By William C Mann
Washington - Leaders of the commission looking into the September 11 attacks don't expect the Bush administration to order major changes to the commission's final report on national security grounds.
The commission, formed by Congress with President George Bush's signature, is due to complete the report on July 26. Security specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies must first review it, under White House supervision, for possible security leaks.
"Nobody has any interest in having the report sitting around Washington during the election period and pieces of it leaking out," the committee chairperson, former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, said on Sunday. "So I think it is in the White House's interest, our interest, everybody's interest to get this out in July. And I believe they will."
The original deadline was May 27 but was extended after complaints about alleged lack of co-operation by the White House.
A major complaint was Bush's refusal to let Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, testify publicly and under oath, which he said would violate a president's right to confidential exchanges with his advisers.
The administration had proposed that Rice speak privately with the commission for a second time to clear up "a number of mischaracterisations" of her statements and positions in public testimony by former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke.
Under pressure from Congress and the commission, including Republican Kean, Bush agreed in the past week for her to go public in a special hearing on Thursday.
Democratic commission member Tim Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana, said Rice's testimony this week should help clear up discrepancies in her public positions and Clarke's. "Now I hope that we will not only focus on 'She said, he said.' It's important for us not to try to trap Rice into some kind of a statement she made in private interview," Roemer said.
Other members said Rice would be asked why the government bureaucracy became so flawed that it allowed the terrorists to strike and how the Bush administration plans to fix the problems.
"Nineteen men with $350 000 (about R2,2-million) defeated every single defensive mechanism we had up on the 11th of September, and they defeated it utterly," said former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey.
Rice will need to answer how that happened, he said.
She also will be asked about ways to correct "what has gone wrong so badly," said a Republican commission member, former Navy Secretary John Lehman.
"She's now got her mind focused on just what went wrong, and I want to hear her views on some of the things that we're going to do and be recommending to make fundamental changes," Lehman said.
Because the president is responsible for intelligence operations, United States law requires prior White House review of the report by the panel, known officially as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Its vice-chairperson, former Republican Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, said that while they don't expect major deletions on security grounds, he and Kean have considered the prospect.
"We're not going to let them distort our report," Hamilton said in a joint interview with Kean on NBC television's Meet The Press.
"I think we can work through this," he said, "but the chairperson and I are very concerned about this. This is one of the big remaining obstacles, for us to get the report declassified."
Bush also has agreed to testify, alongside Vice-President Dick Cheney, but the session will be private, unsworn and unrecorded.
The dual Bush-Cheney testimony, Kean said on Sunday, was part of a deal with the White House.
"All things considered, maybe we would have rather to have them one at a time, but we don't see any problem with it, really," Kean said. "They promised us to give us the time we needed to get our questions answered, and if we have any problems we'll have follow-ups." - Sapa-AP