On the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death in Iraq, the widow of Army Specialist James Kiehl, 22, who was killed in the attack in which Pvt. Jessica Lynch was captured, accused President Bush of “lying to America.”

“The evidence that’s starting to come out now feels like he was misleading us,” said Jill Kiehl at a commemorative graveside ceremony March 23 in Center Point, Texas, near San Antonio. “It’s almost as though he had things fixed so it would look like he needed to go to war.”

“In a way, it’s like he used people,” she said, calling the justifications for sending U.S. troops to war “bogus and misleading.”

Two days earlier, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke exposed, in sworn testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, how the Bush administration had used Sept. 11 to take the nation to war on Iraq even though there was no evidence that Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 tragedy. Clarke charged that Bush officials showed little interest in combating terrorism, and in fact, the war on Iraq damaged the fight against terrorism.

In a sudden about-face, the White House announced March 30 it would allow National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public before the bipartisan 9/11 commission. In a letter to the commission, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales also said Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had agreed to “one joint private session” with the full commission, with a commission staff member to take notes – meaning there would be no verbatim transcript of the session.

The Bush-friendly Wall Street Journal termed the move an “acknowledgement that the White House’s refusal to meet the panel’s requests … looked increasingly like stonewalling that could hurt Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.”

But Sept. 11 family member Wright Salisbury commented, “It shows great lack of courage” on Bush’s part “to insist on appearing with Vice President Cheney so they can check their stories.”

“It immediately raises the question of whether or not they are going to be honest,” Salisbury told the World in a phone interview from his home in Massachusetts. If not for public pressure, he said, “they would still be hiding behind executive privilege.”

Salisbury’s son-in-law, Ted Hennessy, 35, was killed when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, leaving behind a wife and two children.

The White House has tried for months to squelch 9/11 investigations, refusing to allow Rice and other top officials to testify publicly or under oath before the commission. It blocked requests that Bush answer questions before the full commission, even privately. Instead it sent Rice and Cheney onto the talk show circuit to attack Clarke.

In exchanging for letting Rice testify, the White House said the commission must agree not to request additional public testimony from any White House official including Rice.

Salisbury, a retired architect who voted for Bush in 2000, is an active member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of some 120 relatives of people killed in the terrorist attacks. He is incensed over Bush’s efforts to use 9/11 for his re-election campaign.

“I voted for every Republican since I was 21, but I won’t vote for this son-of-a-gun,” Salisbury said. “I have never gone on any marches, but if George Bush shows up at the World Trade Center and tries to use it to campaign, I will go to New York and be among the placard bearers” protesting the “outrageous use of the grief of the survivors and victims of Sept. 11.”

Salisbury said he is pleased that the commission is pursuing the facts surrounding Sept. 11.

But fellow Peaceful Tomorrows member Andrew Rice, of Oklahoma City, is skeptical that the commission will aggressively go after the truth. Rice’s older brother David, 31, died in the World Trade Center’s South Tower.

“The commission is not really independent,” Rice told the World, noting that its members are “establishment figures” who are friends with the people they are questioning. Rice singled out the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, a Bush I and II insider who worked with Condoleezza Rice for years, most recently on Bush’s transition team. “It’s like asking members of Martha Stewart’s company to investigate what she’s doing,” he commented.

Korean War-era veteran Richard Henderson, president of the Cleveland AFL-CIO Retiree Council, representing 40,000 retirees, told the World, “Pretty nearly without exception people are offended greatly” by Bush’s misuse of 9/11 to promote the Iraq war. “I am really, really upset,” he added.

Henderson, a retired ironworker, said the economy and Bush’s “fibs” are spurring political activity in his battleground state much earlier in an election year than he’s ever seen before.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org.


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.