One of the U.S. Senate's most senior Democrats is accusing President Bush of exaggerating the threat that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed to the world. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy used a speech Friday to question why CIA Director George Tenet waited until last month to say that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction did not pose an imminent danger.
Senator Kennedy launched one of his party's strongest attacks yet on President Bush's decision to go to war, accusing him of deliberately manipulating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found. In his speech, the senator used some of the administration's own words against it.
"Nuclear weapons. Mushroom cloud. Unique and urgent threat. Real and dangerous threats. Grave threat. This was the administration's rallying cry for war. But those were not the words of the intelligence community. The community recognized that Saddam was a threat, but it never suggested the threat was imminent or immediate or urgent," he said.
Now, nearly a year after the start of the war, Senator Kennedy wants to know why CIA Director George Tenet did not come forward earlier with this assessment, offered in a speech only last month, about what U.S. intelligence officials believed about Iraq's weapons programs.
"They never said there was an imminent threat," he said.
Senator Kennedy questioned why other top Bush administration officials, in the period before the war, continued to make public statements that were not, in his view, supported by fact.
"Why wasn't CIA Director Tenet correcting the president and the vice president and the secretary of defense a year ago, when it could have made a difference, when it could have prevented a needless war, when it could have saved so many lives?" he said.
White House spokesman Scott McCellan said there was nothing new in Senator Kennedy's charges and that they were just as false as when he made them before.
"I don't think this is the first time we've heard Senator Kennedy make such unsubstantiated and baseless charges. And I imagine that given that it's an election year, it won't be the last time," he said.
A consistently outspoken Bush critic, Senator Kennedy is playing a prominent role in the presidential campaign of fellow Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and told his audience to vote for Mr. Kerry in November.