President Bush has awarded America's highest civilian honor to three men who were instrumental in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
President Bush gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, and former U.S. Commander in Iraq General Tommy Franks.
"These three men symbolize the nobility of public service, the good character of our country, and the good influence of America on the world," the president said.
Director Tenet stepped down as head of the CIA this year, ending a tenure that began under former President Bill Clinton. The CIA provided much of the intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq, with Director Tenet reportedly telling cabinet members that information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk."
Since the fall of Baghdad, U.S. inspectors have concluded that Iraq did not have the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush warned about. But there was no talk of intelligence failures at the White House Tuesday, as Mr. Bush praised his former intelligence chief for fighting terrorism.
"His tireless efforts have brought justice to America's enemies and greater security to the American people, and today we honor a fine public servant and patriot in George John Tenet," he said.
Ambassador Bremer's job as U.S. administrator in Iraq ended earlier this year with the transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government. Since then, Mr. Bremer has publicly questioned U.S. troop strength in Iraq and has drawn criticism for his planning for a post-war transition which is beset by continuing violence.
President Bush thanked the man he calls Jerry for putting in place the framework for Iraqi elections scheduled for January that Mr. Bush says will spread democracy throughout the region.
"Jerry will be remembered for his superb work in laying the foundations for a new democracy in the Middle East," he said.
Tommy Franks was wounded twice in Vietnam and served in the first Persian Gulf War, but President Bush says his greatest challenge, and greatest service, followed the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 when General Franks took command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"As the commander of CENTCOM, Tommy Franks held responsibility for defending American interests in some of the most remote and difficult terrain in the world," he said. "It's a job that requires the toughness of a general, the foresight of a strategist, the tact of a diplomat, and the skill of a good manager. Tommy Franks led the forces that fought and won two wars in the defense of the world's security and help liberate more than 50 million people from two of the worst tyrannies in the world."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President Harry Truman in the 1950s to recognize civilians who have made especially meritorious contributions to U.S. interests, world peace, or cultural endeavors. Past recipients include Pope John Paul II, former NATO Chief George Robertson, television chef Julia Child, and entertainer Rita Moreno.