More was said by the stunned silence following Richard Clarke’s defense of his sworn
testimony yesterday before the 9/11 commission than all his sobering words. Yet none of the
reports that I have seen in the print press or on television has captured the impact of that moment,
let alone mentioned it — — except, of course,
C-SPAN3’s complete telecast.
After Clarke’s dramatic opening statement —
his own personal failure as counterterrorism coordinator of the Bush administration — the most
significant moment came in his reply to former Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman. Clarke had
“a real credibility problem,” Lehman said, because his testimony differed from what he wrote in
his just-published book, an angry attack on the Bushies entitled “Against All Enemies : Inside the White House’s War on Terror — What Really
Everyone has reported that Lehman, like his fellow Republican, former Illinois Gov. Jim
Thompson, wondered whether Clarke was merely “an active partisan selling a book” during a
presidential campaign. Everyone has reported that Lehman wanted to know how Clarke resolved
the difference between his 15 hours of private testimony and his book. And everyone has
reported Clarke’s explanation:
“No one asked me what I thought about the president’s invasion of Iraq,” Clarke said. “The
reason that I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is that by invading
Iraq — something I was not asked by the commission — but by invading Iraq, the president of the
United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.”
They say that when cross-examining a witness in court, it’s wise — imperative even — to know
in advance, or at least to anticipate, what the witness will reply to a question. Otherwise the
answer could backfire. Clarke’s reponse to Lehman was the perfect demonstration. The misguided
invasion of Iraq, which was the elephant in the room, had trumpeted its presence. The
stunned silence following his reply could not have lasted for more than 10 or 15 seconds. Yet
those seconds seemed like an eternity.
The hush that descended on the hearing room was unique in a day of voluble testimony from
various witnesses, including
drama to a climax. News reports recorded the words, but not the silence. TV clips excerpted the
words, but not the silence. Maybe you had to be a drama critic to appreciate it.
Postscript: Well, well. The moment registered with Randall C.
Archibold in a sidebar. He quotes Julie Talen, who watched the hearing from her Soho apartment:
“Did you see that moment of silence?” Talen is identified as a writer-director. Figures.