Mariani (left) at her
daughter's wedding, which
she had to reschedule
after losing her husband
in the 9/11 attacks
When former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean
took the helm of the National Commission
on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States, more popularly known as the 9/11
Commission, the moderate Republican made
a vow: He would not let his investigation
become another Warren Commission, the
1964 federal inquiry criticized for failing
to adequately probe the possibility of
conspiracy in the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy.
The 9/11 Commission
would look into every aspect of the attacks,
and try to illustrate why the United
States was so ill-prepared.
But as the original
May 27 deadline for the commission's
report fast approaches, eyebrows are
already being raised. On Jan. 27, the
commissioners asked for 60 more days.
The White House repeatedly said "no way" until
Feb. 4, when President George W. Bush
reversed himself and gave the commission
two more months.
Part of the delay has
been caused by the Bush administration
itself, which has withheld key documents,
angering commission members, victims'
families and skeptical citizens all the
more. "We're coming down to the final
[months] of the commission and we're
still messing around with access issues," said
former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who
served as one of the commission's five
Democrats until resigning late last year.
Cleland, too, sees parallels to the JFK
"This is the most serious
independent investigation since the Warren
Commission. And after watching History
Channel shows on the Warren Commission...the
Warren Commission blew it," Cleland went
on. "I'm not going to be part of that.
I'm not going to be part of looking at
information only partially. I'm not going
to be part of just coming to quick conclusions."
"It's just a dog-and-pony
show," says John Judge, co-founder of
9/11 CitizensWatch, a Washington, D.C.-based
watchdog group monitoring the work of
the independent bipartisan commission. "It's
just like when you go into the Warren
Commission, and you have five areas of
inquiry: 'Who was Oswald?'; 'Who was
Ruby?'; 'Who was this and that?' But
you don't have 'Who shot Kennedy?,'" he
says. "They've already had a panel on
'Who are the terrorists?,' which was
all about al Qaeda. So they're investigating
the official line of assumptions."
The 9/11 hearings have
been poorly attended and bloodless in
content. Witnesses have been mostly top
government officials along with former
spies. The media have been largely absent.
Citizens' groups have been shut out of
the process, and some 9/11 widows and
widowers have become livid with frustration.
Across the nation, a
growing number of people are determined
to discover the truth about 9/11. Citizen-led
organizations such as CitizensWatch and
the 9/11 Visibility Project are trying
to give the public a say.
But the movement with
the most clout is the loose-knit band
of some 100 families who are suing airlines
and government agencies rather than accept
part of the $5 billion payout offered
to victims' relatives in exchange for
a promise not to sue. A lawsuit, many
feel, offers the best hope of dragging
information out into the open.
of the families filed for claims with
the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, 20
percent doing so in the final week of
the Dec. 22, 2003 deadline.
That number superceded
Fund Director Kenneth Feinberg's "magic
minimum" of 90 percent, about which he
remained "cautiously optimistic" when
the Press spoke to him on Dec.
But it's the other 2
percent—roughly 125 families filing
some 200 separate lawsuits—who
are trading millions of dollars for the
truth that Feinberg and the commission
have to worry about.
"I would rather eat
dirt than [get] into the fund," says
Ellen Mariani, whose husband, Louis Mariani,
died aboard United Flight 175, the plane
that hit the World Trade Center's South
Tower. "I don't want to sign off my rights
as a citizen of this country. I want
In the wake of the tragedy,
Mariani was determined to stay strong.
She helped reschedule her daughter's
wedding, originally set for Sept. 12,
2001, and attended it four days after
the disaster. But events caught up with
"I couldn't sleep...I
had been watching TV. I was writing,
listening, and then comparing," she says. "And
nothing was making sense." She began
two years of research into the Bush family's
business and military involvement in
the Middle East.
Mariani went through
two different lawyers before she found
Philip Berg, a Pennsylvania Democratic
activist and former gubernatorial candidate.
The gravity of the situation is not lost
"We're at a point in
our history where the American public
must stand up, hand in hand, shoulder
to shoulder, and fight," Berg tells the Press. "We're
losing rights minute by minute here and
we're in a very dangerous time in this
On Nov. 26, 2003, Mariani
and Berg filed an amended detailed complaint
in their racketeering lawsuit against
President Bush and other top officials
(Mariani had sued United Airlines two
"There's high levels
of people in the Bush administration
who knew of, failed to warn, failed to
prevent and also are covering up since
9/11," says Berg. "Ashcroft, for instance,
stopped flying commercial aircraft in
July of 2001. Why?"
That's just one of the
questions the families want answered.
Mariani isn't alone.
"This may be uncharted
waters, but I was thrown in a pool on
Sept. 11, 2001, and had to learn to swim," says
9/11 widow Monica Gabrielle, of West
Haven, Conn. "No one has been fired.
