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Exclusive Interview with R. Ben-Veniste, Commissioner on 9/11

Transcript of INN Interview with Richard Ben-Veniste by Sander Hicks

Thursday, April 24, 2003 :

  • Exclusive Interview with Richard Ben-Veniste,
  • a National Commissioner on 9/11
  • from INN TV via

INN Interview -- Comments by Richard Ben-Veniste, member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, original interview date: March 31, 2003

Sander Hicks:

Here in the studio today we have Mr. Richard Ben-Veniste. He served with distinction at the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Office from 1973 to 1975. He has also served as a federal prosecutor in NewYork. He was the boss of young Rudolph Giuliana. And today he is a major Washington attorney with Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw in D.C. Welcome Mr. Ben-Veniste.

Richard Ben-Veniste: Thank you for inviting me.

SH: Well, it’s really quite an honor to have an actual member of the National Commission here on INN Report. We’ve been following with interest the development of the National Commission. My first question that I wanted to talk to you about how you view what seems to be a somewhat antagonistic relationship between the White House and people who question 9/11. I’m speaking specifically about the controversy about funding, you mentioned in your introductory remarks about the lack of security clearances for the Commission and let’s go back a couple of months ago. You remember that there was some talk in the media about how Tom Daschle had been called by Bush and Cheney and somewhat threatened on the phone about not letting the Joint Inquiry in Congress look in too closely at 9/11. What are your thoughts?

RB: Well, our statute provides us with authority to conduct a very broad inquiry basically to provide an investigation of 9/11 that’s thorough, complete and will withstand the scrutiny of history. And I feel confident that we have the kind of people on our Commission and our staff who are capable of doing that. Now, I have no comment on what you mentioned earlier about the controversy. It’s clear that the Joint Inquiry which did an astonishingly good job in the time they had, was not afforded all the information they sought. Our mandate expects that we will build on the Joint Inquiry’s investigation and we will not be re-inventing the wheel. But we go to places which the Joint Inquiry was not permitted to explore. So that’s one of the basic tenets of what we are doing.

SH: What are those areas that the Joint Inquiry that Congress was not allowed to explore?

RB: They made certain requests for interviews of members of the White House and the National Security Council and they didn’t get all the information that they sought.

SH: I don’t know if you are able to comment but there has been a lot of talk about — not in mainstream media but in independent media — about the relationship between the Bush family and the Saudis. Let’s say George Herbert Walker Bush’s membership on the Board of Directors of the Carlyle Group. Or the fact that in 1978 young W. Bush received money through James Bath, who it turned out was working for the Saudis. His name was Salem bin Laden. Are you familiar with this information and.....

RB: I don’t have any comment on that.

SH: America has such a bad history with these kinds of special investigations. We have these major historical events that are then investigated. Former Governor Kean yesterday made reference to two precedents: the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of JFK and the Roberts Commission Report on the Pearl Harbor attack. And he admitted that the results of both those Commissions were inadequate and did not satisfy the majority of the people. So, if you prefer not to talk about specifics of the Bush-Bin Laden connection, then let’s talk about the specifics of a broader historical inquiry. How can the National Commission on 9/11 be different from the Warren Report?

RB: I think the better analogy is the Roberts Commission which was created, almost immediately, after the attack at Pearl Harbor. And the short comings of that Commission’s report were documented. There were several subsequent inquiries. And it turned out that the Roberts Commission did not fully utilize the information available and that it came to conclusions which were I think quite short sighted and, indeed, in some cases, scapegoated individuals.

SH: We saw a panel come before the Commission of 5 people who had first-hand injury experience in 9/11. And they told stories that were traumatic and emotional. But they emphasized that they had no anger, were not going to point fingers. But then we had victims’ family members on the next panel. And these people were, I felt, like had a whole different level of knowledge and inquiry and were asking some very hard questions about the lack of aviation response from the military on 9/11. And, you know, there are people out there who are asking hard questions. And I thought that was somewhat represented on Monday by the lunchtime press conference with 9/11 Citizens Watch. I wanted to ask you if you had reviewed any of the materials on them or have you seen any ...

RB: I was eating lunch at lunchtime. And we had, I think, twenty minutes. The family members represent a broad spectrum of personal reaction to the horrific losses that they have suffered. And they have been a constant source to us, not only of motivation, but they have provided very useful insights and information. And we are honored to work with them and to keep a very close relationship with the family members.

SH: What are some of the questions that the family members are asking that you feel are valid?

RB: They are asking a number of questions about how it happened, that things which we had in place...

SH: Try to like, off the top of your head, what were some emotional, knowledgable, rational reactions that you had - like "wow, that’s a good question. That really bugs me, too."

RB: Well, the forms that were filled out by the hijackers to get into this country, that were obviously inadequate. Those are actually State Department forms for visas which provided inadequate information. The real issues that I think were highlighted in the hearings by family members who had many questions which we will address. Hopefully, we will provide answers, at least by statements from those who were responsible at the time, for why our country could not connect the dots, did not operate as our system is designed to operation. And that will inform the suggestions that we make for making our system better.

SH: Let’s go back for a second and talk about what you just said about the INS forms of the terrorist hijackers. How there just seems to be a disconnect. How could these people — it was pointed out that a couple of these people were on the CIA’s list of terrorists, they had attended the terrorism conference and yet they were allowed to be in country. There was a gentleman you may know of, named Daniel Hopsicker? He’s a former producer of NBC and he wrote a book called, "Barry and the Boys." You are mentioned in it. It’s about a former client of yours who is now deceased, Mr. Barry Seal. Are you familiar with this book?

RB: No, I haven’t read the book but I did represent Barry Seal, who was convicted. He thereafter, on his own, became a government informant. He worked against the Sandinistas and that certainly is not the subject of this....

SH: That’s not the subject of ....

RB: We have quite a bit to do here in our Commission without going into all my private practice. I certainly wouldn’t want this to be an infomercial for Richard Ben-Veniste as a private attorney.

SH: Not at all. But the question was, Daniel Hopsicker is

RB: So, if you wouldn’t mind staying on our subject...

SH: Not at all.

RB: I’d appreciate it.

SH: He did this interesting research on the web, that you can get, about the flight school in Florida, about the — and the connections between CIA and Rudi Dekker, the Dutch National, who ran that flight school. I’m wondering if the Commission plans to investigate that?

RB: I think you are going right for the capillary, if I may say so.

SH: You mean the jugular?

RB: No, I mean the capillary.

SH: You mean the find detail?

RB: I mean the things that are, the detail that is certainly not central to us getting started here. So, we are in the inception stages. We are getting started. Our inquiry is on its way.

SH: These are part of the questions which the families are asking, citizens watch

RB: I don’t think anybody asked any questions about Mr. Hopsicker, whoever he may be.

SH: No the question is really about Rudi Dekker and about — he’s a Dutch National. Mohamed Atta was at his flight school doing cocaine with his girl friend. If Mohamed Atta is technically a fundamentalist Muslim, what is he doing cocaine and going to strip bars with Rudi Dekkers’ girlfriend?

RB: You know, that’s a heck of a question.

SH: (Laughter) It sure is. Right. Well then we agree on that. Maybe then we’ll just sort of wrap it up at this point if you’d rather. I know you have a plane to catch.

RB: Right.

SH: And I appreciate you being on the program.

RB: Sure thing..

SH: And thank you very much.

RB: You’re welcome.

SH: Thank you, INN Report reporting.


originally broadcast by free speech tv's friday night prime time news show INN Report, camera by Lenny Charles, produced by Tom and Lenny. Interview by Sander Hicks.







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