Extension of 9/11 Panel Is Sought by Advocates

From Associated Press

Victims' relatives who pressed for an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks said Wednesday that the panel risked being undercut by the government's failure to cooperate.

The Family Steering Committee, a group of victim advocates, marked the one-year anniversary of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States by urging an extension of its May 27 deadline for submitting findings and recommendations.

"Unfortunately, the production of a timely report no longer seems to be possible, in large part because of the delays caused by the [Bush] administration and the agencies that report to it," the group said Wednesday in a statement.

Twelve people who lost spouses, children, siblings and parents in the 2001 attacks formed the steering committee to monitor the work of the federal commission.

The leaders of the 10-member commission, Republican Thomas H. Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, said they still intend to complete work by May 27. But they warned that further resistance from government agencies could threaten their ability to meet the deadline.

The panel has issued three subpoenas in the last six weeks -- to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Pentagon and New York -- saying those entities have not fully responded to document requests.

The city said it will contest its subpoena, which seeks transcripts and recordings detailing the emergency response to the attack on the World Trade Center.

Also, the commission reached a deal with the White House over access to highly classified intelligence briefings that President Bush received in the weeks and months before the attacks. The panel agreed to several restrictions, including a limit on how many commissioners may examine the documents.

Initially an opponent of an independent commission, Bush signed legislation creating the panel on Nov. 27, 2002. He said the commission -- five Republicans, five Democrats -- "should carefully examine all the evidence and follow all the facts, wherever they lead."

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is making another effort to extend the deadline to apply to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund past Dec. 22.

The senator joined Brian Jordan, a grief counselor for the victims' families, in New York on Wednesday to announce a final appeal for Congress to move the deadline back one year.

Current law prohibits further applications for the fund from being accepted past the December deadline. Schumer said Congress could still help the families of the victims.

"The pain for victims' families is particularly sharp around the holidays, and the idea that Congress refuses to take this up as the deadline looms adds insult to injury," said Schumer. "But there is still a small amount of time left. Congress can still do the right thing if it wants to."

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