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Rumsfeld Defends Intelligence, War in Iraq - 2004-02-04

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has strongly denied the Bush Administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program to bolster its case for military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Speaking out in public for the first time since former chief weapons inspector David Kay acknowledged U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was apparently wrong, Mr. Rumsfeld has delivered a strong defense of the Bush administration's actions.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the defense secretary says that despite Mr. Kay's concession, he is not yet ready to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein did not have chemical or biological weapons.

He says that has yet to be proven conclusively.

"What we have learned thus far has not proven that Saddam Hussein had what intelligence indicated and what we believed he had," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "But it has also not proven the opposite."

Mr. Rumsfeld then went on to deny there was any manipulation of the intelligence by the Bush administration to justify military operations against Iraq.

"I haven't heard of it. I haven't seen any of it," he emphasized.

Mr. Rumsfeld says there are a number of possible theories about what happened to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, that they were transferred to other countries, that they were hidden around Iraq, that they were destroyed or that their existence was a calculated charade by Saddam or his scientists.

But he says the theory that Iraq had none is not likely. And whatever the case, he says President Bush made the right decision to invade Iraq.

"I'm convinced that the President of the United States did the right thing in Iraq, let there be no doubt," he said.

Nevertheless, there was criticism of the administration's actions, especially from Democratic legislators, including Senator Edward Kennedy.

He voices concern that the administration's plans to investigate intelligence failures in Iraq will be aimed at blaming intelligence analysts and not policy makers.

"I think the White House agenda is clear is to blame the failure of the administration's case for war on the intelligence community rather than the administration's manipulations and misrepresentations of the available intelligence," said Senator Kennedy.

Other members of Congress have voiced similar concerns.

The investigation ordered by President Bush is expected to take more than a year to complete. Its findings are not therefore likely to be known until after this November's presidential election.