President Bush says he wants to know why U.S. intelligence analysts said Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The threat from those weapons was the president's biggest justification for going to war, but none of those weapons has yet been found. The president stopped short of endorsing calls for an independent panel.
President Bush says he does not know why U.S. intelligence reports failed to accurately reflect the depth and content of Iraq's pre-war arsenal.
"I too want to know the facts," said President Bush. "I want to be able to compare what the Iraqi Survey Group has found with what we thought prior to going into Iraq."
Former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has told Congress that American intelligence information was "almost all wrong" and he now believes no major stockpiles of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons will be found in Iraq.
Mr. Kay backed calls by congressional Democrats and Republicans for an independent panel to look into U.S. intelligence failures.
The White House is so far resisting such a panel, which could put the weapons issue in the middle of this year's presidential election.
In his campaign speeches, President Bush no longer says Saddam Hussein could have given terrorists weapons of mass destruction to use against the United States, as he had earlier alleged.
Instead, the president focuses on the former Iraqi leader's torture of civilians and the chance for a new democratic government now that he is gone.
Asked directly whether he would support an independent investigation into pre-war intelligence in Iraq, Mr. Bush repeated his assertion that he wants to know the truth.
The president told reporters in the Oval Office that one thing he knows for certain is that he made the right decision to invade Iraq, because Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate with the United Nations. "He was defiant," the president said. "He ignored the requests of the international community, and this country led a coalition to remove him. We dealt with the danger, and as a result, the world is a better place and a more peaceful place. And the Iraqi people are free. And a free Iraq is in this nation's national interest. A free Iraq will bring a much needed change in a part of the world that has fostered terror."
The president's Democratic challengers have picked up on the weapons issue, following Mr. Kay's report to Congress. In a Democratic debate in the state of South Carolina Thursday, some of the candidates accused the president of manipulating intelligence reports and purposely misleading the nation into war.
Mr. Kay's findings do not show any administration effort to change intelligence analysis and instead blame the Central Intelligence Agency for providing faulty information.