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For 9/11 probe, a key peek into Bush's mind

President's appearance with Cheney Thursday could answer questions no one else can about the Sept. 11 attacks.

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Thursday's appearance by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks may provide commissioners a rare opportunity: the chance to piece together some of the most important information they have already gathered.

It's true the appearance is scheduled to be brief. Given their number and the time allotted, individual commissioners may be hardly able to get a word in edgeways. Neither the president nor vice president may be able to explain the actions, or lack thereof, of many layers of the US national security bureaucracy.

But only the nation's top officials can say what they thought the FBI was doing in the summer of 2001. Only they can solve important discrepancies in other officials' actions. Only Bush can answer one of the most burning questions of all - on Sept. 10, 2001, what sort of terrorist threat did he believe the nation faced?

"No one can speak to the president's state of mind other than himself," says Jim Walsh, an international security expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

The political controversy which has swirled around Thursday's interview has tended to obscure some of the substance it may provide. The White House agreed to the meeting only after considerable pressure was applied by the commission, and by Republicans who worried the president would otherwise appear obstructionist. The fact that Bush and Mr. Cheney will appear together has been fodder for conspiracy theorists and late-night comedians, whose general theme is that the vice president is there to do all the talking.

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