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Former Senate leader to oversee Red Cross fund

George Mitchell mediated peace talks in Northern Ireland in 1999.
George Mitchell mediated peace talks in Northern Ireland in 1999.  

(CNN) -- Former U.S. Senator George Mitchell will oversee the American Red Cross' controversial Liberty Disaster Fund created after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the organization announced Thursday.

"He brings great compassion, experience and leadership to the work we are doing," said David McLaughlin, chairman of the American Red Cross board of governors. "We are confident his strong will, his steady hand, his wisdom will guide the Liberty Fund as it moves forward, and to do this with the greatest benefit to those who are in need."

The Red Cross initially was criticized by donors and lawmakers for its plan to spend some of the money raised from the Liberty Fund for purposes not directly related to the September 11 events.

But it changed course last month, announcing that all of the money raised for the fund would go toward families of September 11 victims.

The fund has received $667 million in donations so far. Of that, the American Red Cross will have spent $317.5 million on aid to more than 36,000 families affected by the attacks, officials said.

Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who led peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and a committee examining the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, will serve as an independent overseer of the Liberty Fund.

"Senator Mitchell will have the lead responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of a Red Cross plan that meets the needs of the people affected by the September 11 tragedies," McLaughlin said.

Mitchell was asked to ensure there is adequate consultation with families affected by the disaster, and proper coordination with other charities and government organizations, McLaughlin said.

The Red Cross said $139.6 million of the Liberty Fund has gone to 3,202 families as part of its family gift program, and that 2,400 families whose loved ones were killed or seriously injured received nine months of assistance averaging $52,500.

Dr. Bernadine Healy announced in October her resignation as president of the American Red Cross. She was a target of heavy criticism for her aggressive fund raising and the relatively small portion of the Liberty Fund that was making its way to victims' families.


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