No one has been demoted. The same people
who are guarding us today on an elevated
security alert are the same people who
were working that day." She describes
her late husband, Richard Gabrielle,
an insurance broker who lay trapped underneath
rubble as the South Tower collapsed: "He
was a gentle man, and he was alive, trying
to get out of that building that day.
The dead. The dying. The smoke. The terror.
No one should have suffered like that.
I want accountability. I need answers."
Gabrielle is represented
by Kreindler & Kreindler, the Manhattan
firm that won $2 million in 1995 for
13 American Airlines passengers who had
experienced 28 seconds of severe turbulence.
Gabrielle is one of many plaintiffs represented
by the firm who have joined others in
filing suit against the airlines and
security firms involved in 9/11. Also
named are Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda,
certain governments, and parties accused
of masterminding the attacks.
As Gabrielle's attorney,
Brian Alexander, sees it, the 9/11 Victim
Compensation Fund is the byproduct of
powerful airline lobbying. "The legislation
[that created the fund] was designed
to protect the airlines first and foremost—and
it was airline lobbyists who pushed it," Alexander
says. "The Victim Compensation Fund for
the families was an afterthought."
Skeptical of the Mariani
suit's chances, Alexander says, "At the
end of the day there are legal defenses
that the government can take, they get
to be stupid, they can be as negligent
as all get-out, and they will still win,
especially when you're talking about
But Mariani's goal is
not victory in court, but a closer pass
at the truth.
Creating an independent
9/11 commission was a Herculean effort,
seemingly resisted by the Bush administration
from the start. When it couldn't stop
the juggernaut, the administration tapped
controversial figure Henry Kissinger
to be chairman. Kissinger, former national
security adviser and secretary of state
to Richard Nixon, had been both lauded
and lambasted for his role in international
affairs. Kissinger bowed out of the assignment
rather than disclose who his international
consulting clients were.
Since then, the commission
has become publicly frustrated by the
administration's refusal to allow full
access to documents, notably the Aug.
6, 2001 daily brief prepared by the CIA
and seen by the president, which referred
to possible commercial airline attacks.
After Commissioner Cleland resigned (to
take a job as a director of the Export/Import
Bank), a compromise was reached: The
panel received a lengthy briefings summary
edited by the White House then prepared
by two 9/11 commissioners.
Then there was the funding.
The commission was expected to adhere
to a mere $3 million budget to reach
its findings within 18 months. After
some time, the budget was increased to
$12 million. Many believe the panel is
still being stiffed, considering the
gravity of the task and the number of
people killed. After all, $40 million
was spent investigating the Space Shuttle
Columbia disaster, which caused seven
deaths. Republicans in Congress gave
Kenneth Starr $47 million and five years
for the Clinton investigation, which
focused on real estate dealings and the
president receiving fellatio from an
In addition to secrecy
and underfunding, many feel the commission's
pursuits are compromised by the interests
of its members (see sidebar). Some observers
see nothing more than a collection of
D.C. insiders who won't rock the boat.
This theory gained credence recently
when the commission called two of its
own, Executive Director Philip Zelikow
and Jamie Gorelick, as witnesses. Zelikow
worked with National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice during the first Bush
administration and as part of the current
administration's transition team. Gorelick
was deputy attorney general during the
Clinton presidency. Zelikow and Gorelick
were interviewed by the panel regarding
their influence on national security
policy and terrorism.
"Did [Zelikow] interview
himself about his own role in the failures
that left us defenseless?" asked Lori
Van Auken, one of the 9/11 widows.
Indeed, the commission
may not even be meeting its own legal
mandates. According to the legislation
that created it, members should have
no connection to any administration or
to anyone potentially associated with
the case. But as their résumés
clearly show, the majority of commissioners
break Rule 2 and the Republican commissioners
break Rule 1.
Then there has been
the absence of meaningful testimony from
witnesses. In late January, the commission
heard from an immigration inspector,
Jose Melendez-Perez, of Orlando, Fla.
He prevented Mohamed al-Qahtani, believed
by many to be a 20th hijacker, from entering
the country in late August 2001. Authorities
believe that hijacker Mohamed Atta was
at Orlando International airport to meet
al-Qahtani, but Melendez-Perez put al-Qahtani
on a plane back to Saudi Arabia. It would
perhaps be more instructive to interview
those officers who stopped nine hijackers
but in the end let 19 of them board planes,
even though between two and eight had
fraudulent visas. But those officials
have not been called as witnesses.
THE HEARINGS BEGIN
On March 31, 2003, the
commission commenced its hearings, downtown
near Ground Zero in the dusty but regal
U.S. Customs Building. The spacious auditorium
was one-third full of observers and media.
With Gov. Kean in charge, things were
Survivors of the 9/11
tragedy spoke first—stockbrokers
and Port Authority cops who had escaped
the blaze with burns or emotional scars.
