Former U.S. Counterterrorism Chief Richard A. Clarke states that after he told President Bush at a meeting the day after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks, Bush responded, “I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way.” Clarke contends that he has four witnesses to the conversation, including his former deputy, Roger Cressey, who supports Clarke’s account of the conversation.
Interestingly, according to the New York Times the president doesn’t deny the conversation but simply says he doesn’t remember it.
Doesn’t remember it? Yeah, right! It would only be one of the most important conversations to have taken place in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. And it supposedly took place the day after 9/11! And if such a critically important conversation didn’t actually take place, wouldn’t you expect the president to categorically deny that it took place, rather than simply state that he doesn’t remember whether it took place?
Coincidentally, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also has no recollection of the conversation. Again, how likely is it that she wouldn’t remember whether or not such an important conversation took place?
Morever, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t people such as Rice keep diaries and notes about their meetings and conversations, especially important ones, and if so, wouldn’t it be rather simple to point to such written memoranda and say, “My diaries and notes show that the meeting and conversation detailed by Mr. Clarke did (or did not) take place”?
Hey, wait a minute! Isn’t “I don’t remember” one of the offenses for which President Bush’s Justice Department is trying to send Martha Stewart to a federal penitentiary — for falsely claiming that she didn’t remember a conversation with her stockbroker about her sale of ImClone stock?
One of the most common lies in the criminal-justice system is the “I don’t remember” lie. The reason people use it is that they know that it is extremely difficult to prove that the statement is, in fact, a lie — that is, that the person really does remember the event, contrary to his representation. One of the reasons the feds were able to successfully pin the charge on Martha Stewart was that the conversation she supposedly didn’t remember was “too important” to have been forgotten.
Well, if Martha Stewart’s conversation with her stockbroker about a stock trade is sufficiently important that she wouldn’t forget it, how likely is the “I don’t remember” story put out by the president and his national security adviser about a meeting that supposedly took place the day after the September 11 attacks in which the president of the United States is accused of urging his team to find evidence to justify a retaliatory strike on Iraq? Answer: Not likely at all. Either the president and Rice know that the conversation took place or they know that it did not. “I don’t remember” has to be a lie.
The first question the 9/11 investigating commission ought to ask both Bush and Rice (who so far, not surprisingly, is refusing to testify, perhaps because she knows that her testimony would be given under oath, which entails a penalty of perjury for false statements) is whether Bush did in fact have the meeting described by Clarke and did in fact make the statements ascribed to him.
Then, assuming that Clarke and his four witnesses have credibly established that the meeting in question did, in fact, take place and that Bush did, in fact, make the statements in question, if Bush and Rice stick with their “I don’t remember” story, the Justice Department should throw perjury charges at them, just as they threw charges of lying at Martha Stewart. Of course, given that the federal government has a different set of rules for private citizens with bad memories than they have for federal officials with bad memories, don’t hold your breath.