(FinalCall.com) – With the resignation of perennial insider Henry Kissinger, the president was forced to appoint a new chairman for the panel investigating terror attacks that shook America on Sept. 11, 2001.
President Bush chose Thomas Kean, a former New Jersey governor, to lead the commission charged with getting to the truth of what happened and lessons to be learned from the tragic loss of innocent lives. The announcement was made Dec. 16. But there is an overriding question: how independent do the White House and the Democrats want the 9-11 panel to be?
Though problems with Mr. Kissinger’s credibility, given his past history with Republican politics and possibly criminal foreign policy moves, didn’t doom his tenure, they should have. Questions about his business interests forced the international business and government consultant to step aside. Democrats had pressed the former secretary of state to disclose clients served by his consulting firm.
The concern was that a man with Mr. Kissinger’s extensive contacts and international connections might have conflicts of interests, in such an important and sensitive investigation. He declined to supply the information. The White House balked, saying the disclosures were unnecessary. But a legal opinion rendered by the Senate Ethics Committee said members of the 9-11 commission would have to abide by disclosure requirements. Mr. Kissinger quickly resigned Dec. 12, unwilling to share the names of his clients.
Mr. Kissinger was not a man whose appointment would inspire confidence that the whole truth would be revealed. He is a consummate Washington insider and Republican operative, having served as secretary of state, assistant to the president for National Security Affairs and in other important high level positions inside and outside of the U.S. government. He also served in the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps and the Military Intelligence Reserve.
Mr. Kissinger has been accused of undermining Johnson administration peace talks with Vietnam, engineering the secret bombing of Cambodia and approving Indonesia’s use of U.S. weapons to slaughter 100,000 East Timorese by author Christopher Hitchens. Mr. Kissinger was President Nixon’s national security advisor, then his secretary of state. He held the same position, following Mr. Nixon’s resignation, and Gerald Ford’s ascension into the presidency. Mr. Kissinger has been sought as a witness in cases of disappearances and politically-motivated crimes in Chile and Argentina, given his role in U.S. foreign policy that propped up brutal dictators. In 2001, Mr. Kissinger quickly left Paris apparently to avoid a summons issued by a magistrate probing the disappearances of five French nationals in Chile. The French citizens came up missing after the 1973 U.S.-backed military overthrow of President Salvador Allende Gossens.
Mr. Kissinger’s baggage might make one suspect that he would be a man more inclined to hide the truth, than to share all that is found. With his departure, America’s political leadership has a chance to appoint those who will truly serve the public interest by telling the American public the truth. Pulling old political rabbits out-of-hats and investigative sleight of hand just won’t do.
There has been talk that some families of Sept. 11 victims wanted Warren B. Rudman, a former senator from New Hampshire, to lead the panel, but some Republicans felt he might not be inclined to play politics, if disclosures started to embarrass the White House. If that is true, it is a shameful sign of a lack of courage and character inside the GOP. Democrats, who will pick half of the 10-member panel, would also be wise to avoid petty politics. There is too much at stake to skew results or analysis. The truth will likely be painful enough for a still grieving nation.