Commission vice chair - Panel avoided Iraq to reach agreement

Monday, July 26, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The Sept. 11 commission's report avoided discussion of the war in Iraq because Congress didn't ask it to, and it couldn't have agreed on a report if it had, the panel's vice chairman said Sunday.

"Moving to the war in Iraq just opens up a whole vast new area that I think is well beyond any reasonable interpretation of what we were supposed to do," former Rep. Lee Hamilton said.

Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, was asked on CNN's "Late Edition" why the commission did not say the United States should not go to war against countries that were not involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He said Congress, in laying out the mission of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, set its mandate clearly on Sept. 11, 2001, and events surrounding the attacks.

"I think it's really people who are upset with the war in Iraq -- and of course there are many who defend it and many who criticize it -- [who] are trying to look at the commission report and expand the mandate from what it really should be," Hamilton said.

He said he and the Republican chairman, Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey, decided that strictly following Congress' dictates was the only way to ensure nonpartisanship among the commission's five Democrats and five Republicans.

"If we had gone into the war on Iraq, it would have been hugely divisive, and we would not have been able to agree on the factual record," Hamilton said.

"You have to make very pragmatic decisions, and I think Tom and I made those decisions. And one of them was to keep focus like a laser beam, if you would, on 9-11, and the events that immediately flow from that," he said.

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