Friday, April 9, 2004

Rice testimony helps along the process


National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice may not have broken new ground in her testimony Thursday before the 9-11 commission, acknowledging that "there was no silver bullet that could have prevented" the attacks, but the fact that she testified publicly under oath is helpful in many ways.

First, it lets the families of victims of 9-11 hear from a primary source in the Bush administration about measures it took to combat terrorism. Members of the al-Qaida terrorist network used planes as missiles on Sept. 11, 2001, and hit targets in New York and Washington. More than 3,000 people were killed. Families deserve as much information as possible to help them understand what happened and help them find closure.

Second, by getting Rice's testimony out in public, the Bush administration can avoid any appearance of secrecy related to this tragic event. Initially, the administration opposed the creation of the commission, wanted it to finish its work in May and was in favor of releasing its final report only after the 2004 presidential election. It's encouraging that the administration has eased away from that stance.

Third, perhaps most important, it upholds the fundamental American right to have access to information that serves the public interest. Understanding terrorism and the impact it has on America is definitely in the public interest. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon changed the nation forever, and heavily influenced Bush foreign policy.

During her more than three hours of testimony, Rice supported the administration's terrorism policy, rebutting assertions made before the commission two weeks earlier by former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. Clarke said the administration did not see terrorism as an urgent problem. Rice said Bush was aware of the threat posed by al-Qaida, but that the administration, like others before it, suffered from problems with intelligence gathering.

Many questions still must be answered, but during this vetting process, the commission deserves support and cooperation as it seeks to find out why 9-11 happened and make recommendations to prevent it from happening again.

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