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White House to 9/11 Families: We've Got You Covered

11:43 AM, Aug 16, 2011 • By DEBRA BURLINGAME
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About 20 minutes into the call, we were informed that anyone who had questions should push star and then 1 (*1) to enter a "queue" and wait for an opportunity to be heard. This was a blind process. One didn't know whether one was first or fiftieth in line for a question. A total of seven questions were permitted. The first three questions were about various local commemorative ceremonies, and whether the administration could send representatives. The fourth questioner, however, clearly saw through the administration's sudden interest in 9/11 families. The woman, who lost her mother on flight 11, addressed her initial question to Karen Richardson, an associate director at WHOPE (who put the call together) and whom Rhodes had just urged us to contact should we ever have any matters we'd like to discuss with administration. "I have repeatedly called the number we have for you, Karen, and left messages," this family member said. "I have never heard back. I have emailed you. Those emails haven't been answered. So, I'm wondering, is there a better way to get through that you can tell us about?"  

This same woman had a specific issue she wanted to be heard. Why is it that ten years after 9/11, the administration had not acted on the 9/11 Commission's recommendation to create a civil liberties oversight board? The recommendation was made by the commission amid controversy over certain provisions of the Patriot Act. Those provisions have now been thoroughly vetted by inspector general’s reports, which found no abuses or violations of law. Indeed, the Patriot Act has undergone extensive congressional debate pursuant to two successive reauthorizations.    

Rhodes said that the administration had selected two people for that board, but was waiting until it had found a chairman to go forward with an announcement. I am dubious that announcement will ever be made. Obama was big on accusations of lawlessness against the Bush administration, but doesn't seem keen on scrutinizing his own administration with the kind of vigor imagined by the 9/11 Commission. The executive branch under President Obama has expanded its power. Just look at the TSA. I can't imagine that the administration wants to put a civil liberties oversight board in place as long as it continues to defend subjecting 95-year-old women in diapers on their way to hospice and 6-year-old children in play clothes on their way to Disneyland to virtual strip searches and genital pat downs at the airport.  

When another family member expressed concern about security for the anniversary commemoration, Brennan jumped at the opportunity to get in one more reference to the bin Laden killing. Yes, he confirmed to this anxious family member, they learned from the raid that bin Laden wanted to plan "something big" for the 10th anniversary but the administration has reliable security measures in place. And here, finally, was the information families waited an one hour to hear: Because security will be extensive, we were advised that those planning to attend commemoration events should get there at least 30 minutes early.  

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney, is a co-founder of Keep America Safe.

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