Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Friday, April 09, 2004  

Hendrik Hertzberg, who is always good, is this week extraordinary. In preparation for today's satire, I'll direct your attention to his "Talk of the Town" piece, which inspired it. Often these essays--particularly the lead piece, generally about current events--are out of date by the time they make it to me on the West Coast. But this time, Hertzberg's analysis is actually stronger for coming a day after Condi's testimony. Having seen what we got, he reminds us what we sacrificed to get it.

The White House’s retreat got big headlines, but it was less far-reaching than it may appear. The commission is having to pay dearly for what, in his statement, the President called without irony “this level of coöperation.” The fine print was in a letter from Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, to Kean and his Democratic deputy, Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee:

The necessary conditions are as follows. First, the Commission must agree in writing that Dr. Rice’s testimony before the Commission does not set any precedent for future Commission requests, or requests in any other context, for testimony by a National Security Advisor or any other White House official.

Second, the Commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.

Sounds a little repetitive, no? Gonzales, it would seem, wanted to leave nothing to chance in making the White House’s point, which was this: We’ll give you Rice for a couple of hours, but that’s it. No more questions in public for anybody in the White House, for any reason, in any context, no matter how many contradictions and unanswered questions are left. The end. Now go away.

Placing the event in context, Hertzberg also reminds us that the administration hasn't exactly been a supporter of the commission. (You probably know all of this already, but as a prose geek, I feel compelled to paste this in.)

A few weeks ago, the White House was still holding out for a pair of one-hour sessions, each of which would have only three participants: Kean, Hamilton, and either Bush or Cheney. Then it backed away from its insistence on sixty minutes and not a minute more. And now it says it’s O.K. for the commission to bring its commissioners. But when they get there they will find a team: Bush and Cheney, Cheney and Bush—like Robin and Batman. Is it too uncharitable to suggest that the White House prefers a double act because it doesn’t trust the President to handle the questioning alone and, perhaps more important, doesn’t want to risk too many glaring contradictions between Bush’s memories and Cheney’s?

And what about that “one Commission staff member”? In Cicero’s Rome, having a scribe take notes was the latest thing in audio technology, and so it remained right through the days when the young Charles Dickens earned his living in the press gallery of the House of Commons. Now, though, there are more reliable ways of keeping track of what people say in important meetings. Yet there will be no official electronic recording of Bush-and-Cheney’s testimony (as there was none of Rice’s four-hour private session with the commission on February 7th), and there will be no transcript. Dickens knew how to take shorthand, but that is not among the talents found on the commission’s staff. In its details and nuances, if not in its broad outlines, the record of what the President and the Vice-President say will necessarily be incomplete. This is the White House’s choice, not the commission’s. Trust, but don’t verify.

posted by Jeff | 9:08 AM |
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