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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- We live in a time of exemplary decency and vile indecency, and in one day last week we saw how George W. Bush's behavior can drive both. Caught in a long trail of lies, the president is using every evasive technique, smoke screen, blame diversion, distortion and even a sick attempt at humor to cover his unmistakable tracks.

Richard Clarke is now being vilified for telling the truth about the Bush administration's failure to put a higher priority on the terrorist threat of al-Qaeda and bin Laden and, after the attacks, the unjustified shifting of focus and resources, led by Bush himself, to the non-terrorist threat of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Clarke, the former national coordinator for counterterrorism, appeared before the 9/11 Commission and his candid statements and calm answers to hostile questions from Bush shills on the commission are still rattling the White House. Along with the revelations in his book, Clarke's stance may be the most serious body blow Bush and his crowd have ever taken and they are not reacting very well.

Clarke began his sworn public testimony with an act of decency and humility no one who served in the Bush administration on Sept. 11 has ever made.

He said mistakes were made, including his own, and he asked forgiveness from the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks. Admitting error is an unforgivable sin in the Bush White House. No matter how obvious the mistakes are, no matter how indisputable the lies are, Bush and his minions never, never say they are at fault.

If something does go wrong, someone or something other than the White House is responsible. Accountability has no place in this government. Writing in "The Nation" magazine, John Nichols described how Clarke, a career government employee who worked in the White House under four presidents, knew better than Karl Rove, the president's political brain, how to play his hand.

Clarke recognized the "ultimate political vulnerability" in the Bush White House, Nichols wrote, "an absolute inability on the part of Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and, above all, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to admit when they have failed, when they have been proven wrong and when they have been caught in lies."

The attacks on Clarke are on several fronts. First, send the boys and Condi to every talk show imaginable to deny everything they can about Clarke's testimony. That tactic does work to a degree, like in the case of NBC's Nightly News having an "exclusive" interview with Rice on the night of Clarke's testimony.

Defense contractor General Electric's network gave their viewers a brief snippet of Clarke's testimony and then provided "Concealeezza" at least 10 times as much time to denounce Clarke. Rice had about 20 more "exclusive" interviews last week, none of which were under oath, which she refused to do when appearing before the 9/11 Commission.

Frantically attempting to undermine Clarke's credibility, the tactic is to accuse him of lying, pointing to his previous testimony about Bush's record on terrorism. Republicans on Capitol Hill are clamoring to have testimony Clarke made before congressional intelligence committees in 2002 declassified.

Sen. Bill Frist, the Republican Majority Leader, boldly claims that "Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories." Others who have seen the classified testimony say there are no contradictions and the GOP is on a mindless witch hunt in a futile move to salvage Bush's greatly diminished credibility on the terrorism issue.

Frist, whose ambition is only exceeded by his political amateurism, may not realize what can of worms he'd like to open. The White House would have to approve the declassification of Clarke's testimony.

Remember, the White House has already kept classified hundreds of pages of testimony relating to the congressional probe of the Sept. 11 attacks. The Bush crowd insisted on keeping that information from the public eye because it involved a "foreign government."

What that really means is that George W. does not want people to know what congressional investigators learned about the Saudi involvement and financing of bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the terrorist attacks.

So Frist wants to declassify and do open heart surgery on Richard Clarke's testimony, while at the same time siding with the White House that testimony pointing to the al-Qaeda-Saudi royal family connections forever remain a classified, closed wound.

The assault on Clarke is quintessential Bush political retribution -- cross us and we'll get you.

Bill Burkett knows that Bush tactic firsthand. He's a former Texas National Guard officer who claimed he saw evidence that George W.'s records from his days as a member of the Guard were purged.

Burkett maintains he overheard aides to then-Texas governor Bush discussing how they were sanitizing the Bush military files as he was preparing for his run for the presidency. Others dispute Burkett's claim. Six years later, the retired lieutenant colonel still is the target of all kinds of accusations about his motives and mental state.

Burkett sent me an e-mail last week, noting that "G.W. Bush has been allowed to escape accountability." He says the media usually falls in with the Bush response "to assassinate the character" of those who threaten his power.

David Kay, the former Chief U.S. Weapons Inspector in Iraq, is also challenging the Bush administration's inability to admit the obvious about Saddam's phantom arsenal. In a speech at Harvard University last week, Kay warned, "We are in grave danger of having destroyed our credibility internationally and domestically with regard about future events. ... What I find most disturbing around Washington ... is the belief ... you can never admit you are wrong."

Admission. Never. George W. substitutes sick attempts at humor when the facts require confession and contrition. At the Washington Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner, the very day Richard Clarke testified, Bush performed an indecent act for the sadly appreciative audience.

He did this little slide show routine showing him looking behind furniture and saying, "Those weapons of mass destruction have to be somewhere." The President of the United States is making jokes about the very reason for war that has left thousands of Iraqis and approaching 600 American soldiers dead. Families of the dead were not amused. It's not surprising the inside-the-beltway media crowd thought it was funny. They, most especially the broadcast industry, were full partners in Bush's march to war, providing the essential propaganda machine to sell the Iraq weapons lie to the world.

"I'm ashamed to think that the mainstream U.S. news network people are, in fact, colleagues of mine -- albeit very distant ones," Ron McMillan wrote to me. He lives in Scotland and he's been stationed all over the world as a professional writer and photographer. He deplores the way the Bush administration has news conferences that are "completely scripted" and how the established news media lets them get away with it, "quite complicit in astonishingly cynical acts of their own manipulation."

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 30 2004