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Inside Politics

Some families criticize Rice's testimony

Others say she and Bush did the best they could

From Kelly Wallace and Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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Eliane Hughes approached Rice "to tell her that her government wasn't doing enough, didn't do enough."

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Stay with CNN-USA for ongoing coverage of reactions to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's testimony before the 9/11 commission -- and for updates from the campaign trail.
RICE 9/11 TESTIMONY
Excerpts from comments of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice

  • "In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States -- something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies."

  • Concerns that terrorists may use airplanes as weapons may have existed in the intelligence community before September 11, 2001, but "to the best of my knowledge this kind of analysis ... actually was never briefed to us."

  • In the days after the attacks, the Bush administration considered the involvement of Iraq, but never "pushed anybody to twist the facts."
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    Rice says President Bush 'never pushed anybody to twist the facts' on Iraq.

    9/11 commission member Richard Ben-Veniste presses Rice about a memo that may have warned of attacks.

    Rice says President Bush understood the threat of al Qaeda before the attacks.
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    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About 50 relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks filled three of the front rows of the hearing room on Capitol Hill Thursday where Condoleezza Rice answered questions under oath for three hours.

    Many of them were under-whelmed by the national security adviser's testimony before the independent commission investigating the attacks.

    Stephen Push, whose wife, Lisa, was killed on the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, was among those who wanted to know more.

    "I was disappointed she spent so much time trying to evade responsibility both for herself and the administration and so little time answering the questions that were asked of her," Push said. "She seemed to have selective amnesia. I personally wanted to see more candor."

    Push had advocated strongly for the 9/11 commission to be created and personally testified before it last year.

    Like a number of family members, Push had hoped that Rice would take some personal responsibility for the security lapses that preceded the attacks, as former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke did two weeks ago.

    "She spent a lot of time trying to push the blame off either on the previous administration or on Dick Clarke or on amorphous structural problems, and very little admitting to the fact that this happened on her watch and they failed," Push said.

    Bill Harvey also was disappointed. Harvey's wife of one month, Sara, was killed after the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower.

    "She's a very, very smart woman, but she was playing rope-a-dope a little bit today with the commission," Harvey said.

    "She tried to play semantical games in answering some of their questions -- is something 'urgent' or is it a 'priority.' What's the difference?" Harvey asked.

    Harvey questioned whether Clarke's January 2001 memo recommending a more aggressive stance against al Qaeda was "a 'think piece' or 'action plan?' What's the distinction?"

    Harvey was among a contingent of New York families that attended the hearing, hoping to hear what the Bush administration was doing to combat terrorism during its first eight months in office.

    Henry and Elaine Hughes wore large buttons bearing a picture of their son, Chris, who worked on the 87th floor of the trade center's south tower.

    "She wasn't as forthright as she could have been," Henry Hughes said. "When something like this happens, someone has to be able to stand up and say, 'You know what? We didn't do the right thing here, and now we are going to make it better.' "

    "To say she's the new kid on the block, they are only there 233 days, that's the poorest excuse I ever heard," Elaine Hughes said.

    At the end of the hearing, Elaine Hughes approached Rice.

    "Not to shake her hand -- to tell her that her government wasn't doing enough, didn't do enough, and she didn't have a response," she said.

    Mary Fetchet, who also lost her son, Bradley, a securities trader, in the New York attack, felt Rice was not straightforward with the commission about the information she passed on to President Bush.

    "Of course, every government agency failed. What is her job as national security adviser? My sense is it is her responsibility to get information from all these agencies that aren't communicating," Fetchet said.

    But Rice also had supporters, who found her answers credible.

    "It was evident that she truly was doing her best -- at least to me -- to tell the truth, be as thorough and deal with the crisis our country is dealing with," said Hamilton Peterson, whose father, Don, and his stepmother were aboard the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

    "I thanked her for coming, and I thought she did a great job."

    Peterson said he did not blame the Bush administration for the attacks occurring under its watch.

    "I think that's unfair, I think President Bush was in office a very brief period of time. I think he has been extremely aggressive," Peterson said.

    Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, piloted the plane that was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon, said it didn't matter who was in the White House on September 11.

    "Those guys were already in place. The men that were on my brother's airplane entered this country in January of 2000," she said, referring to hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

    "I blame 19 men who boarded airplanes with the intent of killing as many Americans as they could, and I blame the sponsor of those 19 men," she said, referring to al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, who remains at large.


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