- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Top U.S. military officials said yesterday they were convinced before invading Iraq that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and stand by their actions a year later, even though U.S. intelligence about such weapons was apparently wrong.

“There’s nothing I would do different,” Marine Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The decision to go to war has been called into question again in recent weeks since David Kay, who led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said he now believes no weapons stockpiles exist.

The military chiefs, making their first joint appearance since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, said they have not changed their minds about the campaign that ousted Saddam.

“I stand by my position at that time,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper.

Adm. Vernon Clark, chief of naval operations, read part of a letter he wrote to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld the day the invasion began.

“For some, this is about WMD,” Adm. Clark quoted the letter. “For others, this is about al Qaeda. For us, it’s about all of that and more. Iraq has been shooting at our aircraft for over five years.”

He referred to U.S. aircraft that were patrolling no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq in what officials said was designed to deny Saddam the ability to attack minorities living in those regions.

“It was my belief that this cause was just, and our people believed in it,” Adm. Clark said. “That was my position then, and that’s what I believe today.”

The three were responding to a request from committee Chairman Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who noted that the chiefs have the responsibility to tell a president if they disagree about the need for war.

“I think it’s appropriate, since this is your first appearance as a group before this committee since the commencement of hostilities, that in your opening statements each of you … advise this committee,” Mr. Warner said. “You had the opportunity to approach the president … if you had any doubts … concerning the advisability of the use of force at the time it was used.”

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