Monday, February 2, 2004

President Bush yesterday said he will appoint an independent commission to “analyze where we stand” in U.S. intelligence capabilities in the wake of revelations that spy agencies were wrong about Saddam Hussein’s possession of chemical and biological weapons.

Mr. Bush met yesterday with former weapons inspector David Kay, who testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that he doesn’t expect the exhaustive search of Iraq now under way to turn up any large caches of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also indicated yesterday that he would no longer oppose an independent probe of his government’s assertions that Saddam was hiding large stockpiles of WMDs.

Mr. Kay told senators that the ousted Iraqi dictator was likely being duped by his own scientists, who pocketed for themselves the millions he spent on his WMDs program.

The former inspector also maintained that Mr. Bush was right to go to war in Iraq, and characterized Saddam’s regime as “far more dangerous than even we anticipated” when it was thought he had WMDs ready to deploy.

Mr. Bush stressed that point yesterday.

“We do know that Saddam Hussein had the intent and the capabilities to cause great harm. We know he was a danger,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “He was not only a danger to people in the free world, he was a danger to his own people.”

The new commission, Mr. Bush said, will have a broader mandate than just the intelligence leading up to the Iraq war and will look into the CIA’s misjudgments of the weapons programs of Iran, Libya and North Korea.

“We also want to look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, kind of in a broader context,” Mr. Bush said. “And so I’m putting together an independent, bipartisan commission to analyze where we stand [and] what we can do better as we fight this war against terror.”

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said the president’s hand-picked commission will “have the independent authority to do its job,” but will not likely finish its work until after the presidential election Nov. 2.

Democrats, who have been agitating for an independent commission on prewar intelligence for weeks, said Mr. Bush was “making a serious mistake” by selecting the panel’s members himself.

“While we support the need for an independent commission, this commission should not be one whose members are appointed by and report to the White House,” said a letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Henry A. Waxman, both of California.

“Even some of your own statements and those of Vice President [Dick] Cheney need independent scrutiny,” the Democrats said. “A commission appointed and controlled by the White House will not have the independence or credibility necessary to investigate these issues.”

A Newsweek poll released Saturday shows that even after the revelations of intelligence failures, 55 percent said “the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq last March,” and 39 percent said it did not.

Forty-one percent of respondents thought the Bush administration “purposely misled the public” about Saddam’s WMDs program, and 55 percent thought Iraq at one time possessed chemical and biological weapons.

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