Where's the Remote? White House Loses Control

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The Bush administration is unable to use the threat of terrorism to turn public attention away from its failings — a ploy it has used in the past. A case in point: last week's release of a confession by Khalid Sheik Mohammed did little to avert attention from the U.S. attorneys inquiry and the war in Iraq.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Between the fired U.S. attorneys and the War in Iraq, trouble continues to build for President Bush. Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says the White House would much prefer to change the subject to confessions by al-Qaida terrorists.

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

The administration had to absolve a series of blows to its waning prestige just within the past couple of weeks. Committed to supporting American troops, it's had to weather the scandal of the mistreatment of wounded troops in the outpatient section of Walter Reed Hospital.

It's trying to face up to a gathering storm over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys. It has seen former CIA secret officer Valerie Plame Wilson seize the spotlight against an administration which she blames for jeopardizing her covert status and that of networks of sources overseas.

Against these opponents, the administration appears to have opened a counter-offensive using an unlikely assist: captured terrorists. Several days ago, on short notice, the Pentagon invited Senators Carl Levin and Lindsey Graham to make a quick trip on a military plane to Guantanamo Bay to witness an unusual sight.

On closed-circuit television, it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, alleged ringleader of the 9/11 attack, confessing - nay, boasting - of that exploit and a lot more. Senators Levin and Graham returned to Washington saying they were impressed by the professionalism of the military tribunal.

The Pentagon released a transcript of that hearing. And then yesterday, the Pentagon released another transcript, this one the confession of Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who claimed to have masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole. Why these confessions have been withheld from the American public for so long and why they're being released now is anyone's guess, but the administration clearly would prefer to focus attention on confessed terrorists over ousted lawyers. This is Daniel Schorr.

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