Sept. 11 panel to subpoena New York records

U.S. commission seeks tapes of 911 phone calls

November 21, 2003|By Thomas Frank | Thomas Frank,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - New York City will be hit with a subpoena today from the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, which charges the city is withholding key documents and impeding its inquiry.

The commission, created last year by Congress and the president, is demanding the city turn over tapes and transcripts of emergency calls on Sept. 11, 2001, and transcripts of hundreds of interviews with firefighters who were in or near the World Trade Center.

The records are considered key to evaluating the city's response to the attacks, which was sharply criticized last year by a city-hired consultant who found lapses in leadership, communications and planning.

"The city's failure to produce these important documents has significantly impeded the commission's investigation," the commission said in a statement. The commission has until May 27 to complete its 18-month inquiry, expected to be the most comprehensive done by an official agency into the attacks.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he was "dismayed" by the subpoena, which the commission approved Wednesday, more than four months after requesting the records. Bloomberg said the city had offered to let the commission inspect tapes and transcripts that omit "intensely emotional statements of people who lost their lives or whose lives were in jeopardy."

"It will take a court order to make the city violate the privacy of those we lost and those who responded to that horrific event," Bloomberg said in a statement.

Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said, "We are not asking them to violate the privacy of anyone." He said the commission will not disclose any raw materials it is collecting, including statements of people in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as highly classified intelligence briefings given to Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton.

The subpoena marks the latest clash for both the commission, which recently subpoenaed records from two federal agencies about their actions on Sept. 11, and the city, which has fought to block the release of eyewitness statements from Sept. 11.

Bloomberg said it was "puzzling why the commission is trying to distract the public by focusing on the city's response as opposed to the question we all want answered - how this savage terrorist attack was planned and executed without any warning."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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