William Rodriguez was the last man to run out of the World Trade
Center. Had he made it to work on time, he and the master key to the
stairwells would have been near the top of the complex when the
second plane hit.
Instead, he raced up the stairwells he had maintained for 20
years to unlock doors and help people escape. "I was protected for
another purpose," he says. Credited with saving many lives, he
received a National Hero Award from the Senate of Puerto Rico and
organized the Hispanic Victims Group.
Like many others who lost family or were personally involved in
Sept. 11, Mr. Rodriguez is convinced that much of what happened that
day is still behind locked doors, and the only way to open them is
to keep hurling questions at officials until they get answers. For
such activists, the appearance of top Clinton and Bush
administration officials before the 9/11 commission this week was a
key moment, long awaited.
From the start, family and victims' groups have energized the
official investigations. They were a driving force behind the
creation of the 9/11 commission and the joint congressional
investigation than preceded it. They describe themselves as the
commission's best friends - and "worst nightmare."
"We are flooded with questions," says Philip Zelikow, executive
director of the 9/11 commission, formally known as the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, which was to
conclude its eighth public hearing Wednesday. "A lot of people work
this stuff very doggedly and may not understand what it means. But
it's healthy to have someone saying: 'What's the answer to this?' We
do pay attention to what people are saying."
Commissioner Jamie Gorelick credits family groups with providing
a "road map" for the official investigation. Working through an
official liaison, family groups send questions and suggestions to
The families started with the most basic question: Why is there
no official investigation of what went wrong on Sept. 11? Their
demand that there be such an investigation - and quickly - muscled
the 9/11 commission through the Congress and the White House.
Since then, families have sent the commissioners a constant
stream of questions - hundreds for President Bush alone, should he
agree to testify publicly. Among them:
* What defensive measures did you take in response to pre-9/11
warnings from 11 nations about a terrorist attack, many of which
cited an attack in the continental United States?
* Please explain why no one in any level of government has yet
been held accountable for the failures leading up to and on 9/11.
* Why was author Bob Woodward permitted access to confidential
presidential daily briefings while the joint inquiry, and
subsequently the commission, was not? …