9/11 Commissioners Debate ABC Entertainment Movie, Iraq, War on Terror

Sept. 10, 2006— -- In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," four of the 10 members of the 9/11 Commission commemorated the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, calling for more to be done to protect the country, and splitting along party lines as to whether the controversial ABC Entertaiment miniseries, "The Path to 9/11," accurately portrays their bipartisan report.

"Nobody's seen the final cut," said Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and chair of the 9/11 Commission, of the film. "Only in the United States and in Washington could this kind of debate occur about something they haven't seen."

The miniseries, which airs in two parts Sunday and Monday, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, drew criticism this week over Democratic fears that it may portray the Clinton administration's approach to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in a negative light.

"I don't want any lies in there parading as the truth, that's all," President Bill Clinton told reporters earlier this week.

But members of his administration have taken the fight a step further.

On Friday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, both of whom served in the Clinton administration, sent a letter to Commissioner Kean, who served as a consultant on the film.

"Actors portraying us do contemptible things we never did, and say things we neither said nor believed," they wrote in the letter. "And what's more, in many instances these portrayals are contradicted by your Commission's own findings."

Albright and Berger urged Kean to sever his relationship with "this grossly misleading project" and asked that he encourage ABC entertainment to "withdraw the broadcast altogether."

Kean rejected both entreaties.

"Of course it should be aired: I'm not for censorship," Kean said. "If people blame Bill Clinton after seeing this, then the miniseries has failed. That's wrong."

Some of Kean's 9/11 Commission colleagues disagreed, including Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who served as the deputy attorney general for three years under Clinton.

"I don't think you can act to remedy the problem [of terrorism] unless you have an accurate idea of what went on," Gorelick said. "[The film] should either be pulled or fixed."

Gorelick, however, maintained that she was most concerned about the film's potential impact on schoolchildren.

Scholastic, the nation's leading children's publishing, education, and media company, severed its partnership with ABC earlier this week, cancelling plans to provide educational materials about 9/11 in coordination with the docudrama.

"That was the thing that worried me the most," Gorelick said. "You don't need Tom Kean to vet this. You can look at the report. … We labored for 20 months to get this right."

Another 9/11 commissioner, Republican appointee John Lehman, who served six years as President Reagan's Secretary of the Navy, gave the controversy much less gravity.

"It's not going to have an earthshaking impact," Lehman said. "If you don't like the hits to the Clinton administration, well, welcome to the club. Republicans have lived with Michael Moore and Oliver Stone for years."

On the substantive issue of whether the United States is safer five years after 9/11, Kean rejected the notion that the terrorist threat might be "overblown."

"We have to prepare and make this country just as safe as it can be," he insisted.

But Lehman contended that the nation needed to get to the cause of terrorism.

"We've really gotten rid of most, if not all, of the theatre commanders of al Qaeda, but we have not yet, as a nation, addressed the root cause," Lehman said. "The root cause is this jihadist ideology."

Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic attorney who headed both the Watergate Task Force in the Watergate Special Prosecutor's Office and later the minority side of the Senate Whitewater Committee, agreed that America must confront the ideology fueling al Qaeda.

"There are far more terrorists now than there were on 9/11," Ben-Veniste said. "That's why we have not killed or captured Osama bin Laden five years after 9/11, and he remains the central focus spiritually, ideologically [of al Qaeda]."

Ben-Veniste cited the Iraq war as a distraction to the war on terror.

But Kean said the war in Iraq is creating radicals.

"Where we are right now is in a very difficult place. There's no question the war in Iraq is radicalizing the people in that area," Kean said. "That's where terrorists like to breed."

Gorelick said the situation in Afghanistan, due in part to Iraq, is spiraling out of control.

"If you have a place that is chaotic … it's going to be a breeding ground and a safe haven for folks like the leaders of al Qaeda," she said.

Turning back to Iraq, Gorelick said, "We may not have liked Saddam Hussein but we didn't have a haven for terrorists and now we do."

Looking toward the future, all of the commissioners agreed that more could and should be done.

"We are in a generational war with Islamic radicals," Ben-Veniste said.

Lehman pushed for a greater investment in global education.

"We have to rebuild a coalition," Lehman said.

But he stressed that the United States must "address the issue of all these jihadist schools."

George Stephanopoulos' entire interview with four members of the 9/11 Commission can be viewed at "This Week's" Web page at www.abcnews.com.