By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
WASHINGTONThe Bush haters are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of tomorrow's spectacle on Capitol Hill, where Condi Rice will get put through the grinder on 9-11.
But not so fast. It's beginning to look like Bush's advisors may have set a clever trap for the timid commission members, one that will boost the President in public opinions polls. All the major networks will be televising the hearings, which afford Bush free PR for his re-election campaign.
First off, even if Condi Rice were not such an important official, no politicians in their right mind are going to put down such a poised black woman on national television. Second, the Bush managers have successfully maneuvered Rice into looking like an underdog everyone can feel sorry for.
In addition, Rice is an adroit witness, more than capable of wiggling her way out of anything resembling a tough question. If things get tough, she can just invoke national security, say it's all classified, and tell the questioners to go take a hike.
Or Condi can scratch her head and say she just has no recollection.
And the commission isn't helped any by the common perception that its members are a bunch of weak déjà vu pols. If that's not bad enough, it's probably fixed anyhow. Philip D. Zelikow, the executive director, is a former colleague of Rice. The two worked in Papa Bush's administration under Brent Scowcroft and subsequently wrote a book on Germany together. The victims' families have accused Zelikow of having a conflict of interest, which he stoutly denies. Whatever the case may be, it seems unlikely he won't come to her defense if need be.
The commission says it wants to resolve certain contradictions in Rice's statements. Here's a quick primer on the key points:
On the WTC attack:
On May 16, 2002, Rice said, "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon. [No one predicted] that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."
But the commission, according to a Reuters report, found that "intelligence reports from December 1998 until the attacks said followers of bin Laden were planning to strike U.S. targets, hijack U.S. planes, and two individuals had successfully evaded checkpoints in a dry run at a New York airport." Furthermore, here's an ABC report: "White House officials acknowledged that U.S. intelligence officials informed President Bush weeks before the September 11 attacks that bin Laden's terrorist network might try to hijack American planes."
The phony Niger uranium story:
AP on July 7 of last year reported Condi as saying, "No one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery."
A month later the White House, according to The Washington Post, acknowledged that "the CIA sent two memos to the White House in October voicing strong doubts about a claim President Bush made three months later in the State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material in Africa"
On the Iraq war:
"We all want very much to see this resolved in a peaceful way," said Rice in a press briefing in October 2002, adding, "I think that we have to realize that we're not yet at the stage of talking about military action."
But Richard Haas, Bush's State Department director of policy and planning, told The New Yorker when he first realized war with Iraq was inevitable: "The moment was the first week of July , when I had a meeting with Condi . . . She said, essentially, that that decision's been made, don't waste your breath."
The Washington Times reported that a secret report prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in August 2003 revealed that "President Bush approved the overall war strategy for Iraq in August last year. That was eight months before the first bomb was dropped and six months before he asked the U.N. Security Council for a war mandate that he never received."
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John