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Bush Defends Iraq War Decision Despite New CIA Report - 2004-10-07

President Bush says he was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power despite a new CIA report that concludes the then-Iraqi leader had not produced or possessed weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade. The immediacy of the threat from those weapons was the president's biggest justification for invading Iraq, and Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger has been quick to use the new report to criticize the president.

President Bush says Saddam Hussein was a threat because he had the intent and capability to produce weapons of mass destruction and was trying to undermine United Nations sanctions to further that goal.

Based on all the information he has today, Mr. Bush says he was right to take action, and America is safer today with Saddam Hussein in prison.

The president's justification for last year's U.S.-led invasion has become a political issue in campaigning for November's election.

Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry says Mr. Bush misled the nation into war on faulty intelligence and failed to build a broad enough international coalition to fairly share the financial and human costs.

In March of 2003, President Bush prepared Americans for the coming invasion with a nationwide address in which he said Iraq posed a great danger. "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," he said.

At the time, Mr. Bush said the danger was that Saddam Hussein could help terrorists acquire those weapons and use them against Americans.

The 1,000-page report released this week by the head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, says there is no indication that Saddam planned to pass weapons material to al-Qaida terrorists.

It concludes that Iraq's illicit-weapons programs were essentially destroyed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and were never rebuilt. While it says Saddam intended to reconstitute some weapons programs if UN sanctions were eased, there were no systems in place to do so.

Before leaving the White House for a political rally in the state of Wisconsin Thursday, President Bush said a commission he has already appointed will ultimately improve U.S. intelligence gathering. "The Duelfer report makes clear that much of the accumulated body of 12 years of our intelligence and that of our allies was wrong, and we must find out why and correct the flaws," he said.

Speaking in the state of Colorado, Senator Kerry said the White House is trying to pass the blame. "The president of the United States and the vice president of the United States may well be the last two people on the planet who won't face the truth about Iraq. Mr. President, the American people deserve more than spin about this war. They deserve facts that represent reality, not carefully polished arguments and points that are simply calculated to align with a pre-conceived perception," he said.

White House officials say the president does not intend to discuss the CIA findings on the campaign trail, but Mr. Bush may be forced to address the issue if Senator Kerry makes it part of their second debate on Friday.