9-11 Widow Lorie Van Auken Trusting in Kerry To Make
America Safer, Realign Priorities
As I was watching the events on television, watching
my husband being burned alive in a building, I would have thought
the president would have gotten up and told children: "Please excuse
me, but I have something important to attend to." I would hope that
we’d have somebody in office that would act like the commander in
chief if, God forbid, we’re ever under attack again.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Lorie Van Auken, the mother of two children, now 17 and
15 years old, lost her husband Kenneth Van Auken in the September 11th
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Lorie is one of the “Jersey
Girls”who, along with Kristen Breitweiser, Mindy Kleinberg, and
Patty Casazza, fought the Bush administration tooth and nail for a commission
to investigate the September 11th terrorist attacks -- and won. Lorie’s
continuing fight for the truth and seeking answers about the 9-11 attacks
is as personal as it is about keeping Americans safe and preventing another
attack. Lorie believes that until there is full disclosure and accountability
from the Bush administration, the agencies and processes that need to
be fixed to prevent another attack will be left broken and Americans
Lorie, along with the other “Jersey Girls,”has endorsed Senator
John Kerry for President.
We were honored to speak with Lorie Van Auken about her ongoing battles with
the Bush administration over the 9-11 Commission, George W. Bush’s failure
on September 11th, how Bush has made America less secure since the attacks
and why she thinks John Kerry is the right man for the job.
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BuzzFlash: Your late husband, Kenneth Van Auken, was killed in
the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11. Tell me how
you and other widows and families formed together to organize and advocate
for the creation of the 9-11 Commission -- a commission that George W.
Bush fought against every step of the way?
Lorie Van Auken: Well, at first we assumed that the government would launch
a commission because of the sheer scope of the tragedy. We knew we needed an
investigation as to what went wrong with every agency having failed on September
Then we learned that the president and the vice president had not planned an
investigation into September 11, which we were completely shocked by. From
our point of view, hijackers defeated our entire military with four of our
own airplanes and $400,000. We would have thought that the president, on September
12, 2001, would have said: What on earth happened here? We need an investigation
and we need to have a good hard look at what went wrong and do what can we
do to make sure it never happens again.
Of course, that’s exactly what didn’t happen. So we realized that
the only way we were going to ever get any kind of investigation was to go
to Washington and have a rally and begin to request that people hear us. We
wanted to make everybody understand that it wasn’t just intelligence
agencies that failed. The Bush administration had asked that there only be
an investigation into intelligence gathering. We knew that that was not enough
because every agency had actually contributed to the failure -- the INS, the
FAA, NORAD, the Port Authority -- you name it. We needed to look at all of
that to find out what needed to be fixed, so we could make sure it wouldn’t
BuzzFlash: You’ve endorsed Senator John Kerry for president.
Tell us why you think Senator Kerry would be a better commander in chief
in protecting our country.
Lorie Van Auken: I have many reasons. First of all, this president
waited 14 months for an investigation. We think that there should have been
an investigation right away. Then they fought funding it properly. Then they
fought providing certain documents. Then we fought to have pertinent people
appear before the commission, like Condoleezza Rice. And, of course, President
Bush and Vice President Cheney walked hand in hand to see the commission
for only an hour, behind closed doors, totally off the record, so nobody
would really ever hear what they had to say. It ended up being longer than
an hour, but still we don’t know what they testified to.
On September 11, I don’t think the president’s actions were very
commander-in-chief-like. He was sitting and listening to children read a story
to him. As I was watching the events on television, watching my husband being
burned alive in a building, I would have thought the president would have gotten
up and told children: "Please excuse me, but I have something important
to attend to."
I would hope that we’d have somebody in office that would act like the
commander in chief if, God forbid, we’re ever under attack again. I know
that John Kerry has served in the armed forces and I know that he knows how
to react in a crisis -–that’s first of all.
Second, he has pledged to enact all 41 of the 9-11 Commission’s
recommendations, which this president is still fighting against. Also,
Senator Kerry has said that he would like to work with our allies in
the war on terrorism, which I think is the only way to actually combat
what’s going on in the world. To find money lines to stop the funding
of terrorists, and to share intelligence with other countries -- you
need your allies to do that. I think this president has alienated our
allies. I think that’s a really terrible thing.
BuzzFlash: How did you and Kristen Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg
and Patty Casazza get to be known as the “Jersey Girls”? Was
that a label you gave yourselves or did it come from the media?
Lorie Van Auken: The four of us had gotten together relatively early
on regarding 9-11 related issues. We supported each other. Patty Casazza
was working with other families, trying to get information to them, and we
were helping her. And then, when we had our rally on June 11, 2002, in Washington,
D.C., there were other family members that said they would like to help us
fight for the investigation. We became a group of around 12 family members
that came from Connecticut and New York, and the four of us came from New
Jersey, and to make it simple, we were coined the Jersey Girls. That was
how this whole thing started. Because of the [Springsteen] song, it was already
a known phrase, and it just stuck.
