Commission work should be bipartisan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 17, 2004

The bipartisan Sept. 11 commission sat through some decidedly partisan testimony Wednesday as former White House adviser Richard Clarke took his televised opportunity to criticize the current administration.

The work the commission has been doing, through its extensive report and through the testimony this week, is an important study of the intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks &045;&045; a study whose end result should not be to place blame but to fix problems that may still exist.

Tuesday’s hearings saw a parade of Clinton and Bush officials, most of whom said they did what they could to fight terrorism and al-Qaida before Sept. 11.

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If blame is to be had, it should be shared by both administrations. Neither followed up on certain warnings; neither connected dots or communicated effectively among agencies. Neither took chances when they were there.

As commission member and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean said, &uot;Nobody has clean hands in this one.&uot;

But nobody is served now by pointing fingers, as Clarke did in his testimony and in his new book, which was published, conveniently, on Monday. Any credibility Clarke had as a national security expert testifying before the commission has been damaged by the timing of his book’s release and the ensuing media frenzy.

Many of the officials who have testified this week have taken the time to defend their own work and the administrations they served, and it is true that we can never know what might have changed if we had killed bin Laden or been more aggressive attacking al-Qaida camps.

But what we should seek to gain from the commission’s work and these hearings are lessons to avoid future tragedies, not points scored for either party.