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Powell Defends Pre-War Intelligence Reports on Iraq - 2003-07-10

Secretary of State Colin Powell is defending the Bush administration's use of what turned out to be forged documents to help make its case for invading Iraq.

Making his case against Saddam Hussein in his January State of the Union Address, President Bush said the then-Iraqi leader had tried to buy uranium here in Africa.

Documents concerning the alleged attempt to buy uranium from Niger were turned over to the United Nations which concluded that they were forgeries.

Secretary Powell says questions about the president's use of information which proved to be wrong are, in his words "overwrought, overblown and overdrawn" as interpreting intelligence reports is not an exact science.

"You have to make judgments. And at the time of the president's State of the Union Address a judgment was made that that was an appropriate statement for the president to make," he said. "There was no effort or attempt on the part of the president or anyone else in the administration to mislead or to deceive the American people."

Mr. Powell says the president was making what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time and the allegation against Niger, he says, "was not totally outrageous."

Given the test of time, just a week later, Secretary Powell says he chose not to use that information in his February 5th presentation to the United Nations because he decided it was not appropriate after reviewing what he calls "every single thing" the administration knew about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

In hindsight, Mr. Powell says it is now clear there was trouble with the allegations against Niger, but he does not think its use undercuts the president's credibility.

"I'm not troubled by this," he said. "I think the American people will put this in context and perspective and understand perfectly why the president felt it was necessary to undertake this military operation with a willing coalition, in order to remove this tyrant from office, to make sure there are no more questions about weapons of mass destruction because the regime that was determined to have them is gone."

The immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was one of the Bush administration's biggest justifications for toppling Saddam Hussein. More than two months after the fall of Baghdad, none of those weapons has yet been found.