homeland Security to protect the 
American people from that ever happening again, we ought to, as the 
representatives of all the people of this country, all of them in this 
terrible new era we have entered, potentially victims of terrorism--we, 
as their representatives, ought to say loudly and together, hopefully 
together with the administration, we can never know too much about how 
September 11 happened. We do not know enough now how September 11 
happened. The one best way to know as much as we can of the truth about 
September 11 is to create a strong, nonpolitical commission with full 
resources and powers of subpoena to get to the truth.
  The day for this commission will come. The arguments for it are 
irresistible. Let us hope that day is sooner than later. I thank my 
friend from Arizona for his persistence and advocacy. Also, it is an 
honor to work with him. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with a lot 
of other Members, of both parties, of this body to get this commission 
  I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.
  The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
  Mr. DURBIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order 
for the quorum call be rescinded.

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  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mrs. Clinton). Without objection, it is so