For months, the commission was struggling to get by on a minuscule budget of $3 million. That low funding and the yearlong delay in creating the commission stand in stark contrast to previous panels formed to investigate momentous disasters in American history.
For instance, on April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg, killing approximately 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. According to historians, Titanic survivors began disembarking in New York at 10 o'clock on the night of April 18. The next morning at 10:30, a special panel of the Senate Commerce Committee was gaveled into session inside the ornate East Room of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.
Last year, when Cheney called Daschle to urge him to limit any hearings into 9/11, the V.P. argued it would drain sources away from the war on terrorism. By contrast, just 11 days after Japanese bombers hit the U.S. with a sneak attack killing nearly 3,000 people, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order creating a commission to "ascertain and report the facts relating to the attack made by Japanese armed forces upon the Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941 ... and to provide bases for sound decisions whether any derelictions of duty or errors of judgment on the part of United States Army or Navy personnel contributed to such successes as were achieved by the enemy on the occasion mentioned." It was the first of eight government-led investigations into the Pearl Harbor.
The Warren Commission, headed by Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, was formed just seven days after President Kennedy was assassinated. Last February, after seven astronauts died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated 200,000 feet above Texas, NASA's Columbia Accident Investigation Board was created 90 minutes after the incident; $50 million was immediately set aside for the probe. And in just four months, the board has already made public significant findings about the crash investigation.
By contrast, nearly two years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the 9/11 commission only recently opened up its New York City office. The commission's budget has been increased to $14 million, but many experts say that's still far short of the sum needed to do the job right.
It's just weird that the US could hold an independent commission while fighting World War II but not now. But then an independent commission might ask why US air defence was AWOL that morning.