Sept. 11 widows endorse Kerry

/ Source: The Associated Press

A group of activist Sept. 11 widows said Tuesday they will campaign for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, charging the Bush administration stonewalled their efforts to uncover intelligence failures leading up to the attacks and took the nation into a misguided war in Iraq.

Five widows and a sixth woman who was badly injured in the attack on the Pentagon endorsed Kerry.

“I have not flown on a plane since 9/11. I have now committed myself to get on a plane and fly wherever I have to fly,” said Kristen Breitweiser, of Middletown, N.J.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be successful, because I have serious anxiety about getting on a plane, but that is how committed I feel,” said Breitweiser, who voted for Bush in 2000.

Most of the reasons cited by the six women were rooted in their bitter disappointment and anger over President Bush’s actions since the attacks of 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

The women have been among the most outspoken critics of the White House’s sometimes contentious relationship with the bipartisan commission that was named to investigate the attacks.

They accused the administration of fighting the commission at every turn — on issues of funding, the amount of time needed to do its work and on whether to launch an inquiry in the first place.

Many of the women also strongly disagreed with the Bush administration’s arguments tying Sept. 11 to Iraq in order to justify the war there while Osama bin Laden, the man most responsible for Sept. 11, remains free.

“This administration took their eye off the ball,” said Lorie Van Auken, of East Brunswick, N.J.

Bush campaign spokesman Reed Dickens said the president would be stronger on national security than Kerry.

“Ultimately, what this comes down to, is a choice between two very different approaches — a president who has been steady and stayed on the offense in the war on terror and Senator Kerry, who has no coherent policies and will put his politics ahead of his principles every day of the week,” Dickens said.

Over the past two years, the Sept. 11 families have proven very influential in forcing Congress to consider sweeping changes to the nation’s intelligence-gathering apparatus.

But the close-fought presidential election also has created a growing political divide among the families.

The women who spoke Tuesday said they reached out to Kerry’s campaign to offer their support.

Two weeks ago at the Republican National Convention, Debra Burlingame, whose brother piloted the American Airlines flight that crashed into the Pentagon, was one of three women who spoke about their personal losses.

“Even here in New York, the majority of the families feel that Bush is much stronger on national security,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

Burlingame said she would be willing to make campaign appearances for Bush, if asked, to explain why she disagrees with the families siding with Kerry.

“They want people fired, and I think we’ve moved on from that,” she said.