Greg Miller / Los Angeles Times – 2008-06-06 09:03:17
White House Scolded on Prewar Claims
Al Qaeda Link to Iraq Exaggerated, Senate Panel Says
WASHINGTON (June 6, 2008) — In a long-awaited report, the Senate Intelligence Committee rebuked President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday for making prewar claims – particularly that Iraq had close ties to al Qaeda – that were not backed by available intelligence.
The report, which was supported by some Republicans but criticized by many others, accuses the president and other members of his administration of repeatedly exaggerating the evidence of an al Qaeda connection to take advantage of the charged climate after the Sept. 11 attacks.
“In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.”
The report amounts to the most direct rebuke to date of the Bush administration’s use of intelligence to build support for the Iraq war. But the document, which catalogs hundreds of statements by administration officials, stops short of calling for any further inquiry or punishment.
In a second report released Thursday, the committee said Pentagon officials concealed from U.S. intelligence agencies potentially useful tips from Iranian agents in 2001 and 2002, including one that Tehran allegedly sent hit teams to Afghanistan to kill Americans.
The Iranians also told two Pentagon employees at a December 2001 meeting in Rome of a purported tunnel complex used to store weapons and covertly move personnel out of Iran after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. In addition, the Iranians told of a long-standing relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the growth of anti-government sentiment inside Iran.
The information was questionable, the report suggests, citing the sources: a discredited former arms dealer who was peddling a plan to overthrow the Iranian government and a former U.S. official whose leads had failed to yield any substance for the CIA.
Nonetheless, the report sheds new light on the mistrust and lack of cooperation by Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with the CIA and the State Department after Sept. 11.
The main focus of the documents released Thursday was a detailed examination of hundreds of statements that Bush, Cheney and other administration officials made in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Many of the White House’s claims about Iraq’s work on chemical and biological weapons, and its alleged pursuit of nuclear capabilities, were consistent with intelligence reporting available to government officials at the time, even though that intelligence was later shown to be wildly off-base.
But statements suggesting that Iraq and al Qaeda had forged a partnership were not substantiated by the underlying intelligence, the report concluded. And statements by Bush and Cheney indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States “were contradicted by available intelligence information,” the report said.
The report was approved on a 10-5 vote by the bipartisan panel in April, with Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska voting in favor.
However, senior congressional Republicans accused Democrats on the Intelligence Committee of using the report to score political points in an election year and of violating previous agreements to examine not only the prewar claims of Bush administration officials, but also those of Democratic members of Congress.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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