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9/11 ballot question won't have congressional help

Burlington Free Press | January 22, 2007 
John Briggs

Vermont's two U.S. senators and one congressman are not interested in urging a new investigation into the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A Burlington group working through the fall and early winter gathered more than 1,350 signatures -- 5 percent of the city's registered voters -- to put an advisory question about 9/11 on the city's Town Meeting Day ballot.

The question asks whether Vermont's congressional delegation should be "advised to demand a new, thorough, and truly independent forensic investigation that fully addresses the many questions surrounding the tragic events of September 11, 2001."

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, a persistent critic of the Bush administration, said in an e-mail from his spokesman, David Carle, that he "respects the work and the findings of the 9/11 Commission. Their report was highly critical of the failures and miscues they discovered, and they recommended a wide range of reforms.

"Since then," the e-mail continued, "some have come up with their own theories, and that's always the case after major events like this. The 9/11 Commission's report remains the most credible, the most thorough and the most constructive investigation that has been undertaken about those attacks."

Participants in the petition drive have noted the question doesn't offer a theory of what happened Sept. 11, but the group's Web site, www.vt911.org, refers to the findings of the 9/11 Commission Report -- the federal commission was created in late November 2002 -- as "the official conspiracy theory" and raises a number of questions about the day.

The Web site questions why Building No. 7 in the World Trade Center complex collapsed without being struck as the two towers were, and why all three buildings in the complex collapsed as though they were "brought down by controlled demolition." The Web site also provides links to books, videos and 31 separate 9/11 Web sites, including one to the online "Journal of 9/11 Studies."

The subject is emotional for people who doubt the official report. That has been reflected in numerous e-mails sent to the Free Press responding to articles about the local petition drive.

"Bless you for covering this important signature-gathering event," wrote Steve Dondanville of Ridgefield, Wash. "An investigation into what really happened on 9/11 is crucial if we are to continue as a republic."

"We do need a new, real investigation," Chris Noth of Iowa wrote. "The Kean/ Hamilton Commission failed terribly. The WTC complex was blown up by controlled demolition that had been planned for years most likely."

"I am proud to see Americans questioning what really happened on September 11," wrote Jim Brewer of Austin, Texas.

Laurie Van Auken, whose husband, Kenneth, was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, said by telephone from her home in East Brunswick, N.J., that the Burlington ballot item is valuable because "it brings attention to these unanswered questions."

Van Auken said she was one of the "Jersey widows" who demanded for 14 months that an official investigation be mounted to explain what happened Sept. 11. She was unhappy with the commission's 2004 report. "It's pathetic," she said.

A thorough investigation, she said, would have included interviews with intelligence, aeronautical and military experts. "Every agency failed," she said of Sept. 11. "Intelligence, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). ... We had just one great failure of everything. We wanted experts not just to be called, but to follow up on questions."

Van Auken said the many unanswered questions are important because the Bush administration "is using 9/11 as a reason to take our nation to war. We all need to understand what went down that day," she said.

Some who dismiss the thoroughness of the 9/11 Commission Report question whether the fires caused by the exploding jet fuel could have been hot enough to cause the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings. Others say no videos have been released of American Airlines Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon, and some say the area covered by debris from United Airline Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, suggests the plane was brought down by a missile.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch said they wouldn't push for a new investigation of Sept. 11, making the congressional delegation unanimous in its answer to the ballot question. Welch said, through a spokesman, he believed the official report was "both thorough and complete in outlining the events of September 11 and the mistakes made leading up to the attacks."

Sanders' chief of staff, Jeff Weaver, said in an e-mail that Sanders believes the official report was "thorough" and provided "important suggestions to help our country combat terrorism." Sanders also believes, Weaver wrote, "we should continue to work to make sure that all the recommendations of the commission are implemented."

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