Seattle Courant Archive

Senate Panel Accuses Bush of Iraq Exaggerations

Senate Panel Accuses Bush of Iraq Exaggerations

By Scott Shane
June 05, 2008

“The president and his advisers undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the attacks to use the war against Al Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said in a statement accompanying the 171-page report.

The committee’s report cited some instances in which public statements by senior administration officials were not supported by the intelligence available at the time, such as suggestions that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda were operating in a kind of partnership, that the Baghdad regime had provided the terrorist network with weapons training, and that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers had met an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague in 2001.

But the report found that on several key issues, including Iraq’s alleged nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, public statements from Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and other top officials before the war were generally “substantiated” by the best estimates of the intelligence agencies, though the statements did not always reflect the agencies’ uncertainty about the evidence. All the weapons claims were disproved after invading troops found no unconventional arsenal and little effort to build one.

Republicans on the committee sharply dissented from some of its findings and attached a detailed minority report that listed pre-war statements by Mr. Rockefeller and other Democrats describing the threat posed by Iraq.

“The report released today was a waste of committee time and resources that should have been spent overseeing the intelligence community,” said the minority report, signed by Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the committee’s top Republican, and three Republican colleagues.

A second committee report, also made public on Thursday, detailed a series of clandestine meetings between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents in Rome and Paris in 2001 and 2003. It accused Steven Hadley, now the national security advisor, and Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary, of failing to properly inform the intelligence agencies and the State Department about the meetings.

The two reports are the final parts of the committee’s so-called “phase two” investigation of pre-war intelligence on Iraq and related issues. The first phase of the inquiry, completed in July 2004, identified grave faults in the intelligence agencies’ collection and analysis of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

In order to complete that initial 2004 report, committee members agreed to put off several of the more politically volatile topics. Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who was then chairman, nonetheless declared nearly four years ago that the phase two effort was “a priority. I made my commitment and it will get done.”

But a lengthy standoff ensued. Democrats accused Republicans of dodging their demands to complete the inquiry in order to protect the Bush administration from damaging revelations. Republicans insisted that they were not dragging their feet and asserted that the findings might well turn out to embarrass Congressional Democrats.

In September 2006, the committee issued reports on two parts of the phase two study, one on how pre-war assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs and links to terrorism compared with post-war findings and another on the intelligence agencies’ use of information from the Iraqi National Congress, the controversial opposition group to Saddam Hussein.

In May 2007, the committee, now led by Democrats, put out a third part of the phase two review, this one examining pre-war predictions by the intelligence agencies about post-war Iraq.

But it would take another year to complete the most delicate part of the planned inquiry, the look at pre-war public statements by executive branch officials. In the end, the Republicans chose to issue their own dissenting report, aimed at showing that some Democrats who have been eager to attack the administration had themselves made bellicose comments about Saddam Hussein and the threat he posed.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, once seen as a relative refuge from the political maneuvering and brawling that characterizes many other committees, has been mired in partisan dispute for most of the last five years. Thursday’s reports and the polarized comments accompanying them are unlikely to improve relations between Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Bond and their party colleagues on the committee.