Saturday, 27 March 2004
Witness protection. When National Security Advisor Condi Rice first refused to testify under oath before the 9/11 commission, I called her on it then and there: The only motive for avoiding that oath is to avoid the penalty for perjury. Even under oath, Rice could still refuse to answer questions that would jeopardize national security — and if avoiding embarrassment for the Bush Administration was her concern, she could easily take the oath in private.
Three months (and a week of Richard Clarke's devastating testimony) later, other people are starting to question whether Rice's separation-of-powers argument is a smokescreen to cover her real concerns. Separation of powers didn't stop Clinton's National Security Adivsor, Sandy Berger, from testifying before Congress in 1997; it didn't stop Reagan's National Security Advisor, John Poindexter, from testifying before Congress in 1986.
Of course, Poindexter was convicted of a felony on the basis of his testimony, since he lied about the Iran-Contra affair. Perhaps Condi Rice lies awake at night thinking about her predecessor's fate, and doesn't want to rely on a presidential pardon to protect her from doing time; or, perhaps, she dreads what Bush and Rove will do to her if she gives honest testimony. After watching (and participating) in the scorched-earth attacks on Clarke, Paul O'Neill, Joe Wilson, and other whistleblowers, breaking the code of silence on Bush's pre-9/11 lapses may be too much for Rice to handle.
So, I think it's time to offer Rice a choice: The 9/11 commission should offer Rice immunity from prosecution if she testifies under oath.
If that doesn't do it, then the gloves should come off and the commission should issue a subpoena. I don't think separation of powers can be used to thwart public accountability of senior administration officials — and when the Nixon Administration tried it the last time around, the courts didn't think so either.