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9/11 panel holds public hearing Tuesday

Rumsfeld, Powell to testify

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will defend the administration's examination of Iraq following the 9/11 attacks, says an aide.

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Stay with CNN for ongoing coverage of the independent commission on the September 11, 2001, attacks.
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September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and William Cohen, his predecessor under the Clinton administration, are among those scheduled to testify Tuesday before an independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The public hearing comes at a time when the Bush administration is under new fire for its anti-terrorism efforts, blasted in a just-published book by a former aide who says the president ignored warning signs before September 11, 2001, and later wrongly focused on Iraq at the expense of more vigorously targeting al Qaeda.

The book "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" by former antiterrorism chief Richard Clarke has been denounced by the White House as a wildly inaccurate account of the administration's efforts. But Clarke has stood by his assertions, saying Bush "botched the response to 9/11."

Tuesday's hearing by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- as the 10-member bipartisan panel is formally known -- was already shaping up to be a high-profile event. Clarke's book only promises to heighten interest in the hearing.

In fact, on Monday, a group of Democratic senators released a letter sent to the White House, asking President Bush to compel national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly at the hearing.

Rice has met with the panel in private, but aides have said she believes it would set a bad precedent for her to testify publicly. The White House has cited separation of powers concerns, but critics of that decision point out that Tuesday's hearing involves an independent panel -- not a congressional committee.

"Her refusal to testify before the commission can only lead the American people to one conclusion: that she has something to hide and is not fully committed to finding the truth," said the letter. Among its Democratic signatories: Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Chuck Schumer of New York.

Clarke's assertions will likely be addressed head-on by Rumsfeld.

A Pentagon spokesman told CNN Monday that Rumsfeld will tell the commission investigating the September 11 attacks that he makes no apologies for considering Iraq's potential involvement during the days that immediately followed, because the Bush administration was looking at a "global war on terror" not just a war against al Qaeda.

"Richard Clarke is missing the context. It's not clear he understands what the global war on terrorism was about," said the Pentagon spokesman.

Rumsfeld is scheduled to appear before the commission Tuesday afternoon. He will be preceded by Cohen. In the morning, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to testify, as is Colin Powell, who currently serves in that post.

The White House's dealings with the commission have frustrated Democrats and some family members of 9/11 victims, who say the Bush administration has been less than enthusiastic in cooperating with the panel.

They cite the administration's initial reluctance to grant the commission more time to do its work, as well as its extended negotiations over what kind of documents the panel would have access to. The Bush administration initially opposed the creation of the independent panel.

White House aides say the administration has cooperated with the panel and any concerns over the release of documents had to do with national security.

The commission is charged with providing an authoritative account of the September 11 attacks, including an examination of any security and intelligence lapses surrounding them.

With its new deadline, the commission has until July 26 to report on all aspects of the attacks, including government responses. The commission then will have an additional 30 days to close down its operations.

The commission is chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, a Republican. Its vice chairman is Democrat Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana.

CNN's Phil Hirschkorn, Sean Loughlin, Barbara Starr and Steve Turnham contributed to this report.

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