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Former CIA Director Tenet Slams VP Cheney Over Iraq War

The former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is strongly criticizing Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials, saying they led the country into war with Iraq without conducting a serious debate about whether Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat to the United States. George Tenet levels the charges in a new book scheduled to be released next week and VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

Tenet was CIA director from 1997 to 2004 and in his new book, "At the Center of the Storm," says there was never a serious debate that he knew of within the Bush administration about how imminent a threat Iraq posed. And, he says, there was never a significant discussion about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

The former CIA chief also accuses Vice President Dick Cheney, a strong war supporter, of trying to shift blame for the decision to invade Iraq when it became clear that no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons would be found.

Tenet admits he once used the term "slam dunk" (a sure thing) during a White House discussion about whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But he says the vice president later took the remark out of context, to try to imply that the administration decided to go to war strictly on the basis of CIA intelligence.

"Listening to the vice president go on Meet the Press on the fifth year of nine-11 and say, 'well George Tenet said slam dunk as if he needed me to say slam dunk to go to war with Iraq.' As if he needed me to say that. You listen to that and they never let it go," he said.

Tenet, in an interview with the CBS television program 60 Minutes, charges the Bush administration used him as a scapegoat for intelligence failures before the Iraq war.

"You don't throw people overboard. You don't call somebody in. You work your heart out, you show up everyday. You are going to throw somebody overboard just because it is a deflection? Is that honorable? It is not honorable to me," he said.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett, speaking on NBC's Today Show, says there was much serious debate within the Bush administration before the decision was made to go to war with Iraq.

"I will say, I do believe, and as somebody who has been here on the inside of the White House for this entire term, understands acutely that this president weighed all the various proposals, weighed all the various consequences, before he did make a decision," he said.

In 2004, President Bush awarded Tenet a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award for a U.S. civilian.

In his book, Tenet portrays Mr. Bush in a largely positive light, praising him for his leadership after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

In his book, Tenet is skeptical that the recent surge of U.S. troops in Iraq will be successful.

The former CIA director says he fears sectarian bloodshed has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces will not be able to significantly reduce the violence.