Video: 9/11 widows react

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/8/2004 6:39:05 PM ET 2004-04-08T22:39:05

Relatives of some of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers responded angrily Thursday to what they described as the White House’s failure to accept responsibility for the terrorist attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

Family members were among those in the crowded hearing room to listen to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice tell the Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States that bureaucratic structure was to blame for the administration’s inability to counter the attacks.

“No one wants to take any responsibility. Three thousand people died, and all they want to talk about is structural problems,” Bob McIlvaine of Oreland, Pa., whose son died in New York’s World Trade Center. “They should be ashamed of themselves.”

But Debra Burlingame, whose brother Charles was the pilot of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, praised Rice as honest and open, even to partisan questions.

“I think she should be very, very proud,” said Burlingame, whose lapel held a picture of her brother sitting in a cockpit.

‘We had to beg for it’
After testifying, Rice smiled and offered handshakes to a few family members, then reached out her arms to embrace a few more. Some politely thanked Rice for her testimony, but others wanted more.

“We had to beg for this commission. We’ve had to beg for answers,” Kristen Breitweiser, co-chairwoman of the relatives’ group September 11 Advocates, said on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”

Video: More from ‘Hardball’

“Three thousand people were killed. It’s 2½ years later, and we finally hear from the national security adviser, and we had to beg for it.”

Mindy Kleinberg, whose husband, Alan Kleinberg, was killed in the World Trade Center, said, “For us, this commission was created so we could take a look at the flow of information to see where the breakdowns took place and fix them.” She said that so far it had not done so.

Kleinberg disputed the idea that warnings about al-Qaida had been kept secret before the attacks, insisting that more than enough information was widely known to have made a difference.

“What people are learning today is that that’s not true,” she told MSNBC-TV’s Chris Matthews.

Lack of warning upsets families
Many of the relatives said the public should have been warned about the potential for attack during the summer of 2001, when intelligence officials were said to have detected a surge in communications among suspicious operatives.

But during three hours of testimony before the bipartisan commission, Rice denied that the Bush administration was negligent, countering the testimony of former White House counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke. Clarke told the commission last month that the Bush White House ignored the urgent threat from the al-Qaida terror network.

“I am angry at the lack of accepting accountability — that’s what the president should have done, accepted responsibility,” said Beverly Eckert of Stamford, Conn., whose husband, Sean, died at the World Trade Center. “Instead, it’s been outwardly directed, not just at the terrorists but at previous administrations.”

At several points, family members in the packed hearing room applauded when commission members asked pointed questions of Rice.

“I don’t think we’re going to have all the information needed to get an honest report,” said Martha Sanders of Darien, Conn., whose 25-year-old daughter, Stacey, died in the World Trade Center.

Outside the hearing room, Hans Gerhardt and his wife, Helga, solemnly held up pictures of their 33-year-old son with his girlfriend. Both were killed Sept. 11.

The Gerhardts traveled from Toronto in search of answers and would still like to know more about what was and was not done before the attacks.

“I think she was a bit evasive,” he said. “I know you can’t say everything in that situation. But I think she could have been a bit more direct.”

MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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