BURLINGTON - When Lorie Van Auken wasn't painting scenery last week for her daughter's high school play in East Brunswick, N.J., she was pressuring federal officials to declassify the notes from a July 10, 2001, meeting between then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and then-CIA Director George Tenet. Van Auken's goal is to uncover another piece in the complex puzzle of why her husband, Kenneth, died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Van Auken, 51, is one of the now-famous "Jersey Girls," the four 9/11 widows from New Jersey who successfully lobbied Congress and the White House to create the 9/11 Commission. But, like many other families whose loved ones died on that day, she was dissatisfied and frustrated with the Commission's findings. In her view, the official investigation and explanation of the largest terrorist attack on American soil were inadequate, superficial and "clearly a political cover-up," one that demands a thorough second look.
In two weeks, Burlington voters will be asked whether they agree with her. Van Auken has added her voice to a local group known as Vermonters for a Real 9/11 Investigation. The group has placed a nonbinding measure on the March 6 ballot in Burlington, calling on Vermont's congressional delegation to "demand a new, thorough and truly independent forensic investigation" into the 9/11 attacks.
Supporters of the ballot measure emphasize that it doesn't advance one particular theory or explanation over another. Instead, it focuses on the need for a more rigorous examination of the scores of unanswered questions that have been raised by independent researchers, members of the intelligence community and 9/11 family members. Van Auken estimates that about 70 percent of family members' original questions were either glossed over or totally ignored by the commission.
"This ballot question will be the most important vote that Burlington residents cast on March 6," says Doug Dunbebin, a former city councilor and co-author of the Burlington ballot measure. "This is an incredibly important question to be asking."
Even if this ballot question succeeds, however, its impact is uncertain. All three members of Vermont's congressional delegation have expressed opposition to the measure even before it's been put to voters.
David Carle, a spokesman for Senator Patrick Leahy, says in a written statement that Vermont's senior senator "respects the work and the findings of the 9/11 Commission" and calls its report "the most credible, the most thorough and the most constructive investigation that has been undertaken about those attacks." Leahy, he adds, "does not believe that re-doing the work of the 9/11 Commission should be one of the new Congress' priorities."
Senator Bernie Sanders, one of Congress' most outspoken critics of the Bush administration and its handling of the global war on terrorism, has expressed a similar reluctance to reopen the 9/11 investigation. Likewise, newly elected Congressman Peter Welch, who ran and won on a staunchly anti-Bush platform, "believes the 9-11 investigation was both thorough and complete in investigating and documenting the attacks," according to a written statement from press spokesman Andrew Savage.
But skeptics of the official explanation remain undeterred. Both Van Auken and Dunbebin point out that 9/11 has been used to justify everything from the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan to the erosion of civil liberties, from domestic spying to the illegal detentions and torture of Americans and foreigners alike. To remain ignorant of the truth behind that rationalization, they say, is to turn a blind eye to the real agenda that's driven American foreign policy over the last six years.
"I am disappointed that our congressional delegation weighed in as strongly as it did before the votes came in on the advisory measure," Dunbebin says. "But I'm hopeful that as voters express their wishes on this subject, our politicians will listen. After all, we do pay them to listen to us."
Also lending support to the Burlington ballot measure is Kyle Hence, a New England filmmaker who produced the 2006 documentary 9/11: Press for Truth (see trailer). The film, which recounts the story of the Jersey Girls and their efforts to push for the 9/11 Commission, is also based on the book The Terror Timeline by Paul Thompson. Thompson has compiled tens of thousands of documents and mainstream news reports published around the world, creating what many have called the most thorough and accurate timeline to date of the facts known about 9/11. Thompson's timeline and Hence's film reveal many inaccuracies, inconsistencies and distortions of the truth in the commission's report.
Hence, whose film has been shown worldwide - including a one-hour version on Al Jazeera television - will be in Burlington on Wednesday, February 21, for a live panel discussion on RETN Cable Channel 16. Reached last week in Washington, D.C., while he was lobbying lawmakers - two members of Congress have already agreed to co-sponsor a screening of 9/11: Press for Truth on Capitol Hill - Hence says he understands the reluctance of many public officials to reopen the 9/11 investigation.
"I think the resistance comes from the fear of being labeled conspiracy theorists and being smeared because of it," Hence says. "The fringe elements engaged in mere speculation and theories tend to cloud things and take attention away" from the many legitimate questions about how and why 9/11 was allowed to occur, he continues. These include such unanswered questions as: Who financed the 9/11 attacks? Why did U.S. air defense systems fail so miserably and for so long? And why was so much of the forensic evidence removed and later destroyed?
The U.S. government spent at least two years and more than $70 million investigating President Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs, Hence points out. Why, he asks, did it spend only $15 million and 20 months investigating the murder of nearly 3000 Americans?
For her part, Van Auken says she has hundreds of questions of her own and is asking Burlington residents to stand behind those 9/11 families who are still pressing for answers. "Some people can't stand to go back. And some people can't move forward without understanding what happened," she says. "We need our government to finally tell us what really happened on September 11 so those problems can be fixed."