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9/11 panel gets access to al-Qaida leaders

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Sept. 11 commission has submitted written questions about the 2001 attacks to al-Qaida detainees and expects to receive responses soon, the panel’s vice chairman said Wednesday.

Under an arrangement negotiated with the Bush administration, the bipartisan panel was given access to classified intelligence reports on government interrogations of the detainees in U.S. custody, Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman, said in an interview.

After reviewing them, the commission came up with questions for the detainees to try to fill in gaps regarding the hijacking plot, he said.

Hamilton declined to characterize the nature of the information the panel sought or which al-Qaida members it targeted. The commission in the past has expressed interest in getting information from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind, and other suspected leaders behind the attacks.

Hamilton said he expects the responses will arrive soon.

“We believe the information that we have obtained from this process will be discussed in our final report,” he said.

Zacarias Moussaoui, charged as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks, has also sought information from al-Qaida detainees. Moussaoui has asserted that other prisoners will back up his claim that he was not involved in planning the attacks, although he has indicated he was to be part of a subsequent al-Qaida operation.

A circuit court panel rejected Moussaoui’s request to interview three al-Qaida prisoners through a remove video connection, but statements taken from prisoner interrogations will be allowed in his defense.

The Sept. 11 commission’s report is due July 26. Hamilton said the panel plans to begin turning over portions of its work to the White House as they are finished. The White House will review the material and decide what to declassify.

Hamilton said the goal is to get as much material in the public domain as quickly as possible.

The entire report should be finished by the deadline and may be completed even earlier, he said.

The 10-member commission was established by Congress to investigate government mistakes leading up to the attacks and recommend ways to better protect the nation against terrorists.

The next two-day public hearing begins Tuesday in New York.