WASHINGTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, chairman on a new independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, pledged Wednesday to follow the evidence to wherever it leads without deference to foreign policy considerations.
The 10-person panel, he said, had "a special responsibility to those who suffered such terrible and, of course, totally unexpected losses" in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, adding the panel would make appropriate recommendations to prevent such a tragedy in the future.
"... To the families concerned, I would like to say this: There is nothing that can be done about the losses they have suffered, but everything must be done to avoid that such a tragedy can occur again," Kissinger said at the White House. "And to the extent that this commission can make recommendations, we -- and we are free to make recommendations --and the president has said that he will take them very seriously -- to that extent, we -- it will contribute to the safety of America, to the future of America and to the avoidance of any future tragedies."
President George W. Bush, signing legislation passed by a lame duck session of Congress, created the panel, which will have 18 months to wind up its duties.
Bush appointed Kissinger as chairman. Republicans and Democrats will choose five panel members each.
Although the uncovering of mistakes and intelligence lapses in the run up to the attacks are clearly part of the commission's mandate, Bush emphasized its importance in helping the administration learn more about the attackers' methods and motives.
"As a people, Americans are always looking forward," Bush said during a signing ceremony at the White House. "As a nation, we're working every day to build a future that is peaceful and secure.
He said the commission would be used to learn from past mistakes.
"This commission is not only important for this administration; this commission will be important for future administrations, until the world is secure from the evildoers that hate what we stand for," Bush said.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon outside Washington and aboard a hijacked airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Kissinger, speaking to reporters following the ceremony, said the families of the victims will not be ignored in the investigative process. Indeed, they will be regularly contacted, he said.
"I have had an opportunity to talk to many of those who were here (at the signing ceremony)," Kissinger said. "I have told them that I would designate a staff member to be in daily contact with them.
"I will meet with them monthly. I will have the first meeting with them, tentatively planned for December 12, together with any other commissioners that may have been appointed at that time. But the families are an integral part of our process."
Kissinger said he had been assured by the president that the commission should "go where the facts lead us, and that we're not restricted by any foreign policy considerations."
"I have had a conversation with the secretary of State, who will designate a liaison person with us," he added. "And he has promised me, as one would expect, the fullest cooperation. We are under no restriction. And we would accept no restriction."
Kissinger was national security adviser and later secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
He was co-awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in negotiating the U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War.