Bush hiding from 9/11 commission? Administration
doesn't want truth out before the election
an election year, a Republican President seeking
his second term can be expected to propose more
tax cuts and, in this era of right-wing profligacy,
considerably more spending as well. Informed critics
calculate the costs of George W. Bush's latest
proposals in the trillions of dollars -- a vague
yet substantial sum that will come due sometime
during what budgetary jargon denotes as "the out
years," meaning long after Mr. Bush has departed
the White House. .
spending and tax breaks always elicit more applause
than controversies over the global "Axis of Evil,"
Niger's phantom yellowcake and Iraq's weapons
of mass disappearance. So do such perennially
popular topics as improved health care, the protection
of heterosexual marriage and, in the immortal
words of the President's father, jobs, jobs, jobs.
Estimates of future deficits depend on whether
the President actually tries to send astronauts
to live on Mars and the moon, or abandons that
vision in deference to disapproving poll numbers.
In short, bread and maybe circuses.
Mr. Bush understandably chose not to highlight,
however, is his administration's continuing determination
to undermine, restrict and censor the investigation
of the most significant event of his Presidency:
the attacks on New York and Washington of Sept.
President is fortunate that until now, the bipartisan
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States has received far less attention
than controversies over the design for a World
Trade Center memorial. At every step, from his
opposition to its creation, to his abortive appointment
of Henry Kissinger as its chair, to his refusal
to provide it with adequate funding and cooperation,
Mr. Bush has treated the commission and its essential
work with contempt.
the latest development, the President's aides
refused additional time for the 9/11 commission
to complete its report. Although the original
deadline in the enabling legislation is May 27,
the commissioners recently asked for a few more
months to ensure that their product will be "thorough
this month, Thomas Kean -- the former New Jersey
governor who has chaired the commission since
Mr. Kissinger recused himself -- explained why
the commission needs more time. As the genial
Republican told The New York Times, he is only
permitted to read the most important classified
documents concerning 9/11 in a little closet known
as a "sensitive compartmented information facility"
(or SCIF). He cannot photocopy the documents,
and if he takes notes about them, he must leave
the notes in the SCIF when he leaves.
recent statements by Mr. Kean, which he subsequently
modified, suggest that the White House has ample
reason to worry about what the commission's report
will say. In December, he told CBS News that he
believes the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented
-- and that incompetent officials were at fault
for the failure to uncover and frustrate the plot.
the creation and staffing of the commission, many
months passed before the administration agreed
to let Mr. Kean look at any of those crucial documents.
The commission still has hundreds of interviews
to conduct, and millions of pages to examine,
before its members begin to draft their conclusions.
the President's political advisers, concerned
about the political impact of the commission's
report, are unsympathetic to its requests for
additional time -- and House Speaker Dennis Hastert,
who would have to approve an extension, is perfectly
obedient to his masters in the White House. According
to Newsweek, the administration offered Mr. Kean
a choice: Either keep to the May deadline, or
postpone release of the report until December,
when its findings cannot affect the election.
Bush doesn't want his re-election subject to any
informed judgment about the disaster that reshaped
the nation and his Presidency. But why should
such crucial facts be withheld from the voters?
What does the President fear?
inadvertently, Mr. Kean provided a clue to the
answers in his Times interview. Asked whether
he thinks the disaster "did not have to happen,"
he replied, "Yes, there is a good chance that
9/11 could have been prevented by any number of
people along the way. Everybody pretty well agrees
our intelligence agencies were not set up to deal
with domestic terrorism. They were not ready for
an internal attack." Then, asked whether "anyone
in the Bush administration [had] any idea that
an attack was being planned," he replied: "That
is why we are looking at the internal papers.
I can't talk about what's classified. [The] President's
daily briefings are classified. If I told you
what was in them, I would go to jail."
the commission's final report may well indicate
what the President was told in his daily briefing
of Aug. 6, 2001, when he was sunning himself in
Crawford, Tex. -- as well as the many warnings
he and his associates were given by the previous
administration. That kind of information could
send him back to Crawford for a permanent vacation.
Conason writes for the New York Observer and Salon.com,
and is the author of Big Lies: The Right-Wing
Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth.
Posted: January 28, 2004