- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Many of the critics suggesting that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein to justify war in Iraq didn’t raise those questions when they emerged from intelligence briefings.

Sen. Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who is running for president, suggested in a CNN interview on Sunday that the Bush administration might have willfully distributed erroneous information on the threat posed by Iraq — a charge that CIA Director George J. Tenet denied vigorously in a rare public statement made Friday and released this week.

“If we don’t find these weapons of mass destruction, it will represent a serious intelligence failure or the manipulation of that intelligence to keep the American people in the dark,” said Mr. Graham, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee and voted against going to war, calling it a distraction from the war on terror.

Yet on Feb. 6, Mr. Graham praised Secretary of State Colin L. Powell after he made the Bush administration’s case to the United Nations — employing extensive U.S. and British intelligence gathering — to use force to depose Saddam.

“I applaud Secretary Powell for finally making available to the world the information on which this administration will base its actions against Iraq,” Mr. Graham said at the time. “In my judgment, the most significant information was the confirmation of a linkage between the shadowy networks of international terrorists and Saddam Hussein, the true coalition of evil.”

A staffer for Mr. Graham, speaking yesterday on the condition of anonymity, said the senator was convinced only that going to war would cause Saddam and terrorists to form an alliance against America, not that they were working together in the past.

On May 25, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the Bush administration “hyped” the case for war in Iraq, saying it was “a serious, serious, serious mistake, and it hurts our credibility.”

“I do think that we hyped nuclear, we hyped al Qaeda, we hyped the ability to disperse and use these weapons,” he told NBC News. “I think that tends to be done by all presidents when they are trying to accomplish a goal that they want to get broad national support for.”

After Mr. Powell’s U.N. speech, which came after several classified briefings to Congress, Mr. Biden did not express a belief that the case for war was “hyped.”

At the time, Mr. Biden considered the onus to be on Saddam to answer for his continual refusal to accede to U.N. demands to disarm.

“The question now is, will the Security Council live up to its responsibilities and enforce its own dictates? War or peace is now Saddam’s choice, and the Security Council also has a choice: relevance or irrelevance,” he said in February.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, suggested that the president’s critics might be speaking too soon.

“This whole notion that because we haven’t found [weapons of mass destruction] one or two weeks after war has ceased is just playing politics, and I think it’s shameful,” Mr. DeLay said.

“They’re Monday morning quarterbacks that just can’t accept the fact that the president, through his leadership, is right in the war on terror, and he was right going in to Iraq, and he was right to win that war, and he is right to continue the war on terror,” he said.

Meanwhile, pressure mounted yesterday to hold congressional hearings into the intelligence reports that led to the war in Iraq.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, said “we have to get to the bottom” of the question of whether the reports were manipulated to justify the war.

“If you have a policy of pre-emption, you have to have to have good intelligence,” Mr. Rockefeller said. “Either the intelligence wasn’t that good, or it was manipulated. What happened farther up the chain of command?”

Mr. Rockefeller said he has drafted a letter, awaiting an easily obtainable five senatorial signatures, that would prompt hearings into the intelligence gathered before the war.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he would like to hold joint committee hearings. Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has not yet agreed.

Mr. Rockefeller said he did not question the accuracy of the intelligence reports he received on a regular basis before the war, but others on the Intelligence Committee did.

“There was contradictory information coming out of the intelligence community on a lot of elements,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, noting that was why he and half the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee voted against giving Mr. Bush the authority to use force in Iraq.

The question of whether Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, however, was never doubted by the Clinton administration.

President Clinton, in the midst of his impeachment proceedings in Congress in December 1998, defended his decision to order air strikes against Iraq: Saddam had defied the United Nations and refused to cooperate with weapons inspectors.

The mission “is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors,” Mr. Clinton said in an address to the nation from the Oval Office.

Former Vice President Al Gore, in a Sept. 23, 2001, speech that attacked the Bush administration for its “sudden burst of urgency” to go after Saddam, did not dispute the notion that the Iraqi dictator had prohibited weapons.

“We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country,” Mr. Gore said.

Indeed, the U.N. report on Iraq’s weapons programs in 1998 — the last year inspectors operated in the country before the war began — outlined a long list of weapons that Iraq was known to possess but had never accounted for.

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