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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- George W. Bush and his gang control, influence or spin all they can and ignore the difficult, disturbing and embarrassing issues and events they can't dominate and direct.

Karl Rove, the president's political brain, has his Christian soldiers in full campaign armor now, marching under the banner of incumbency, a powerful force, but also with a vulnerable flank.

The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is a case where incumbency works both ways. Remember the salient facts. George W. Bush vehemently opposed the creation of the commission in the first place. Under pressure from the families of the victims, he reluctantly agreed to it and then has done everything in his power to delay, frustrate and scuttle its work.

First, Dubya appointed Henry Kissinger the panel's first chairman. Kissinger, the mortician of openness, is the kind of person you appoint to bury the truth. He had to bow out when he learned he'd have to reveal the names of the clients of his international consulting firm.

Do you smell Saudi royals, too? And certainly the scent of China and a few other murderous dictatorships and nations that torture and murder their own people and either have or flirt with weapons of mass destruction. Kissinger will do the bidding of all kinds of loathsome scum, as long as they pay his handsome fees.

Following the Kissinger embarrassment, Bush chose as chairman Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey. He is a decent and honorable man, and he heard the president and his handlers say, "Sure, Tom, we're with you 100 percent. Get to the bottom of this thing. What did we know and when did we know it? Find out what went wrong with our intelligence. How'd those guys get here anyhow? And how can we prevent future attacks? We'll help you out and cooperate in any way." Kean quickly learned they didn't mean a word of it.

Kean points out that this is the most extensive examination of the U.S. government's own operation ever undertaken. But, from the start, nearly every federal agency Kean and the commission have dealt with has delayed and balked at requests for information, documents and interviews. Several agencies only complied in the face of subpoenas, and the deliberate stonewalling pushed the commission's work way back.

The commission requested a two-month extension beyond its May 27 report deadline. Any reasonable person would understand why. But then House Speaker Dennis Hastert jumped in and said no. He said the commission didn't need any more time and he feared the extension would make the commission's findings "a political issue" during the presidential campaign.

Hastert is a former high school wresting coach who was hand-picked for the job by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who really runs the House. Even DeLay knows his political dealings and personality are so vile he can't be the public face for the House Republicans. So he has Hastert in a choke-hold and Hastert does whatever DeLay wants.

The White House pretended to try to pressure Hastert to change his mind, but he wouldn't, to Karl Rove's private delight. Then, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman and Republican Sen. John McCain did what the Bush crowd could have if they really wanted to change Hastert's (DeLay's) mind.

Lieberman and McCain said that, if the House did not give the commission an extension, they would hold up a highway bill needed to avoid layoffs for thousands of Department of Transportation workers. Some of them are working on the pork-laden highway construction bill the House is still working on.

Hastert suddenly saw the light, did a complete flip-flop and agreed to give the Sept. 11 commission a little more time. He and his master, DeLay, live, breathe and die pork. What's telling here is that George W. could have played hardball with Hastert and achieved the same result. Why didn't he?

Let's see. The president has deigned to take one hour out of his busy schedule of campaigning and attending political fund-raisers to sit down with the Sept. 11 commission to discuss what he did or didn't know before the terrorist attacks.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has already rejected a request to testify publicly in front of the panel. What does the glib Dr. Rice fear? Too many pointed questions, obviously.

The president certainly doesn't want to be questioned by commission members like Richard Ben-Viniste, the former Watergate prosecutor. Too dangerous. So Bush is insisting that only his two hand-picked members of the commission be allowed to question him, and he's promising only one hour of his precious time for the interrogation.

That is a brazen insult to the victims of Sept. 11, their loved ones and people in the United States and around the world who deserve the truth.

This week alone, Bush will be spending at least 10 hours traveling to and attending fund-raisers around the country. In the 30 months since Sept. 11, figuring at only 30 hours a month, which is a great underestimate, George W. has spent more than 900 hours of his post-Sept. 11 presidency raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from his corporate sponsors to keep power to serve their interests.

And yet he will devote just one single hour to discuss the worst domestic assault on the nation that happened to occur during his presidency. No serious person not drunk with partisanship believes George W. Bush wants the American people to know the full truth about what our government did and did not do about intelligence and warnings prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

I am not suggesting any grand conspiracy, but when terrible things happen on your watch, there has to be some accountability. That is political poison for George W. Bush. Did our great "war president" fail to feel the winds of war?

If the terrorist attacks occurred during Bill Clinton's presidency and he was stonewalling a commission investigating the events, every right-wing wacko on the planet would be howling like a stuck pig.

The corporate media would be all over the issue like a cheap suit -- lead stories, special reports, hundreds of hours of nonstop coverage on the cable news channels, magazine covers with screaming headlines: "What is the President Hiding?" "We Deserve the Truth Now," "Stop the Cover-up."

Consider the time, effort and money put into Ken Starr's Whitewater and Lewinsky affair investigations and what they meant for our nation and the world.

How do those endless witch-hunts stack up with a serious inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and the resources and public attention spent on the respective investigations? It's a national disgrace.

The families of the Sept. 11 victims are already onto Bush's deviousness and duplicity, and their anger will only grow when the commission report, however hampered by cover-up and time restraints, is finally released.

As you can often find in this space, here's the news before it happens.

Fast forward to the Republican National Convention in New York City late this summer.

The Secret Service, under orders from Karl Rove, has arranged for the outraged families of the Sept. 11 victims to hold their demonstration in the Bronx in one of those Orwellian "free speech zones."

Rove actually preferred Yonkers, but that was already reserved for the families of the Iraq war dead and maimed.

The unemployed are assigned to Albany, and Americans without medical insurance will hold their anti-Bush rally in Syracuse.

Gays are being relegated to Buffalo, and the Michael Moore-Tim Robbins-Sean Penn-organized anti-war protest will be held in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Meanwhile, this great man of the people will shamelessly use Ground Zero for the dramatic backdrop of a political speech.

Those who oppose him -- common, concerned people -- will be kept far away.

Their distance, however, forms its own backdrop, reminding us how far away from him George W. Bush insists on keeping the truth.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 2 2004