Accessibility links

US Lawmakers Still Have Many Questions Over Iraq War Intelligence - 2003-06-27


Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have begun a week-long Independence Day break. But in their absence, controversy continues over intelligence information used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq, and persuade Congress to authorize the use of military force. Democrats in the House of Representatives are demanding an independent investigation, and some have introduced legislation to that effect.

In the Senate and House, committees are reviewing thousands of pages of documents, in multiple volumes, obtained from the CIA and other government agencies.

These committees are chaired by Republicans, and from the start of the controversy, Democrats have insisted that a more extensive examination, by an independent panel, is needed.

There were similar calls for an independent inquiry after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Eventually, an independent commission was created, in addition to inquiries by a joint Senate-House committee, and a separate House panel.

The push for an independent commission on Iraq war intelligence is led by a group of lawmakers who were among 81 House Democrats who voted for a congressional resolution last October authorizing President Bush to use military force in Iraq.

California Democrat Henry Waxman introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to create an independent commission. He says the question is not whether the United States was right to go to war in Iraq, but to hold accountable those who may have manipulated information.

Pennsylvania Democrat Joe Hoeffel, who supported President Bush last year on Iraq, agrees, and says nothing less than the credibility of the United States, and President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption is on the line.

"If we are ever again to embrace the notion of pre-emptive use of military force, which may be necessary in an age of terror, if we're ever going to use a pre-emptive strategy again, we must know our intelligence is accurate," he said. "Otherwise, the doctrine of pre-emption is unusable."

Of Democrats who voted for the war in Iraq, one person does not support creation of an independent commission, at least for now.

"I know that there are questions on both sides of the aisle about this intelligence, questions, which our committee is already asking," said Congresswoman Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "While an independent commission or other mechanism might be needed at some later date, the members of our committee have now initiated an investigation."

Mrs. Harman says she intends to dig deep to discover what was or was not known about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. She also raises questions about information the administration presented about alleged links between Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

Efforts by Democratic lawmakers to have Congress demand additional inquiries, including one calling for an audit of telephone and electronic communications between the CIA and Vice President Dick Cheney, were rejected by the Republican-controlled House.

In an exchange, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat and presidential candidate who introduced a proposal to demand those records, was accused of playing politics by a Republican, Ray LaHood.

Ray LaHood: This is a political amendment. This is an amendment to try and embarrass one member of this administration. This is an amendment to try and embarrass the second highest-ranking elected official in our government.

Dennis Kucinich: I would hope that the gentleman would appreciate receiving clear direction for an inquiry. I can only assume the gentleman does not want the direction of the whole Congress to get to the bottom of the vice president's role.

The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican Porter Goss, himself a Former CIA officer, says existing committee reviews will be sufficient. Whatever the result of congressional reviews, he says, Americans should be confident in the dedication of those who work in government intelligence agencies.

"Nobody would say that we are in errant," he said. "There is no document I know that is written that is in errant, nor is there any infallibility. We are all human beings. What I can say to the American people is that I am satisfied that the men and women of the intelligence community of our nation, and there are thousands of them, are doing their best for our national security."

Many Republicans are quick to recall that many Democrats in both the House and Senate spoke out strongly about an Iraqi chemical and biological weapons threat before Congress voted for military action.

"We're going to hear from a lot of the left in this chamber that we haven't located weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and somehow the president is at fault," said Jack Kingston, a Republican from Georgia. "Many, many leading Democrat liberals were in support of us going into Iraq in the name of weapons of mass destruction."

However, Republicans are also acutely aware that, from the public's point of view, the reliability of intelligence information may turn out to be less important in the long run than the question of whether the administration deliberately set out to mislead.

Even if an independent investigation is not undertaken, public hearings in Congress are likely to begin when lawmakers return in July from their break.

XS
SM
MD
LG