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The 9/11 truth.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Under suitably intense pressure, the White House has agreed to allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public under oath before the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Having won this critical concession, the commission should now make every effort to move beyond the political bluster and finger-pointing that has marred its recent deliberations. It should return to its core mission of helping the nation understand why the attacks took place and, most importantly, how future ones can be prevented.

The White House reversed its shaky position that Rice could not testify in public because of the need to protect executive privilege. While key presidential advisers traditionally have not addressed policy matters before congressional bodies, there have been notable exceptions. Moreover, the Sept. 11 commission is not a congressional body. It's an independent, bipartisan panel created with congressional and presidential approval to conduct a thorough, unflinching examination of an event of unprecedented magnitude in this nation's history.

The White House set several conditions on Rice's testimony. One is that her appearance should not be viewed as a precedent. Another is that no more public testimony will be sought from White House officials. The first is an exercise in legal semantics and helps the White House save political face - no real harm there. The second is more troubling. If more testimony is needed to give Americans a full understanding of what happened before or after Sept. 11, then administration officials should raise their right hands and tell the truth, the whole truth, conditions or not.

Until now, Rice has granted exactly one private interview to the 10-member commission. Rightly or wrongly, that left many Americans with an impression that the White House was trying to hide embarrassing information about its failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

Rice's refusal to testify in public became even more disturbing in the wake of testimony by Richard Clarke, President Bush's former counterterrorism coordinator. He alleged that the president and his top advisers did not heed warnings about al-Qaeda because of their obsession with ousting Saddam Hussein's regime from Iraq.

While Rice has rejected Clarke's allegations in the news media as "scurrilous" and politically motivated, none of her statements, unlike those of Clarke, was made under oath under penalty of perjury.

Now, Rice can answer under oath a long list of legitimate questions that have been raised by Clarke and by others who have appeared before the commission. She can also explain why some of her statements, including that the administration was moving aggressively to eliminate al-Qaeda before Sept. 11, have starkly contradicted those of other administration officials.

The White House's concessions on testimony by Rice, and an additional agreement to have the president and Vice President Dick Cheney testify in private, will enable the commission to begin the difficult job of wrapping up its investigation and issuing its final report.

The commission's recent rancorous hearings have been a difficult but necessary exercise in accountability. While the commission has yet to write its final report, it now appears clear that both the Clinton and Bush administrations share blame for a broad range of intelligence, political and military failures that allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to occur.

Both Clinton and Bush were unable to stop al-Qaeda or eliminate its leader. The attacks may have happened on Bush's watch, but the twisted path of policy fumbles and bureaucratic stumbles leading to Sept. 11 began years before Bush moved into the White House.

Now, commission members must act as statesmen and not as politicians. They must focus less on affixing blame and more on helping the nation understand why the attacks took place and, far more importantly, how future attacks can be prevented.

If warnings went unheeded before Sept. 11, then Americans want to be assured that future warnings will not be ignored. If adequate measures were not taken to protect this nation from attack, then people want to know what steps are necessary to protect them from attacks in the uncertain days and months ahead.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Panel should focus on mission, not politics
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 31, 2004
Words:676
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