More News — March 27-31, 2004

"Retired Top Brass Say No to 'Missile Shield'" -- Bryan Bender in The Boston Globe, 3/27/04:

WASHINGTON -- Forty-nine retired generals and admirals yesterday urged President Bush to suspend plans for a national missile shield and instead use the money to secure nuclear materials abroad and ports and borders at home.

The Bush administration plans to field a nationwide defense system in September to shoot down missiles armed with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, and has budgeted $3.7 billion this year for the project. . . .

But the 49 former senior military leaders contend that the system remains unproven. They also said it is more likely that terrorists would smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States than a country would launch a missile at the United States, risking a devastating retaliatory strike.

"As you have said, Mr. President, our highest priority is to prevent terrorists from acquiring and employing weapons of mass destruction," wrote the former officers, including retired Admiral William J. Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired General Joseph P. Hoar, former chief of the US Central Command.

The retired officers added that "the militarily responsible course of action" is to use the funding for the missile shield "to secure the multitude of facilities containing nuclear weapons and materials and to protect our ports and borders against terrorists who may attempt to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States."

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently concluded that only two of the antimissile system's 10 key technologies have been fully tested. Meanwhile, to make the September deadline, the Pentagon has waived some operational testing requirements. The military's top weapons tester stated earlier this month that such testing is not planned "for the foreseeable future."

The letter calls on the president to "postpone operational deployment of the expensive and untested" system.

"Clarke OKs Release of His Testimony, Documents" -- Reuters article at washingtonpost.com, 3/28/04:

Former U.S. counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke Sunday called on the White House to make public his own testimony to Congress as well as other statements, e-mails and documents about how the Bush administration handled the threat of terror.

Clarke, center of a firestorm over the level of engagement of President Bush in the issue before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was responding to Republican allegations that his earlier testimony to Congress contradicted statements he made last week that criticized Bush.

"I would welcome it being declassified, but not just a little line here or there. Let's declassify all six hours of my testimony," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, slamming Clarke on Friday, called for declassifying Clarke's July 2002 testimony to a joint hearing by the Senate and House of Representatives Intelligence committees.

Frist, a Tennessee Republican, said Clarke's words then, when, as a member of Bush administration he defended its policies, conflicted with last week's sworn public testimony before the bipartisan commission investigating the attacks, known popularly as the 9/11 Commission.

Clarke said he supported having that testimony declassified and also wanted testimony given in private to the commission by Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice made public.

He said he wanted everything out in the open. "The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press.

"Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20th to September 11th, and let's declassify all of it," he said.

"Rice Defends Refusal to Testify" -- Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus in The Washington Post, 3/29/04:

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, at the center of a controversy over her refusal to testify before the Sept. 11 commission, yesterday renewed her determination not to give public testimony and said she could not list anything she wished she had done differently in the months before the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Administration officials were searching for a compromise last night with the commission that would limit the political damage from her refusal to testify. But a defiant Rice gave no hint of that as she defended the Bush administration's counterterrorism performance on CBS's "60 Minutes" -- the same venue used a week earlier by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke to launch his criticism that the Bush administration did too little on terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001, and wound up strengthening al Qaeda by pursuing war in Iraq. . . .

Rice gave no ground on the administration's decision that she will not appear in public before the panel or testify under oath because Bush officials believe doing so would compromise the constitutional powers of the executive branch. The renewed refusal came despite the panel's unanimous plea for her testimony.

Republican commissioner John F. Lehman, who has written extensively on separation-of-power issues, said that "the White House is making a huge mistake" by blocking Rice's testimony and decried it as "a legalistic approach."

"The White House is being run by a kind of strict construction of interpretation of the powers of the president," he said on ABC's "This Week." "There are plenty of precedents that the White House could use if they wanted to do this."

Two Republican officials, who declined to be identified because they are not supposed to talk to reporters, said White House aides are discussing ways they could compromise with the commission, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, perhaps by agreeing to the declassification of Rice's private testimony. "That would show people that she is cooperating, and make it clear that her testimony is consistent with her public pronouncements," one official said. "That would help our credibility."

Rice said she has "absolutely nothing to hide" and "would really like" to testify but will not because of the constitutional principle. . . .

Rice said that when Bush met with his top advisers on Sept. 15, 2001, "not a single one of the president's principal advisers suggested that he do anything more than go after Afghanistan, and that's what we did." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz was at that meeting and did suggest that Iraq should be attacked, as described in detail in Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward's book "Bush at War."

Rice said the Bush administration's development of a counterterrorism plan before Sept. 11 was brisk.

The Bush administration has been sharply critical of Clinton and his antiterrorism policy for depending on diplomacy and law enforcement and not having military intervention as part of his plan to attack al Qaeda.

But Rice said yesterday that the United States is safer today because "we have an umbrella of intelligence and law enforcement worldwide."

Rice argued that "al Qaeda is not more dangerous today than it was on September 11" but said it is still dangerous. She also said, "The world is a lot safer and the war on terrorism is well-served by the victory in Iraq." When it was noted that there have been more terrorist attacks in the 30 months since Sept. 11 than in the 30 months prior, she replied: "That's the wrong way to look at it."

"US Now Looking to Install a PM in Iraq" -- Jonathan Steele in The Sydney Morning Herald, 3/29/04:

The United States wants to transfer power in Iraq to a hand-picked prime minister, abandoning plans for an expansion of the current 25-member governing council, coalition officials in Baghdad say.

