Candidness: what Bush can do for his country

The Bush administration must grant the 9/11 Commission full testimonies.

The 9/11 Commission is consistently getting a political straight-arm from the Bush administration. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are presently limiting their audience to the commission chairman, New Jersey Republican Tom Kean, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat.

Bush also limited his testimony to one hour. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is refusing to testify publicly. Bush and Cheney must give sufficient access to the entire commission and Rice has a duty to publicly testify.

A relevant comparison is commission access to Clinton administration officials. Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore had given the commission whatever access it requested. Samuel Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser, will testify publicly.

Former officials do not carry the same political risks or time constraints of sitting officials, but Clinton officials’ opening their decisions to more scrutiny requires the Bush administration to justify its refusal to be candid.

The administration refuses to explain its hermit-like behavior. The probable reasons for Bush’s time limitation are his duties and schedule, which are taxing. The commission’s extended deadline of July 26, however, allows sufficient time to get testimony from Bush in multiple sessions.

Bush and Cheney’s refusal to testify to the entire commission, ostensibly based on a fear of leaks, is baseless. If the commission members cannot keep the interviews confidential, they should not be on the commission at all. Still, the administration’s point is well taken – no information should come from the commission until it issues its report in July.

The White House mistakenly claims that Rice refuses to publicly testify because it would set poor legal precedent. John Poindexter, national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair, testified publicly during those hearings. There is one small difference: Poindexter testified about his own criminal wrongdoing, which is not the case with Rice. As such, the legal precedent the administration claims to protect is so narrow that the interests of preventing history from repeating itself clearly outweigh it.

And that is the point Bush and company seem to miss: National security trumps both their personal convenience and political goals.