- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The senior Senate Democrat yesterday accused the Bush administration of having “manipulated” public reaction to September 11 in order to attack Iraq.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who two weeks ago criticized the president’s speech from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, yesterday took to the Senate floor to broaden his charge against Mr. Bush, accusing him of having used false pretenses to launch the war.

“When it comes to shedding American blood, when it comes to wreaking havoc on civilians, on innocent men, women and children, callous dissembling is not acceptable,” Mr. Byrd said. “Nothing is worth that kind of lie — not oil, not revenge, not re-election, not somebody’s grand pipe dream of a democratic domino theory.”

He also said the justifications for war have proved empty in hindsight.

“Since the war’s end, every subsequent revelation which has seemed to refute the previous dire claims of the Bush administration has been brushed aside. Instead of addressing the contradictory evidence, the White House deftly changes the subject,” he said.

The administration yesterday said there’s no question Iraq had a weapons program.

“It’s widely known that Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program, and it was clearly stated in the Security Council resolution that was unanimously passed,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan. “There are already at least two mobile biological weapons labs that have been discovered.”

While other Democratic leaders have criticized parts of Mr. Bush’s foreign policy and called for a stronger effort to maintain peace in Iraq, Mr. Byrd, the Senate member with the longest tenure, has been particularly critical of the president and the entire war policy.

Mr. Byrd presented what he characterized as a list of failures stemming from the war, including having “sparked a new international arms race” as other nations decide to develop weapons of mass destruction to prevent U.S. intervention.

Several of the Democratic presidential candidates have said the administration shifted its focus from al Qaeda to Saddam, which has allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself. For his part, Mr. Byrd said, “There is evidence that our crackdown in Iraq is likely to convince a thousand new bin Ladens to plan other horrors of the type we’ve seen in the past several days.”

Yesterday, he acknowledged that weapons of mass destruction eventually may be found, but he said that would be beside the point.

“Our costly and destructive bunker-busting attack on Iraq seems to have proven in the main precisely the opposite of what we were told was the urgent reason to go in,” Mr. Byrd said. “What has become painfully clear is that Iraq was no immediate threat to the United States, and many of us here said so before the war. Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq did not even lift an airplane against us.”

He also criticized the rebuilding process, noting chaos and a lack of clean water, and saying the administration now seems to be “pushing off Iraq’s clamor for self-government.”

“It’s becoming all too clear that the smiling face of the United States as liberator is quickly assuming the scowl of occupier. The image of the boot on the throat has replaced the beckoning hand of freedom.”

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