With less than 100 days before the US occupation authorities are to transfer sovereignty on June 30, fears of wrangling among Iraqi politicians has forced Washington to make its third switch of strategy in six months.

The search is now on for an Iraqi to serve as chief executive. He will almost certainly be from the Shia Muslim majority, and probably a secular technocrat. It is not clear if Iraqi agreement on this issue has been sought.

Initial plans for enlarging the existing 25-member governing council, which has the task of appointing the cabinet, have been downgraded in favour of letting the present members get on with their job. Although the council may still be increased, the process need not be tied to the June 30 deadline.

Plans to create a three-man presidency - with a representative of the Shia, the Sunni and the Kurds - are still under way, but its powers would be mainly symbolic. The interim government will serve until direct elections for a national assembly are held at the end of the year.

A decision about how to pick an Iraqi government to take over when the Americans cede power have been in turmoil for several months. An initial US proposal to hold unelected caucuses of regional "notables" to choose a council which would then nominate a cabinet, collapsed in disarray after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the leading Shia cleric, called for direct elections.

The latest plan is to choose a government after a vague process of "extensive deliberation and consultations with cross-sections of the Iraqi people".

Ayatollah Sistani said last week that he would not meet any United Nations officials if the world body endorsed the transitional law. One of his aides said on Saturday that the cleric might issue a religious edict against any Iraqis who join the interim government.

"9/11 Panel Wants Rice under Oath in Any Testimony" -- Philip Shenon and Richard W. Stevenson in The New York Times, 3/30/04:

WASHINGTON, March 29 ? The chairman and vice chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Monday that they would ask Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath in any future questioning because of discrepancies between her statements and those made in sworn testimony by President Bush's former counterterrorism chief.

"I would like to have her testimony under the penalty of perjury," said the commission's chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, in comments that reflected the panel's exasperation with the White House and Ms. Rice, the president's national security adviser.

Ms. Rice has granted one private interview to the 10-member, bipartisan commission and has requested another. But the White House has cited executive privilege in refusing to allow her to testify before the commission in public or under oath, even as she has granted numerous interviews about its investigation.

The White House declined to respond to Mr. Kean's comments. One official who had been briefed on discussions between the White House and the commission said Monday night that several options were under consideration that might lead to a compromise over Ms. Rice. The official, who asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the negotiations, declined to specify the options and said nothing had yet been decided.

In separate interviews, Mr. Kean and the panel's vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana, said they would continue to press for Ms. Rice to testify under oath in public.

But they said that if the White House continued to refuse to have her answer questions at a public hearing, any new private interviews with Ms. Rice should be conducted under new ground rules, with the national security adviser placed under oath and a transcription made.

Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton also said that if the White House agreed, they were ready to declassify and make public the notes taken by commissioners when they interviewed Ms. Rice on Feb. 7, along with the transcripts of nearly 15 hours of private questioning of Mr. Clarke that was conducted by the commission before last week's hearing. "My tendency is to say that everything should be made public," Mr. Kean said.

Throughout the day on Monday, there were signs of a debate within the administration over whether to hold fast to the principle of not allowing White House aides to testify before Congress or to seek a deal that would allow Ms. Rice to appear before the commission. . . .

Ms. Rice has given a flurry of interviews to news organizations over the last week in which she has challenged Mr. Clarke's truthfulness, including his depiction of her as slow-footed in responding to intelligence warnings throughout 2001 that Al Qaeda was plotting a catastrophic attack on the United States.

Members of the commission, Democrats and Republicans alike, say they are angered by her interviews. They say the White House has made a major political blunder by continuing to assert executive privilege in blocking public testimony by Ms. Rice while continuing to use her as the principal public spokeswoman in defending the Bush's administration's actions before Sept. 11.

"I find it reprehensible that the White House is making her the fall guy for this legalistic position," said John F. Lehman, Navy secretary in the Reagan administration and a Republican member of the commission. "I've published two books on executive privilege, and I know that executive privilege has to bend to reality."

While there is precedent for the White House argument that incumbent national security advisers and other White House advisers should not be required to testify in public, constitutional scholars say that the position is based only on past practice, not law, and that presidents have repeatedly waived the privilege, especially at times of scandal or other intense political pressure.

"Rice Told to Testify before 9/11 Hearing as Bush Caves In" -- Suzanne Goldenberg in The Guardian, 3/31/04:

President George Bush surrendered yesterday to public demands for greater disclosure from the White House to the investigation into the September 11 attacks, authorising his national security adviser to testify in public before the commission.

The retreat - after weeks of resisting a public appearance by Condoleezza Rice - was one of two positive gestures to the commission yesterday from a White House acutely aware that the controversy was damaging Mr Bush's re-election prospects.

In addition to allowing Ms Rice to testify in public and under oath as investigators demand, Mr Bush and the vice-president, Dick Cheney, also agreed to meet the commission, but in a single private session.

The two men will not be under oath, but their appearance represents an advance on an earlier deal that would have had Mr Bush meeting only the commission chairman and vice-chairman.

In brief comments to reporters yesterday, Mr Bush claimed he waived the principle of executive privilege because of the gravity of the attacks. "I've ordered this level of cooperation because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on September 11 2001," he said.

However, the concessions came with firm conditions making it evident that the White House - which opposed the establishment of the commission - does not intend to be forced into further compromises.

A letter from Mr Bush's counsel, Alberto Gonzales, said the White House would not entertain additional demands for testimony from Ms Rice, or other White House officials. There is also no scope for expanding the session with Mr Bush and Mr Cheney.

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