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Sept. 11 Panel Eyes NYC Response

WTC -- 9-11 --- The south tower collapses as smoke billows from both towers of the World Trade Center, in New York, in this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo.
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After months of focusing on federal failures, the commission probing the Sept. 11 attacks is looking at whether local missteps led to deaths that might have been avoided at the World Trade Center.

An increasingly vocal group of firefighters, relatives of the dead and other New Yorkers has been demanding a probe of the city's emergency response that would assign responsibility for systemic flaws.

"There are questions that have to be answered," said Bill Doyle, who lost his son in the trade center attack. "We can't bring our loved ones back, but we can have peace of mind that someone's being held accountable."

They may be disappointed when the commission investigating the attacks meets Tuesday in a university auditorium in Greenwich Village.

"There's more good news in the story than embarrassment, for sure," said one person who helped produce a pair of reports to be delivered Tuesday morning, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The city's emergency response improvements will be cited as a national model, commission members said.

However, the commission is expected to describe communication breakdowns between police and fire officials.

"We're going to be investigating that today and talking to people who run those particular areas," commission chairman Thomas Kean told CBS News' The Early Show Tuesday morning. "We know that some of those problems have been solved. Maybe some haven't been. That's the reason we're exploring that today."

Among a host of questions, relatives of the dead want to know why firefighters in the north tower did not hear a police helicopter pilot's warning that it was nearing collapse.

Some fire officials believe that dozens of firefighters may have died because police did not communicate that warning to fire commanders. Police and fire commanders did not work together on Sept. 11 and the departments had incompatible radio systems.

But others who have studied the attacks said that a fire chief in the lobby of the north tower issued an evacuation order about the same time as the helicopter transmission. Firefighters may not have heeded the order, those people say, but the fact that it was issued makes the helicopter issue irrelevant.

Congress established the Sept. 11 commission to examine what led to the attacks and advise ways the government can do a better job of tracking terrorists and responding to an attack. The 10-member bipartisan panel is to issue its final report on July 26.

Last month, commissioners heard from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, former President Bill Clinton, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are among the witnesses scheduled to testify Tuesday and Wednesday.

While some 2,749 people died, Giuliani has described the efforts of rescue workers on Sept. 11 as the "greatest rescue mission in the history of the United States."

The U.S. Congress established the Sept. 11 commission to examine what led to the attacks and advise ways the government can do a better job of tracking terrorists and responding to an attack. The 10-member bipartisan panel is to issue its final report on July 26.

That's the same day the Democratic National Convention opens in Boston. That means the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats has the potential to deliver a heavy blow to the President Bush — who is centering his re-election campaign on his leadership of the war against terrorism — in the thick of the presidential race.

Bush supporters worry that the panel's findings will hand Democrats a golden opportunity to step up their criticism of the Republican president's national security stewardship.

"Any report before the election has some risk," said Republican consultant Scott Reed. But Reed also said the commission "seems to be playing it straight in a bipartisan manner. And they're a pox on everyone's house."

Many people close to the investigation expect the report to fault both the current administration and the preceding Democratic administration of President Clinton, in particular the FBI and the CIA, for failing to do more to confront the pre-Sept. 11 threat of the al Qaeda terrorist network.