Press Conference Statement Before The National Commission On Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States

Good afternoon and thank you all for coming. Today, Senator McCain and I are introducing legislation that we hope will answer the lingering question so many Americans have been asking ourselves since the unparalleled death and destruction that occurred on September 11. How could such attacks have happened to us? And what could we have done to prevent them?

Rarely in our history have events left the broad and indelible marks of pain and sorrow that the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have caused. In the last century, two tragedies that seem comparable in their effect on the collective American psyche – the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy – raised similarly difficult questions.

For example, why had our Navy been caught unawares at Pearl Harbor? And who was Lee Harvey Oswald and what motives did he have to kill our 35th president? In both cases, special commissions were established to look back to try to answer these critical questions.

That’s what Senator McCain and I are proposing with regard to the attacks on America of September 11. The legislation we are introducing today would create a National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that would, as the bill says, “make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, and the extent of the United States’ preparedness for, and response to, the attacks.”

In other words, how could such a plan – using airplanes as weapons of mass destruction – be so successful in achieving its deadly goals? Were opportunities missed to prevent the destruction? And what additional steps should be taken now to prevent any future attacks?

To be successful, this Commission must have time, a top level staff, ample investigatory powers, and adequate funding – all of which we believe we have provided for. There will be 14 members – four to be appointed by the president, 10 by Congressional committee chairs. No more than seven members may be of the same party. We want this commission to be non partisan and independent. It must be a hunt for the truth, not a witch hunt.

The initial weeks and months after September 11 were – understandably and appropriately -preoccupied with mourning and healing, and then with the war on terrorism. But since the first stage of the war is now drawing to a close with the defeat of the Taliban – and with many perplexing questions left unanswered – this is the right time to begin in earnest the process of finding answers to our questions.

Determining the causes and circumstances of the terrorist attacks will ensure that those who lost their lives on this second American “day of infamy” did not die in vain. The commission we propose will not only pay tribute to the victims but ensure that their survivors, and all Americans can be secure in the knowledge that their government is doing everything within its power to protect their lives and liberties.