9/11 Group Opposes State's Nominee; Visas Role Sparks Letter to senators.(PAGE ONE)

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The largest organization representing relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks has come out against the troubled nomination of Maura Harty to head the State Department's consular service.

Officials of 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism mailed letters Tuesday to senators expressing "deep concern" about Ms. Harty's role in the issuance of visas to the terrorists who carried out the attacks last year.

"The only way to make sure that our loved ones did not die in vain is to have only people of the highest caliber safeguarding our nation," said the letter, signed by committee executives Bill Doyle and Peter Gadiel, both of whom lost relatives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

"Ms. Harty does not fit that description."

The group represents the families of more than 600 people killed in the September 11 strikes. In August, Families United filed a $1 trillion lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington against several Middle Eastern banks, three Saudi princes, a number of Islamic charities and the government of Sudan, saying they were financial sponsors of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

The letter contends that Ms. Harty, who was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs from August 1999 to April 2001, bears some responsibility for the visa program that allowed expedited entry into the United States for the 15 September 11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia.

Ms. Harty, a career Foreign Service officer, has declined public comment since her nomination.

The State Department has acknowledged problems and omissions in the visa applications of the hijackers but has defended Ms. Harty's nomination to be assistant secretary for consular affairs. The department says programs have been tightened considerably in the wake of the attacks.

The General Accounting Office, in a report released last week, found that the State Department should have rejected the visa applications for every one of the 15 Saudi hijackers.

"We determined that the hijackers had presented little information to prove their eligibility for a visa under [existing law]," the watchdog agency found. "None of their applications had been completely filled out and only two of the 15 hijackers had been interviewed before receiving a visa. …