April 20, 2004

White House sidesteps 9/11 commissions

The behavior of the current White House towards the 9/11 commission has gone so far beyond the pale that former Watergate investigators—and even perpetrators—are outraged. Everybody knows that the self-styled "war president" fears political fallout from the commission's findings. Yet, in a nationwide poll taken early this month, 56 percent of Americans believed that the White House was cooperating fully with the commission. The corresponding conventional wisdom is that the White House has cooperated with the commission, told the whole truth, and actually tried to get to the bottom of a national disaster. This is a lie.The semi-right-wing media has buttressed this completely ridiculous line of thought by repeating White House talking points ad nauseam, while justifying any defensiveness on the President's part by painting the commission as a bulwark of angry, pro-terrorist, anti-American liberals. For example, after the much-awaited Condi Rice testimony, when the White House declassified the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), The Washington Times "reported" that "the PDB was declassified Saturday at the request of Democrats on the commission probing intelligence lapses before the September 11 terrorist attacks." That The Washington Times grasped that half the commission is composed of registered Democrats is impressive. But as the transcript from the April 8 Condi Rice hearing shows, it was former New Jersey Governor Thomas Keane, the Bush-appointed Republican head of the commission, that said, "we have requested from the White House that that be declassified because we feel it's important that the American people get a chance to see it. We're awaiting an answer on our request, and hope by next week's hearing that we might have it." Let's be clear about this: The commission is not a proxy for Democrats, liberals, or people that support terrorism.The simple fact of the matter is that the White House has not cooperated with the 9/11 commission in any substantive way. It has threatened to withhold the commission's funding, impose time constraints on the commission's final report, and withhold crucial information. With these indirect methods failing, President Bush has unleashed attack dogs to undermine the credibility of the commission. Seizing the initiative, high-profile Republican operative Kevin DeMenna has been spotted hiding copies of Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies in Arizona bookstores. Then there is the always balanced perspective of the House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay (R-TX). Other than calling for the abolition of progressive taxation and "Robin Hood" school tax policies, DeLay has spent the last week or so saying things like: "The camera-driven tone of the hearings undermines the commission's credibility, distracts the American people from the gravity of the war on terror, and could send dangerous messages to unfriendly eyes and ears around the world." Note the resemblance between DeLay's claim that the 9/11 commission is performing an un-American activity and this recent comment from the President on the rising tide of Iraq-Vietnam comparisons: "That analogy sends the wrong message to our troops, and sends the wrong message to the enemy." Let's not forget that it took a torrent of media criticism for the Bush administration to even allow Condi Rice to testify. And why does the President need to testify with Dick Cheney? The only thing anybody can reasonably come up with is that this is the best way to keep a story straight. But we should, of course, give Bush a chance to answer this charge. At the President's so-called news conference, Mike Allen of the Washington Post asked, "Why are you and the Vice President insisting on appearing together before the 9/11 commission?" Here is the cooperative answer: "Because the 9/11 commission wants to ask us questions, that's why we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and answering their questions." Allen probably thought that our great leader misunderstood the question, so he asked again, "I was asking why you're appearing together, rather than separately, which was their request." A clearer question elicited no clearer an answer: "Because it's a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 commission is looking forward to asking us, and I'm looking forward to answering them." Then we saw Bush's sly, condescending grin, the trademark of his brand of strong leadership. Now comes Bob Woodward's report that Bush believes he is on a mission from God. One cannot be surprised at this. After all, how does one become President without winning an election? But hopefully even the "higher Father" won't help the President wriggle out of his web of lies and deception about the 9/11 commission, its members, its findings, and its functions.