So the White House has finally, reluctantly, grudgingly agreed that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 Commission.
John Lehman, a Republican panel member, says that it is important for Rice to testify under oath because "like the prospect of hanging, being sworn concentrates the mind."
Fine. But at the same time we learned that President Bush and Vice-President Cheney have cut a deal to "meet with the commissioners" together. They will most certainly not "testify." They will not be under oath. Their minds will not be concentrated on anything but their talking points, and Cheney will be there to finish Bush’s sentences whenever he stumbles. As they "correct each other’s memories," their executive jointedness will be neither filmed nor recorded, although details are almost certain to leak quicker than air from a bullet-riddled tire.
This is the whole ball game, people: to get Bush and Cheney into a situation where they have to raise their right hands and swear to tell the truth.
It is the one situation both Bush and Cheney must avoid at all cost in order to survive. Getting the commission to agree to meet with them in private, and not in public, on their terms, was the key point scored by the administration in the Condi Rice negotiations.
That is why it is important to demand now, and loudly, that they must testify, not condescend to merely "visit" with the commission, that they answer questions under penalty of perjury, and before the cameras.
Only then would it become fully apparent why God gave us Richard Ben-Veniste.
Never mind all the blather about how presidents don’t "do" that sort of thing. Condi not testifying was a matter of constitutional principle, too, they said — before they looked out the window and saw the peasants coming with their pitchforks and torches.
24 hours before they capitulated, they had been working the phones, cutting deals, trying to prevent other Republicans from escaping into sanity and force them to support the White House in clinging to "executive privilege."
They had no luck.
These people took this country into war on false pretenses. The damage caused by their decisions may not be repaired a hundred years from now. Hundred of U.S. soldiers are dead, thousands maimed. Some 8-10,000 Iraqi civilians (and who knows how many Iraqi soldiers) have perished, by common estimates. Saddam Hussein is still alive and "may be having fun," according to news reports. Osama bin Laden is still at large, and even if he were to be caught or killed, al-Qaeda has metastasized into something far more dangerous while Bush and Halliburton clanked around in Iraq. Our standing in the world is at an all-time low.
Furthermore, there is very real concern that the U.S., despite all its power, is at serious risk of losing this war on terrorism.
If this country cannot demand an accounting from its elected leadership under these desperate circumstances, when could it, pray tell?
Bush did not take questions in announcing that the White House was reversing itself on allowing Rice to testify. He does not want to take them ever again, in any environment he cannot control. (He is no fool: consider the fact that he has never allowed himself to be filmed or recorded even saying the word "cocaine.") He is well aware that Clinton’s near-fatal error was allowing himself to be maneuvered into giving a sworn deposition, where he could be blind-sided with the sex questions.
Bush is never going to volunteer to hold himself accountable. If he were capable of that, he would have long since apologized to the country for allowing 9/11 to happen on his watch.
That is why we need to start demanding that he raise that right hand, whether he wants to or not. With the whole world watching.
DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.
He can be reached at: email@example.com
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