Embattled Bush plays offense and defense

On the four-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion, the Bush administration appears to be operating on two levels. On one level, it is fighting a defensive battle to conduct a war that growing numbers of Americans oppose. This plays out in a politicized Congress where it seems equally risky to appear to be supporting the war, or to appear not to be supporting it.

The administration has had to absorb several blows to its waning prestige, just within the past couple of weeks.

Committed to supporting American troops, it has had to weather the scandal of the mistreatment of wounded soldiers in the outpatient section of Walter Reed hospital. It is trying to face up to a gathering storm over the dismissal of eight US attorneys. It has seen former CIA secret officer Valerie Plame Wilson seize the spotlight against an administration that she blames for jeopardizing her covert status and that of networks of sources overseas.

Against these opponents, the administration appears to have opened a counteroffensive using an unlikely assist – captured terrorists. Recently, on short notice, the Pentagon invited Sens. Carl Levin and Lindsay Graham – Sen. John McCain was also invited but declined – to make a quick trip to Guantánamo Bay to witness an unusual sight on closed-circuit television. It was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged ringleader of the 9/11 attacks, confessing to that exploit and more.

One item the senators witnessed was Mr. Mohammed acknowledging, through a representative, that he personally decapitated American journalist Daniel Pearl. The prisoner had been captured in Pakistan four years ago, and his story was presumably known to the military tribunal by now. Senators Levin and Graham returned to Washington saying they were impressed by the professionalism of the tribunal. The Pentagon released a transcript of that hearing, and, soon after, it released another transcript – the confession of Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who claimed to have masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Why these confessions had been withheld from the American public and why they are being released now is anyone's guess. But the administration clearly would prefer to focus attention on confessed terrorists over ousted prosecutors.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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