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US: 9/11 Commission Surrounded by Controversy

Controversy continues to surround the work of the independent commission set up by Congress to investigate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The topic dominated the news interview programs that air every Sunday on American television.

It was the story of the day, with the major television networks focusing on the rift between the Bush administration and the president's former counter-terrorism coordinator, Richard Clarke.

He has charged in a new book and in public testimony before the commission that the Bush White House did not pay enough attention to the terrorist threat prior to the September 11 attacks, in part because of its fixation with Iraq.

The Bush administration continued its rebuttal, sending Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld out to make its case in several interviews, including an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "We were thinking about what to do about Al-Qaida," he said. "Any suggestion that the administration was not would just be incorrect."

Mr. Rumsfeld was one of several high-ranking administration officials who testified in public this past week before the commission. Many other key witnesses have answered questions in private sessions with the panel.

Among them was White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who met with commission members behind closed doors and has expressed a willingness to do so again. She has refused to testify in public, saying confidential advisors to the president are barred from doing so before panels created by congress.

Chairman Tom Kean told Fox News Sunday this situation is unique. "We feel it is important to get her case out there," said the former New Jersey governor. "We recognize her arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden."

Ms. Rice has taken a lead role in criticizing Richard Clarke and calling his credibility into question.

Top Republicans in Congress are also challenging Mr. Clarke's assertions. They say he supported the administration's handling of the war on terrorism at a Congressional hearing in 2002 that was closed to the public, and argue that testimony should now be released.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Richard Clarke was asked about their demands. He said all his closed-door testimony over the years should be made public, along with pertinent e-mails and documents.

Mr. Clarke denied once again that politics had anything to do with his allegations against the Bush administration. "The actual motivation for writing this book is to, number one, to tell the people who have been asking me for two or three years what happened on September 11th, and why we could not stop it. I hope the 9/11 commission answers those questions too. But I had to get it off my chest," he said.

He said he has no intention of running for public office and made clear he has retired from public service. Mr. Clarke said 30 years was enough.