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9/11 commission’s next hearing delayed

The next hearing of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks will be delayed a week, to June 16-7,  because of scheduling problems with some witnesses, a spokesman said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Sept. 11 commission’s next hearing is being delayed a week because of scheduling problems with some witnesses, the panel’s spokesman said Tuesday.

The hearing in Washington on national crisis management and the Sept. 11 plot had been planned for June 8-9 but now will be held June 16-17.

“We have some issues with some of our people, but it’s not a major item,” said spokesman Al Felzenberg. Commission staff also wanted to hold the hearing in a room with better audiovisual capabilities than those in the Senate buildings, he said.

The commission’s 12th and final hearing is expected to delve into how quickly the Federal Aviation Administration notified U.S. air defenses about hijacked planes on the day of the 2001 attacks. Officials of the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, are scheduled to testify.

Details of plot to be examined
Details of the Sept. 11 plot also will be examined, with testimony from intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Family members and critics long have charged that if military jets had been scrambled sooner after the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., they might have prevented American Airlines Flight 77 from crashing into the Pentagon more than 50 minutes later, killing 184 people.

At the commission’s hearing on aviation safety last May, Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, a retired NORAD commander, acknowledged under questioning that the jets could have intercepted Flight 77 if they had been sent sooner.

Felzenberg said the June hearing will focus on tracing the timeline of the FAA’s notification, as well as when President Bush delivered the order to NORAD to shoot down any hijacked planes.

In the days after the attacks, officials said NORAD had been notified of the hijacking of an American Airlines jetliner 12 minutes before it slammed into the Pentagon. Vice President Dick Cheney said Bush had authorized the Air Force after the World Trade Center attacks to shoot down any plane that entered and refused to leave Washington area airspace. Cheney left unclear whether Bush’s decision came before the Pentagon was hit.

‘Intriguing and politically sensitive decisions’
“Some of the most intriguing and politically sensitive decisions were made on that day,” said Democratic commissioner Timothy Roemer, a former representative from Indiana. “A decision was made to potentially shoot down a commercial American airliner on our soil full of Americans. That’s very gut-wrenching.”

He added: “There were decisions about how to protect the city, where to fly the president and keep him safe. How did communications work that day? Do we see a continuing trend of miserable or difficult communications between key people? These are very important decisions.”

Meanwhile, the 10-member panel has begun working on drafts of its final report, which is due July 26, and expects to start handing over portions to the White House in the next week or so for declassification.

The report, expected to be 500 to 700 pages, will be posted on the Internet once the White House has completed its review and will be released in book form by W.W. Norton & Co., a private New York publisher.

The commission was established by Congress in 2002 to investigate government mistakes before the attacks and recommend ways to improve the nation’s protection against terrorists.