Unless there is a change of heart in the White House, the bipartisan federal commission created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks may well have to issue subpoenas in order to gain access to key intelligence documents being withheld by the Bush administration.
It is dismaying that the administration has stonewalled the commission — and, in effect, the American people — on arguably the most traumatic challenge the nation has faced since Pearl Harbor.
The commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a Republican and a former governor of New Jersey, was right to warn, "I will not stand for it." Americans should hope that Mr. Kean and the members of his commission, which was created by an act of Congress over the objections of the White House, hold their ground.
At the heart of the struggle between the commission and administration appear to be the detailed daily intelligence briefings provided President Bush in the weeks leading up to the 9/11 tragedies.
It is true that such reports are sensitive and highly classified and have rarely, if ever, been shared with Congress or outside agencies. It is also the case that administrations of both parties have long jealously guarded internal documents that advise presidents.
But Mr. Kean argues compellingly that this situation is different. He points out that the commission represents neither Congress nor any other branch of government, and is a unique body toward which traditional defenses of presidential privilege should not apply.
Unfortunately, this administration has a deep aversion to openness. That has been highlighted by the growing unhappiness of some Republican senators over the misleading and selective information given them about Iraq.
It was also evidenced by the need of the Kean commission to subpoena dozens of boxes of documents that had been withheld by the Federal Aviation Administration.