From the moment its members were named, this commission labored under a cloud of suspicion. For the most part, commission members were not chosen because of their national security expertise, and some of the members have reputations for fierce partisanship, not to mention vested interests in the outcome of the inquiry.
Richard Ben-Veniste, former Democratic counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee investigating former President Bill Clinton and a veteran of the Watergate inquiry that led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation, has a well-earned reputation as a partisan attack dog. Jamie Gorelick served as both the Deputy Attorney General and the General Counsel of the Defense Department during the Clinton administration, roles that put her in the line of fire with respect to questions about the Clinton Administration's own anti-terrorism policies.
Nor are some of the Republican members any more qualified or less actively partisan. Fred Fielding may be good at keeping secrets -- Bush entrusted him with vetting Cabinet officers for the current administration and he served as White House counsel in the Reagan administration -- but his foreign policy credentials are pretty thin. Former Illinois governor Jim Thompson, too, has little background in intelligence, national security or foreign affairs -- and both Fielding and Thompson are unquestionably loyal Republicans.
You can go down the commission list on both sides of the partisan divide, and with the possible exception of former Sen. Bob Kerry, most of these members seem to be either inexperienced in the areas they are charged with examining or too political.
It's easy to say that these members can put aside partisanship in the national interest -- but it is a great deal more difficult to do. This commission should not have been bipartisan but rigorously non-partisan. It is too late to fix now; the damage has already been done. The real tragedy is that we may never learn the necessary lessons from our past intelligence and policy failures to prevent future ones from occurring -- and costing American lives.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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