Gov. Tom Kean's paid involvement in a highly biased television special is a timely reminder of the many flaws in the 9/11 Commission report. Although it brought some important information to light, the Commission's work was fatally marred by partisanship, personal agendas, and White House resistance.
The World Trade Center tragedy has never been investigated fully and fairly.
To understand the problems with the 9/11 Commission and its report, it's important to make the distinction between non-partisan and bipartisan activity. In order to be unbiased, the Commission should have been "non-partisan" - guided by impartial experts not involved with party politics.
Instead, the Commission was "bipartisan," comprised of politicians from both parties. Birpartisanship has its place but, as Washington politics too often demonstrates, it can lead to gridlock, indecision, cynical compromise, and the watering down of needed changes.
That's the story of the 9/11 Commission in a nutshell. Staff proposals were diluted by partisans from one party or the other. Senior staff members were selected who never should have been hired, because of their own conflict of interest. Chief among them was include executive director Phillip Zelikow, an appointee of both Bush administrations who might have felt that past policy failures reflected badly on him and his colleagues.
Kean and his Vice Chair, Democrat Lee Hamilton, now acknowledge that they felt unable to ask Rudy Giuliani all the pertinent questions about his management decisions, especially as they pertained to emergency communications. Why? They acknowledge that they bowed to political pressure, something a nonpartisan group would not have done.
When the report was issued, Kean and Hamilton took the opportunity to make a public pitch for themselves as ongoing leaders in the antiterrorism and homeland security efforts. That was inappropriate, and suggest that personal ambition influenced the behavior of both men.
The Commission complained publicly about White House delays and obfuscations, yet issued their report anyway - despite staff objections that they didn't have enough time to pursue all their leads properly. They took the extraordinary step of allowing the President and Vice President to testify together, and never fully investigated contradictions between Pentagon testimony and the written records they eventually obtained through subpoena.
There are a number of other complaints about the report, too. Now, Kean has accepted a "paid advisor" role for ABC's upcoming special on 9/11 and has been promoting it publicly. That program is being marketed through right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers, and includes a completely fictitious scene in which Bill Clinton is given a clear opportunity to take out Bin Laden and refuses.
Kean is allowing ABC to describe the special as "based on the 9/11 Commission report," despite this fictional and partisan scene. It's the last blow to his already tattered credibility and that of his commission.
Conservatives have their complaints about the report, too. Right or wrong, such complaints and doubts are inevitable when a body like the 9/11 Commission "bipartisan" instead of truly unbiased. Birpartisanship has its place, as in the bipartisan move to resist gutting the FISA laws. For a highly charged topic such as the World Trade Center attacks, however, party politics should be kept to a minimum.
We can't tell the story of 9/11 fully and fairly until we have a complete and thorough - and non-partisan - report. That means we're less able to prevent the next one. The country deserves better, and so do the victims of 9/11.