Families see vindication, call to action in final report

Friday, July 23rd 2004, 6:14 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A satisfied squint was as close as Steve Push came to a smile after the release of the Sept. 11 commission report calling for sweeping changes in how the government handles intelligence matters.

Push, whose 42-year-old wife Lisa Raines died on the plane that struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, quit his job at a Maryland biotech company to become a full-time advocate for accountability from those charged with guarding against such attacks.

Members of the commission and members of Congress praised the families of Sept. 11 victims Thursday for forcing the independent commission inquiry, overcoming initial resistance from the White House.

``We were told two years ago that there would never be a commission,'' Push said.

After the commission was formed, the families won victories to provide more funding and more time for the panel to do its work. Push testified at the outset, urging commissioners to name names.

Thursday's final report, recommending major changes in how Congress and the White House oversee intelligence agencies, signaled a new phase in the families' struggle to recraft the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

Push, who has since remarried, predicted a tougher fight ahead convincing Congress and the intelligence agencies to go along with the panel's recommendations.

``It's going to be a very difficult struggle,'' he said. ``These forces will try to prevent these changes from taking place.''

The families, he said, would only be successful if they convince the public the changes are necessary.

All of the roughly 30 Sept. 11 family members who attended the hearing saw the report as a call to action.

``The families know that this is an election year. We're going to hold these people's feet to the fire,'' said Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot on the hijacked plane that struck the Pentagon.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, in a private meeting with the families, asked them to continue to help by pressuring those in government to adopt the recommended changes.

Family members said they were eager to take up the cause, even if the report's findings offered a dismal assessment of repeated failures leading up to the 2001 attacks.

``I had a lot of my questions answered,'' said Terry McGovern, whose mother, Anne, was killed at the World Trade Center.

``They weren't answered in a good way, but I think it's really useful to show what kind of job needs to be done,'' McGovern said. ``The report shows there was a catastrophic failure that day, and had the hijackers wanted to take 20 planes that day they could have.''

April Gallop said the panel did not have enough time or money to address all of her concerns, but she was pleased by how much they did get done.

``I came here pessimistic, but I leave here optimistic,'' said Gallop, a 33-year-old who, along with her infant son, was injured in the attack on the Pentagon.

While those who attended were largely supportive of the panel's recommendations, some who stayed away criticized the recommendations and the more outspoken family members who favor them.

``It's a lot of grandstanding. They're using our name to promote this commission, and it certainly wasn't me, and it certainly wasn't the other 9/11 families that I know,'' said Robert Hemenway of Shawnee, Kan., whose son Ronald died at the Pentagon.

Ellen Mariani of Derry, N.H., lost her husband aboard Flight 175, and did not attend the Washington hearing. She said the commission did not do enough to hold officials responsible.

``There are people who need to be blamed,'' she said. ``There are people that overlooked and failed our loved ones.''

Matthew Sellitto, whose son, also named Matthew, died at the World Trade Center, said he would assign wider blame if action wasn't taken.

``If this gets pushed under the rug,'' he said, holding a copy of the report, ``I won't even blame Congress, I'll blame you and me.''