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Absence of record

Editorial for May 6, 2004

In a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, our elected leaders answer to us: "We the People."

President Bush and Vice President Cheney are supposed to be working for us. And under our system, if we don't like their work, we have the right to vote them out of office.

So how can it be that the White House was allowed to dictate the rules of the Bush and Cheney appearance before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the bi-partisan commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks?

The White House, which opposed creation of the commission in the first place, reportedly haggled over the "ground rules" for the president's appearance for months. Since the primary purpose of the commission is to come up with recommendations to ensure this type of attack doesn't happen again, President Bush ought to have been eager to assist.

Instead, when the rules came down, they were amazingly strict. They were also inappropriate in a democracy.

First, neither Bush nor Cheney would be questioned under oath. Second, although the commission members had requested that Bush and Cheney be questioned separately, they insisted on appearing together. Third, there would be no television cameras, and no photographs taken. Fourth -- and most absurd -- the session would not be recorded, nor would a stenographer be present to transcribe any of what was said.

That means no transcript will be available for commission members to review as they prepare their findings, and no transcript will be available even to the families of those who lost relatives in the 9-11 attacks.

The White House did agree, however, to allow commission members to take handwritten notes of what was said. How accommodating of the White House.

Of course, "national security" is not the issue here. Of course, anything potentially damaging would be kept confidential. That's a given. There appears to be no honest justification for these restrictions, other than simple political calculation.

It's a shame the commission agreed to go along with the rules. It's a shame the American people and national media seem content to accept being dictated to on something that is truly and inherently the public's right to hear.

Further, when former President Clinton and former Vice President Gore appeared before the same commission recently, their sessions were recorded.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan asked everyone to show sensitivity about the Bush appearance before the commission, because after all, he is the president of the United States.

That's odd. We seem to recall another president not long ago who was required to answer questions for a grand jury. His testimony was not only recorded, but subsequently released for national broadcast.

Isn't a case where 3,000 people were killed more important than that one? Why are the rules so different now? Sadly for out nation, the answers are as obvious as they are political.



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