It was hard not to be moved when a beefy
police officer's testimony was choked
by tears. Victims emphasized that they
were not angry, and didn't want to "point
fingers." But then a panel of widows
and widowers urged the panel to find
who was responsible—and "point
At lunchtime, CitizensWatch
served sandwiches at its press conference,
held in the same building. John Judge
and co-founder Kyle Hence put together
a list of "unanswered questions" that
they urged the commission to address.
Their questions include:
Why were three top FBI agents blocked
from tracking the terrorists before 9/11?
Why did the FBI convince the University
of Iowa to destroy the system that could
track every kind of anthrax 10 days before
the mailing of the first envelope? Eleven
months later, these questions remain
unasked and unanswered.
Judge, a journalist
who has made a name for himself by looking
into possible conspiracies in history,
is careful to make clear that he doesn't
believe everything he's heard—and
he's heard a lot. He is critical of certain
voices, some coming from the far right,
who link 9/11 to a Jewish/Israeli conspiracy.
The theory that no one of Jewish descent
was in the WTC that day is easily dismissed
by a look at the list of the victims.
If Judge were chair
of the 9/11 Commission, who would he call
"Not the FAA/NORAD top
brass at the Pentagon," says Judge. "I
would call the pilots. I would call the
base commanders, people on the horn at
the air traffic controller's."
At a Dec. 16 forum at
Unitarian Universalist Congregation in
Shelter Rock in Manhasset, a coalition
of Long Island groups attempted to answer
the questions: How—and why—did
the campaign against terrorism become
a war on Iraq? What are the financial
connections between the Bush and bin
Laden families? Did a "crisis presidency" give
the far right leeway to transform U.S.
policies? The coalition included representatives
of such diverse groups as Five Towns
Forum and L.I. Freespace. Hofstra Professor
Michael D'Innocenzo, German 9/11 expert
Nico Haupt and Massapequa's Michael Kane
of the local hard rock/hip-hop group
Clarity, whose song themes include questioning
the government's knowledge of the attacks,
were among the panelists.
After the showing of
the film Aftermath: Unanswered Questions
from 9/11, Kane, a recent finalist
in www.MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 Seconds" online
video contest, spoke to the crowd. The
questions that were thrown around could
make anyone dizzy.
What about the unusual
activity in the options markets for United
Airlines and American Airlines in the
days before 9/11? Why did National Security
Advisor Condoleeza Rice make contradictory
remarks in her May 16, 2002 press briefing?
She stated, "I don't think anybody could
have predicted that these people would
take an airplane and slam it into the
World Trade Center, take another one
and slam it into the Pentagon." Yet there
was a long line of published intelligence
dating back to 1994 that specifically
warned of bin Laden using aircraft as
bombs. The San Francisco Chronicle reported
an upsurge in threats in mid-July, including
specific information of a threat to President
Bush at a summit in Genoa, Italy. That
threat is said to have included an airplanes-as-missiles
Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak said that in the weeks before
the attacks, the Egyptian intelligence
service warned U.S. officials of a possible
attack by the bin Laden terrorist network,
according to The New York Times.
The White House, however, responded that
the United States had no warnings at
OUTSIDE THE U.S.
are finding it a lot easier to imagine
the worst. Many Europeans pride themselves
on their more critical views of U.S.
policy, and are quick to point out that
the same figures who participated in
the Iran/Contra scandal (Colin Powell,
Dick Armitage, Elliot Abrams and Dick
Cheney) are back in the saddle in this
These views have translated
into best- seller status for several
books on the subject. One author, Andreas
Von Bulow, is a former German cabinet
member. In France, a title called The
Forbidden Truth also enjoyed notoriety
and heavy sales. Co-author Jean-Charles
Brisard met with FBI counterterror chief
John O'Neil, and documents how O'Neil
was frustrated with how the administration
accommodated the Taliban and bin Laden.
O'Neil, who resigned from the FBI to
become head of security at the Twin Towers,
died on 9/11.
The mainstream American
media refuses to give most theories serious
coverage. Then again, maybe the pundits
are finally coming around. Recently,
Mariani's lawyer Phil Berg has been appearing
on major television news programs and
in newspaper interviews.
Daniel Hopsicker, author
of Barry & "the Boys" : The CIA,
the Mob and America's Secret History,
has spent the past few years in Venice,
Fla., researching Huffman Aviation, where
two of three 9/11 pilots allegedly trained.
The seamy dirt he uncovered was partly
revealed in Mohamed Atta and the Venice
Flying Circus, a video released in
2002, with more in his forthcoming book, Welcome
to Terrorland, due out this month.
Hopsicker reports that he wouldn't be
able to get information if it weren't
for insiders willing to blow a whistle. "Sept.
11 was so overwhelming," he says, "that
people who are functionaries for that
secret government are still human, like
you and I. It's compelled some of them
to break ranks."
"What I saw, after a
number of people talked about the FBI
silencing them, was that American streak
that won't let that happen," he
continues. "Real Americans won't be silenced."