BuzzFlash: The Jersey Girls embody the power of grassroots organizing
and advocacy, and you’ve had many successes. George W. Bush opposed
the September 11th Commission and you won. The panel complained about a lack
of money to get the job done, and you fought and got more money for it. The
national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, refused to testify. You won
on that. Of course, the fight is not over. As you said, the Bush administration
has said it won’t implement all the recommendations if Bush gets reelected.
There are still many pages and documents from the Commission that have not
been declassified and released. Beyond November 2, what’s next for
you and the families? What work do you still feel you have to do?
Lorie Van Auken: We don’t project forward. We generally just find
the next roadblock that we have to somehow circumvent. I think the only reason
we’ve been able to keep going is knowing that we have more work to do.
We still have the 28 pages that need to be declassified from the Joint Intelligence
Committee Report. We really need to understand who funded the 9-11 attacks.
I don’t think protecting anybody at this stage is a good idea. I think
we all need to face the facts, and we need to keep it from happening again.
Our theme is to just try to make the country safer, and we can’t do that
by shrouding any of this in secrecy.
The Bush administration claims national security is the reason, but they’re
actually protecting three-year-old sources. I would say classify anything that
really has to do with our national security. But from what we’ve heard
from people who have read the information, this isn’t about that. It’s
because members of the Bush administration feel some kind of embarrassment
that we’re protecting someone or something. That’s really not a
good reason to keep information classified.
BuzzFlash: What is your response to Vice President Dick Cheney, who
continues to lie on a daily basis, claiming that there was a connection between
Iraq and the September 11 attacks, even though the commission itself said
that it found no credible evidence of any link?
Lorie Van Auken: Vice President Cheney said in the debate with Senator
Edwards that he never suggested that there was a connection between 9-11
and Iraq. But of course he previously suggested that there was a connection.
He suggested it many times, and he more than suggested it. But now, in the
debate, he said he never suggested a connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.
I don’t know what to think other than maybe he’s coming around
with the findings from the commission.
BuzzFlash: I know you and the other Jersey Girls have been fighting so
hard because you don’t want to see another family go through what you
had to go through on that awful day. Do you feel that the Bush administration
has made America at all safer since 9-11?
Lorie Van Auken: No. We feel that they have done the opposite and
made Americans less safe. When we went into Afghanistan right after September
11, we had the support of our allies in the world because they were going
to disrupt and destroy terrorist training camps. That would have been the
right thing to do -- to try to find Osama bin Laden, who perpetrated the
However, before that job was done, the Bush administration pulled our troops –-
America’s sons and daughters –- and put them into Iraq, leaving
Afghanistan to the warlords and drug dealers. Opium production is at all-time
highs from what we understand, and that was one of the ways the terrorists
got their funding. I think that’s certainly not making us any safer.
We shouldn’t be enabling terrorists with funding and we shouldn’t
have left the terrorist camps with the potential to regroup and reform.
From what I understand, Kabul may be taken care of, but the rest of Afghanistan
is really falling by the wayside. They’re moving troops into Iraq without
any planning, and they’re not protecting the antiquities of the cradles
of civilization, which is not a way to win hearts and minds. We have inflamed
the sentiments of the Iraqi people against Americans with the situation at
Abu Ghraib. That does not make us any safer, and it might increase the recruitment
of terrorists. I do not feel the Bush administration has done a good job on
any of these fronts.
BuzzFlash: It has always surprised me that the administration put
up so many roadblocks and opposed the 9-11 Commission just on purely political
terms. It feels like the administration has a lot to hide. Did it surprise
you that they set up roadblocks every step of the way?
Lorie Van Auken: Yes, it’s just been the height of hypocrisy
to say that you’re trying to make the country safer, but not want to
look at what went wrong on September 11. It always defied logic, because
you’d think that they’d want to take a look at where the holes
were, where the problems were, how did the terrorists get here, how did they
accomplish what they accomplished on September 11. We would have thought
that the most important thing would have been to take a good hard look at
everything, examine it and then fix it and make sure that it couldn’t
ever happen again. And that’s not how that went.
BuzzFlash: If you could meet face to face with President Bush, what
would you say to him?
Lorie Van Auken: I would say that we’ve had four years of leadership
that really has not been good for our country. You’ve taken us down
a path where I just don’t think we’re respected in the world
anymore. For the good of the country, you should step down.
BuzzFlash: Laurie, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Lorie Van Auken: You’re welcome. Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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New York Times: 9-11 Widows Skillfully Applied the Power of a Question:
Newsday: 9-11 wives take on government and win
Washington Post: Driven by Their 9-11 Fears, Widows Pin Hopes on Kerry
Bucks County Courier Times: Sept. 11 widows bash Bush