WASHINGTON – The Pentagon's undersecretary for defense for policy denied reports Wednesday that Defense Department officials fashioned evidence on terrorism links to Iraq in order to justify war.
"This suggestion that we said to them, 'This is what we're looking for, go find it' is precisely the inaccuracy that we are here to rebut," said Doug Feith, (search), who took the unusual step of holding a news conference to refute charges that a small group of officials were directed in 2001 to link Iraq to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.
Feith, who said his group's formation was not a reflection of distrust of the CIA's analytical abilities, described the work his group embarked on as an effort to draw a broad picture of global terrorist networks and how they operate in sympathetic nations. The group did not focus solely on Iraq, he said.
Feith's remarks follow calls from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who told reporters Tuesday that they support the idea of holding hearings looking into whether the intelligence indicating the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate or may have been exaggerated.
Citing past U.S. military action in Grenada and Panama, Sen. John McCain (search), R-Ariz., said it's "entirely appropriate" for Congress to hold hearings after armed conflicts. In this case, McCain said several questions should be asked -- not only about weapons of mass destruction but also about such issues as friendly fire incidents.
But McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (search), said he strongly believes that the hearings would not offer information that would contradict assertions that Saddam Hussein (search) held weapons of mass destruction.
"Everything in Saddam Hussein's history indicates that there were WMD. There is no doubt in any expert's mind that [Saddam Hussein] would have continued ... his zeal to acquire these weapons is [indisputable]," McCain said.
The former presidential candidate also shrugged off questions whether the CIA may have been pressured to spin the weapons issue to justify war, saying he is confident his colleagues on the other side of the aisle would raise that question.
For weeks, Bush critics, including a few presidential candidates, have suggested that the administration hyped or even fabricated evidence.
So far, though, Democratic leaders are taking a more cautious approach to challenging the Bush administration. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., an opponent of the war, refused to say what he expected to find in hearings on whether the intelligence community manipulated data to find a clear and present danger that would be a just cause for war with Iraq.
"I don't think anybody can come to any conclusions until we have all the facts, until the committees of jurisdiction have had a chance to review those facts," Daschle said. "We ought to have the opportunity to look into all the facts and answer a lot of these unanswered questions."
Lawmakers have already started studying a two-foot stack of classified intelligence documents about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Republicans say all doubting Democrats need to do to be convinced is to read them.
"There are thousands of pages of documentation that cannot be shown to the public that will verify to senators who are interested in fact [that] the truth was there," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
The latest poll shows 31 percent of Americans believe Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction but more time is needed to find them. Another 10 percent say the intelligence was accurate but over-hyped to build support for war. Thirty-one percent say the intelligence was inaccurate but don't blame the administration while 21 percent believe the information was false and deliberately hyped to mislead the public.
President Bush told Polish TV last week that two trucks outfitted with equipment that could be used to make bio-chemical weapons already constitutes proof that the weapons exist.
"So far, we have discovered two [mobile weapons labs]. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them," Bush said.
So far, British Prime Minister Tony Blair has had a tougher time fending off criticism, but he denied any manipulation on the part of governments.
"The idea that we doctored such intelligence is completely and totally false," Blair said.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said his panel will hold hearings but has not yet set a date for them. He said the committee would do them in conjunction with the Intelligence Committee if chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., wants, but Roberts has not committed to holding any hearings yet.
Fox News' Carl Cameron and Julie Asher contributed to this report.