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Rice should testify.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's top security aide, should testify publicly before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Americans, in particular the families of the victims of the attacks, deserve the most thorough and independent investigation possible.

Rice refuses to testify in public before the independent bipartisan panel, but she has hardly been keeping a low profile. Lately, it's been hard to find a TV news broadcast or White House media briefing in which Rice isn't doing her best to defuse the explosive testimony of Richard Clarke, Bush's former counterterrorism chief, who says the administration failed to respond to warnings about terrorism because of its obsession with ousting Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

Last month, Rice spent four hours behind closed doors with commission members, and now she feels an urgent need to refute Clarke's testimony, much of which has focused on her performance as the president's national security adviser. She wants to do so not in sworn public testimony, as Clarke and a host of figures from the Bush and Clinton administrations have done in recent days, but in private, where her explanations will be heard only by commission members.

Rice insists it would violate the constitutionally mandated separation of powers for a presidential adviser to appear before the 9/11 commission. But Rice's public testimony would hardly set a precedent. Other presidential aides have testified publicly, including national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1980 and Sandy Berger in 1994 and 1997.

Public testimony under oath would better serve the public's intense interest in understanding the government's actions and inactions before and after the Sept. 11. Fairness also dictates public testimony by Rice. In recent days, she has taken every possible opportunity to attack Clarke in public; she has even gone so far as to release a previously classified e-mail message from him. She has denounced Clarke's claim that the administration failed to heed warnings of the danger posed by al-Qaeda before Sept. 11 as a "scurrilous" and politically motivated distortion.

But Rice has done little to address key points in Clarke's testimony. Moreover, her rebuttals of Clarke runs counter to other administration officials' statements. For example, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testified in public this week that the administration had not moved quickly enough to develop a plan for eliminating the al-Qaeda threat. Armitage also contradicted Rice's claim that the administration had developed a comprehensive counterterrorism plan that was about to be presented to Bush shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rice also has contradicted Vice President Dick Cheney's characterization that Clarke was "out of the loop" in the Bush administration, as well as Cheney's suggestion that Clarke's position had been down- graded.

There are many other important questions that Rice should explain not in private, but in public. For example, why did the Bush administration keep Clarke as its counter- terrorism chief if he was the primary author of what Rice and others in the administration have denounced as dangerously deficient Clinton administration terrorism policies?

The most compelling reasons for Rice's public testimony, however, are the interests of American people and, above all, the families of Sept. 11 victims. They deserve a full and public accounting of what went wrong before the terrorist attacks. They deserve to know where their government went astray before the attacks and whether those failings have been corrected.

They deserve the truth. The public truth.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; American public needs to hear her explanations
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 27, 2004
Previous Article:Unborn victims.

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