FAQ: Who Chooses the New Commission? How Will It Operate?

Q.  Assuming an initiative passes in one or more of the states, who will choose the Commissioners? 

A. The Steering Committee of the Citizens’ 9/11 Commission Campaign will carry out this important task, but in an expanded form. The Steering Committee is currently comprised of the three board members: Ken Jenkins, Susan Serpa, and George Ripley. (See this link for bios.) Once particular initiatives pass, we will also expand the Steering Committee to include the leaders of the initiative campaigns in the enacting states. At this point, we will create a different governing body than now exists—one with even broader political experience and with a different skill set. Once that transition in governance is completed, the next activity will entail hiring an executive director for the new commission, along with his or her key staff. It is this expanded group that will make the selection of Commissioners.

Q.  By what criteria will the Steering Committee choose the Commissioners?

A. There’s no doubt that the selection of the Commission is a crucial part of our work. It is critical that we have an impartial, nonpartisan Commission that is truly independent of state and federal government and of political-party allegiance, and indeed, of the Steering Committee itself. But consider this scenario: If the Commission were the result of state governmental legislation, and not the result of a people’s ballot initiative, the selection of Commissioners would be made by the governors or by the leadership of the legislatures in states that might pass such a law. This would inject partisan politics into the selection process and that would be self-defeating. By contrast, our Steering Committee will select Commissioners from among a list compiled internally as well as from outside nominations from all over the world. Candidates may be affiliated with a political party, or they may have no affiliation; their political party is not a consideration, unless it enhances their knowledge and competency for the tasks of being an impartial Commissioner in some way. Generally speaking, we will select commissioners who have the following personal characteristics: integrity, expertise, moral turpitude, reputation, objectivity, experience, and knowledge of public affairs including events surrounding 9/11. We will expect that:

• they are critics of the status quo; they sense a need for a new investigation
• they have a credible and distinguished record of public service
• they are reputed for virtues such as honesty, integrity, and wisdom
• the have a strong grasp of the law, the U.S. constitution, and our our political institutions

The Steering Committee may also acquire the services of a head hunting firm to help in the search and evaluation of prospects. Foreign nationals may also serve on the new commission.

Q. How is the commission like a grand jury? How is it not like one? Why not just have a traditional grand jury?

If it were feasible to convince a prosecutor to bring the massive evidence now in hand to a grand jury, this would surely have happened. However, we consider it to be politically impossible; taking such a case would instantly destroy the career of any sitting prosecutor. (A notable attempt in 2004 to present 9/11 evidence to New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was entirely ignored, for instance.) We as citizens cannot convene a full grand jury. Under the provisions of the initiative law, the Commission will be invested with certain of the traditional grand jury powers such as the ability to issue subpoenas and compel testimony under oath. However, the Commission cannot indict as grand juries do, because it intrinsically lacks the police powers of the state. We cannot, constitutionally speaking, vest law enforcement powers in a Citizens’ Commission. The commission can only give the evidence it discovers and its final conclusions in regard to criminality to such institutions as the Justice Department of the federal government, to state-government law enforcement bodies, and to the International Criminal Court. We must rely on public opinion to pressure these bodies for enforcement of existing criminal statutes—this is crucial. Citizen power and direct democracy, the very source of political legitimacy, must be used to convince reluctant prosecutors to act on the Commission’s findings, even in the face of great opposition.

Q.  What does the staff do, versus the Commissioners?

A.  The Commissioners, once seated, will hire an Executive Director and appoint a General Counsel. A paid, full-time staff (hired by the Executive Director) will support the activities of the Executive Director, the General Counsel, and the Commissioners. The staff will handle all housekeeping details, screen and review all existing literature on the issues under investigation, and conduct any field investigations; it will screen and interview prospective witnesses; it will issue subpoenas as directed by the Commission; it will search out and qualify necessary experts who may provide supporting testimony or evidence. Like staff, the Commissioners will be full time. They will sit as a policy committee that will continuously evaluate the work of the staffers, the Executive Director, and the General Counsel; they will give direction and focus to the work of the entire Commission and staff. They will select the witnesses and experts (that have first been screened for them by the staff) who are to be questioned in the Commission’s public hearings. Finally, they will work with the staff to compile the best evidence. While staff may write portions of the final report, the Commission will be the responsible authors of it.

Q. Is the commission run something like a jury trial with a defense attorney and a prosecutor? Or is it more like a Congressional committee that is holding hearings?

A.  The Commission is not run like a jury trial, nor is there a defense attorney or prosecutor. Such a format would not be the most conducive to securing the truth. The approach of the Commission is closer to a Congressional hearing where witnesses can be subpoenaed and placed under oath. Hearings of the Commission will usually include oral testimony from witnesses, including prepared remarks, followed by rounds of questioning of the witnesses by members of the Commission. In addition, all forms of evidence (forensic, video, etc.) can be presented to the Commission, the acceptance of which is their discretion and judgment. It should be noted that scholars consider Congressional hearings to be a goldmine of information for all the public problems of the United States; so also, the transcripts of the proceedings of the new Citizens 9/11 Commission will be a goldmine of the most salient information and evidence pertaining to 9/11 and its aftermath.

