11 December 2008

'The Commission,' by Philip Shenon: Hailing Heroes and Pointing Fingers

I have been reading a number of books pertaining to 9/11 as part of my research, and this is one of the best. Shenon has done a great job of giving credit to the unsung heroes of the 9/11 Commission Report: those hard-working staff members who dug through mountains of documents and conducted countless interviews in order to present a riveting and credible (though not definitive) account of the the rise of al-Qaeda, the unfolding of the terror plot, the aftermath, and commission's recommendations. And these staff members dug in their heels when their superiors attempted to twist the commission's findings to suit political agendas, and sometimes they succeeded in presenting the truth rather than watered down mush. 

In addition, the author is not squeamish about "pointing fingers." Members of the Family Steering Committee and other 9/11 family members throughout their struggles had hoped to bring accountability to the process of the commission's work. But the co-chairs of the commission saw this as a serious stumbling block to their work, and sought instead to criticize inept agencies and outdated worldviews rather than incompetent individuals. Thus, Shenon presents a hard-edged  new version of events, which includes shady involvement in the 9/11 plot by Saudi officials; serious conflicts of interest and efforts at spinning the report in favor of Rice and Bush on the part of the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow; a failure to adequately examine the records of the National Security Agency; and serious failures at the FAA, NORAD, CIA and FBI.

The last paragraph of the author's acknowledgements gives a final, emphatic note of credit to the family members:
If anyone is responsible for this book, ultimately, it is the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. The families were responsible for the creation of the commission, over the fierce opposition of the Bush White House and many in Congress; the families fought to try to keep the investigation honest, against incredible odds. They did much of the digging that produced scoops for me and raised important issues abut the commission, its leadership and the conduct of the investigation. I cannot imagine their suffering. If the full truth is ever told about Sepember 11, 2001, it will be their doing. It has not been told yet.

It shows how important was the role of the family members, and this vital role is at the core of the story I will tell in No Truer Hearts. 

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