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No Record, No Accountability | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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No Record, No Accountability

In another illustration of the current administration's commitment to keeping the American people in the loop, the White House demanded that there be no recording or formal transcription of today's joint interview of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney by the 9/11 commission.

The members of the independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have accepted this ridiculous pretense because they know it is the only way to get the president and the vice president to aid efforts to understand and combat the threat of terrorism.

The lack of a recording or an official transcript will, legal scholars suggest, afford Bush and Cheney an opportunity to deny statements, question interpretations and challenge conclusions. "It gives them more maneuverability in case someone slips up or says something he regrets," explains New York University law Professor Stephen Gillers.

In other words, in the unlikely event that Bush or Cheney might let a snippet of truth slip out, the elaborate White House spin machine will be able to take advantage of the deliberately vague record to "clarify" the statement.

The absence of a taped record also allows the administration to avoid the embarrassment of having to explain why, when the commander-in-chief is asked questions, the vice president answers.

The reason for the tandem testimony by Bush and Cheney is, of course, all too obvious. Were the pair to testify apart from one another, their stories might well be different, as there is some doubt about the extent to which Bush was kept in the loop.

Despite the fact that the tandem testimony is necessary in order for Bush and Cheney to keep their stories straight, it is still awfully embarrassing. Does anyone really believe that the rest of the world has failed to notice that, when the leader of the most powerful country on the planet is asked to address paramount issues of national security, he must be accompanied by a minder?

The absurdity of the president and vice president demanding that there be no official record of their meeting with the commission would be the subject of a congressional outcry and a constant media battering of the administration if Bush and Cheney were members of another political party. Just imagine if Bill Clinton had asked that there be no official record of obviously troubling and politically damaging statements he made during the interviews and inquisitions of the Republican-sponsored "sexgate" investigations of the late 1990s. The screams of outrage would still be echoing today.

Of course, the issues being explored by the 9/11 commission are far more serious matters than those involved in the Clinton investigations, which argues even more strongly for a permanent and precise record of what is said.

But Bush and Cheney will get their pass from the commission, the Congress and a cheerleading media. The willingness of major media to go along with the charade is particularly galling, but not surprising in an era when the White House press corps tends to ask probing questions along the lines of "how high?" in response to presidential press secretary Scott McClellan's regular requests that they jump to the right.

As has so often been the case during this dark passage in the American journey, citizens seeking after an accurate report on the affairs of state will need to turn to "America's finest news source": The Onion.

The Onion's front page this week features a photo of Bush speaking as Cheney sips from a glass. The headline: "Cheney wows Sept. 11 commission by drinking glass of water while Bush speaks."

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