Q.  Will the Commission have the power to subpoena suppressed evidence, like the videos of the Pentagon that have been classified and withheld by the FBI? Can we subpoena members of the CIA? Of the NSA? Of the Bush presidential archives? Can we call Bush to testify, or is he immune?

A.  Yes, all of the above can be exercised by the Commission, however, those still active in government may trump these subpoenas with claims of sovereign immunity for themselves or their agency or assertions that the evidence in question is still “classified.” Another likely scenario, however, is that certain individuals that the Commission subpoenas (presumably those with something to hide) will simply refuse to respond. Little can be done about this unless any one of these officials enters the state whose powers are used by the Commission to issue the subpoenas. Thereupon, they can be properly served while they are resident in the state; and if they fail to appear, the police powers of that state can be used to incarcerate them unless they agree to appear. (Similarly, Henry Kissinger is unable to travel to France because he is under indictment there for war crimes committed in Cambodia.) Again, we must rely on the laws of intended and unintended consequences and the Court of Public Opinion. Former President Bush is not immune unless he is personally pardoned by a sitting president. (This occurred once in recent memory, when President Ford pardoned Nixon for the crimes of Watergate.) In theory, others can also receive presidential pardons. However, a pardon of a major figure like Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld would be highly visible to the press and the public;  politically speaking, it would be very risky for the sitting president to attempt. But the fact remains that a pardon can be used to suppress highly relevant facts before they can be revealed or prosecuted by any state or federal authority—regardless of the nature of the evidence that was to be brought forward by this subpoenaed person.

Q.  What’s the status of the testimony provided to the Commission? Is it considered to be evidence? What happens if witnesses perjure themselves?   

A. All testimony to the Commission is provided under oath, and if it is shown to be a lie and if this can be proven, the testimony is perjury. Any instances of alleged perjury will be turned over to the prosecutorial authorities, such as the state attorney general, or to federal prosecutors, state legislatures, and even the Congress. Whether these bodies act upon the allegation is up to them; but what will determine this issue, and much else with our work, depends on public pressure and scrutiny. The Commission delivers its findings to the “Court of Public Opinion.”  The results of this process are difficult to predict from our present vantage point, but we are optimistic that the public will have its way and justice will be done.

Q.  If it finds sufficient evidence, can the Commission issue indictments?

A.  The Commission’s findings can and will “name names.” It can point to specific individuals or groups or nations that they, as the Citizens’ 9/11 Commission, hold responsible for the crimes of 9/11 or related crimes. In so doing, this report will cite the most compelling evidence that has been compiled by the Commission, and this evidence will be issued to the public as a published report. The Commission may issue this report using the language of an indictment, but as stated earlier, the report itself does not have binding legal power.  However, the Commission’s findings can be immediately useful to state or federal prosecutors.

Q.  Will the findings of the Commission be formally turned over to a state or federal prosecutor? What if no prosecutor steps forward to act on the evidence even after they are requested to do so?

A. If the Commission reports significant findings of fact, and if its evidence and conclusions point to new suspects, it will duly turn its report and all accompanying evidence over to state and federal authorities. If such prosecutors choose to ignore this body of evidence, the Commission does not have the power to compel them to do so; and, bear in mind the commission may have been dissolved at this point. Again, it is here that public pressure will be crucial. Imagine: a people’s investigatory Commission that is directly empowered in a statewide election. It is linked to other successful state initiative campaigns as well as resolutions passed in hundreds of other city and county jurisdictions. If such a Commission has found certain parties guilty of high crimes, or treason, or Crimes Against Humanity, it will be difficult for prosecutors to ignore the people's will.

Q.  What if the evidence points to foreigners?

A. Commission members will liaison with the International Criminal Court, and any evidence of foreign complicity can be turned over to the ICC for their action. (At the moment, 114 countries are signatories to the treaty that created the ICC.) In addition, other countries will no doubt follow the proceedings of the Commission and view its final report, which will be very transparent. These nations can take whatever action they deem necessary as sovereign states.

Q.  What exactly can other states or localities do to help the work of the Commission once it gets under way?

A. As the proceedings of the Commission gain the attention of the public, other states and localities will become inclined to enact laws that allow them to link their governing powers to the powers of the Commission. This process could significantly expand the reach of the Commission, especially in regard to its subpoena power. See our call for volunteers to help on this aspect of our work—by passing resolutions in their localities.

Q. Does the Commission have to be seated in a state that passed an initiative? What if two states pass initiatives?  

A. The initiative legislation does not mandate a location of the Commission offices. This decision will be up to the new Commission itself as it gets organized. Its headquarters can be in any one of the states that enact one of our initiatives. It should, however, be located in a media-accessible location in order to capitalize on the work of communicating its information to all peoples. However, its investigative arm would reach worldwide regardless of its physical location.

20 Responses to FAQ: Who Chooses the New Commission? How Will It Operate?

  1. Matthew Witt says:

    This is really exciting material! The FAQ here helps make clear the proposal for the Citizens Commission. I heard Senator Gravel present the basic elements of this in Toronto.

    I noticed one small type-o. I think the wording intended in line 8 of response to the second question is “moral rectitude” not “moral turpitude.

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