When Condoleezza Rice takes her seat before the independent 9/11 commission here Thursday her assignment will be nothing short of halting the most serious assault yet on the credibility of U.S. President George W. Bush.
Sitting in the hearing room as Rice testifies will be a 33-year-old former FBI translator who may yet hold the key to the question now engulfing this nation — did an indifferent Bush administration ignore specific warnings that Al Qaeda was about to launch horrific attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001?
While allegations brought by former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke have swung the tide against the Bush White House in recent weeks, Sibel Edmonds delivered her own broadside against her government in private, during more than three hours of testimony to investigators for the 9/11 panel on Feb. 11.
Edmonds, who was hired as a translator by the FBI nine days after the attacks, told the investigative panel she has seen and handled intelligence documents and cables that show Rice, the national security adviser, is wrong when she says there was no advance warning of air attacks on U.S. soil.
She saw intelligence documents that pointed to the use of aircraft against skyscrapers in major U.S. cities.
"We had various information from various sources and investigations," she said in an interview yesterday.
"In terms of specific cities? Yes. It was not only New York and Washington, D.C. There were four or five cities specifically named.
"There were specific activities known. Domestic institutions were being targeted and airplanes were going to be used. That was known. Now, did it say Sept. 11, 8:30 in the morning? I am not aware of such information. Did it say it was going to crash the planes in the building? I am not privy to that information.
"But there was specific information on the use of airplanes. There were people issuing orders and information on people already in place in this country months before Sept. 11."
She said she is not passing on hearsay, but information on specific documents, the names of witnesses, the names of FBI agents and other information so investigators can rely "not on my word," but on the documents themselves. Most of them were dated April and May, 2001, she said. She has previously provided such information to congressional investigators.
Edmonds, a Turkish-born U.S. citizen, said she was "appalled" by Rice's public statements, delivered in a number of television interviews, that there was no information indicating planes would be used on domestic targets.
Had Rice indicated that she did not know, Edmonds may have given her the benefit of the doubt.
"Then I would say maybe the FBI did not take the information to her, maybe she didn't know," Edmonds said.
"But she's is saying 'we' did not know, including herself, her advisers and the FBI. That statement is not accurate. I've never really been diplomatic in life. It's a lie and a lie is a lie."
This commission is of enormous interest to me as I live within sight of Sears Tower, now the tallest building in North America, supposedly next on the list of desirable terrorist targets.
The whole point of the 9-11 Commission is not to level blame (although that is a useful secondary objective) but to prevent the next 9-11. And we must act now to fully understand the nature of any mistakes that were made and any warnings that were unheeded, while Sears Tower still stands and the people who work there are still alive and not trying to pitch themselves from broken windows on the 96th floor.
Condoleezza Rice, we could not care less about your "pre-9/11 mentality" speech. We could not care less about the hindsight and ass-covering of you and your fellow cowardly bureaucrats. You are part of the administration that chose to pursue irrelevancies like pornographers and the doctors who perform abortions and Tommy Chong and Saddam Hussein instead of Osama bin Laden and other true domestic and international threats, and that "mentality" has not changed even in the years since 9-11. Anthrax and large-scale blackouts come and go, and you folks are still falsifying intelligence, ignoring national infrastructure, and propping up your corporate cronies, blithely unaware of the rest of the world or even your own citizens. How many Marines were killed in a single day, yesterday? Twelve. And for what?
Your post-9/11 mentality is, if anything, even less competent than its predecessor. The world has changed, and you have worsened it.