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Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2002 / 29 Kislev, 5763

Matt Towery

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Henry Kissinger's Earl Warren problem | The choice of Henry Kissinger to chair the independent commission created by Congress to investigate the circumstances leading up to the 9/11 attacks has already drawn criticism from some who view Kissinger as less than credible as a truth seeker. But my own concern over the Kissinger selection centers more over a sense of reverence and respect for one of the brightest minds of our time.

After having been the architect of diplomatic detente with communist China, a peace settlement in Vietnam, and countless other initiatives of lasting consequence in the international community, Dr. Kissinger now seems set to follow in the footsteps of a man whose mark on the world of jurisprudence was almost as historic as that of Kissinger in the world of geopolitics -- the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

In November 1963, the loss of one life shook the nation as much as did the catastrophic loss of thousands in September 2001. President John F. Kennedy's assassination seemed so mired in conflicting eyewitness accounts, strange coincidences, and botched investigative efforts that an inquiry into any potential plot to kill the young president seemed essential. President Lyndon Johnson named then-Chief Justice Warren as head of a distinguished panel to get some answers. But the credibility of the panel appeared doomed from the start.

The group's strongest member, former CIA Director Allen Dulles, seemed determined to pursue only the theory that one lone assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was responsible for "the crime of the century." Meanwhile, the Senate's most powerful member, Richard Russell of Georgia, privately balked at serving as a member of the inquiry, and voiced his beliefs that the ultimate conclusions of the Warren Commission were pure fantasy. Oddly enough, a relatively obscure Michigan congressman named Gerald Ford was also chosen to participate, and he remains an adamant defender of the commission's work and their "lone assassin" theory.

Events like Nov. 22, 1963, and Sept. 11, 2001, are often so complicated and have so many hidden nuances and behind-the-scenes stories as to make any effort for "truth and justice" an almost impossible task. And generally those who are charged with the duty of carrying out such investigations are already ingrained with a sense that they must do what's in the best interest of the country, however they might interpret that charge.

In this instance, Kissinger, who understands the world has turned from a collection of nation-states to a chaotic combination of nations and religious and ethnic-based "power centers," is wasting his talents in what likely will prove an effort in futility. Not only will his detractors assail him as a man burdened with conflicts of interest, he also will suffer the further indignity of having his brilliant understanding of international relations diminished by his lack of knowledge of the procedures required in a sound investigation. Dealing with former Soviet foreign ministers was the equivalent of playing a sophisticated game of geopolitical chess. But conducting a complete investigation into the circumstances leading up to 9/11 requires an entirely different set of skills.

In the end, the Warren Commission's report never satisfied the public. While the media establishment rushed to promote the validity of the commission's findings, skepticism remained rampant, even in Congress. It is still a little-known fact that in the late 1970s, a House of Representatives select committee rebuked the Warren Commission's conclusions and stated that it was more than likely that Kennedy had been killed as a result of a conspiracy that reached far beyond one gunman.

It will be a less than satisfying conclusion to a great career if Henry Kissinger becomes the Earl Warren of the early 2000s. And if one considers the likely scenarios, such a result is almost inescapable. Should Kissinger's group determine that there are no "smoking guns" to indicate an administrative failure on behalf of some government department or agency -- perhaps even the White House -- then critics will call the effort a whitewash. If the conclusions are non-specific and lack any real substance, then it will be deemed "a misdirection." And should Kissinger uncover true malfeasance on the part of our government, or the involvement of heretofore unnamed nations or individuals, the results might be catastrophic.

The sad truth is that Henry Kissinger probably knows what really needs to happen. We need to skip this silly inquiry. By the time it is completed, it is entirely likely that another equal deed of horror will have been perpetrated. After all, the assassinations of the 1960s didn't end with JFK. Just ask that same House committee that determined Kennedy's death was likely the result of something more than just a disgruntled man with a rifle.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate