On Friday, Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist went after former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, after Clarke said in both a new book and in his testimony in front of the 9/11 commission that the administration ignored warnings leading up to 9/11.Considering the seriousness of those allegations, it’s not just acceptable but necessary that Clarke’s story be closely scrutinized, but Dr. Frist went much further, even attacking Clarke for apologizing to the families of the victims.
Clarke said, “Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.” For the first time, one of the people responsible for fighting terrorism before 9/11 saying what many 9/11 families have been waiting to hear—a simple apology. Many clapped and surrounded him after his testimony. Everyone else who testified from both the Clinton and Bush administrations just pointed fingers and defended their actions.
Rather than give him credit even just for that, Dr. Frist said, “Mr. Clarke’s theatrical apology on behalf of the nation was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility. It’s my view it was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation.”
Talk about arrogance, Dr. Frist admitted, “I do not know Mr. Clarke, although I take it from press accounts that he has been involved in the fight against terrorism for the past decade.” From press accounts? So he doesn’t know what role Clarke played in the decision-making and yet has determined that it was not Clarke’s right, privilege, or responsibility? As arguably the only relevant decision-maker involved in combating terror in both administrations, there’s probably no one else more qualified to apologize to the families on behalf of the government, particularly when officials from both administrations refused to do it.
Those attacking Clarke should be focusing on one relevant question—is he telling the truth and the whole truth? And to help answer that question Dr. Frist is rightly seeking to declassify Clarke’s past congressional testimony. He hopes to show that Clarke’s story has changed. Fine, if there’s nothing that will sacrifice national security secrets, then declassify it. Even Clarke doesn’t object to that. But I don’t want to hear about alleged profiteering or the timing of the book unless there’s a specific allegation attached to it that tells us something about whether the book is true.
Secretary of State Powell has said that while the book does not tell the “complete story,” Powell does not attribute any “bad motives” to Clarke. No question making up lies to make money would be bad motives. We need to get the complete story, not political games intended to cloud the real issue, on whether Clarke is telling the truth. It’s just too important.
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