WASHINGTON (AP) — Under contentious questioning, national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice testified yesterday “there
was no silver bullet that could have prevented” the deadly
terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and disputed suggestions that
President Bush failed to focus on the threat of strikes in
advance.

From the AP
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is sworn in before testifying to the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attack yesterday in Washington. (AP PHOTO)

Bush “understood the threat, and he understood its
importance,” she told a national commission investigating the
worst terror attacks in the nation’s history.

In nearly three hours in the witness chair, Rice stoutly
defended Bush when Democrats on the commission raised questions
based on an Aug. 6 classified memo titled “Bin Laden
determined to attack inside United States.”

Her appearance, televised nationally, also contained a series of
implicit and explicit rebuttals to a series of politically damaging
charges made two weeks ago by former terrorism aide Richard
Clarke.

Unlike Clarke, Rice offered no apology for the failure to
prevent the attacks. Instead, with relatives of the Sept. 11
victims inside the packed hearing room, she said, “as an
officer of government on duty that day, I will never forget the
sorrow and the anger I felt.”

Rice was the only public witness of the day, although the
commission later questioned former President Bill Clinton privately
for more than three hours. Bush also has agreed to meet in private
with the panel, although he will be joined by Vice President Dick
Cheney.

White House officials said the president and his wife, Laura, at
home on their Texas ranch, watched Rice’s testimony on
television.

The appearance struck sparks on matters of form and
substance.

Several Democrats urged Rice to keep her answers shorter, saying
their time for questions was limited.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the commission,
first raised the issue of the classified memo, saying it reported
that “preparations were being made consistent with hijackings
within the United States.”

Rice described it differently. “It was historical
information based on old reporting. There was no new threat
information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks
inside the United States,” she said.

Thomas Kean, the commission’s Republican chairman, said at
the hearing’s end that the panel has asked to have a document
declassified. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack
said later, “We have every intention” of doing so,
possibly by day’s end.

Relatives of the victims applauded at several points when former
Sen. Bob Kerrey and others challenged Rice’s testimony. Her
turn in the witness chair over, Bush’s aide shook hands with
several of relatives, telling one she was sorry for her loss.

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