WASHINGTON – As President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) defended their invasion of Iraq, a group of arms control experts accused the administration of misrepresenting intelligence information to justify the war.
When the war began in March, Iraq posed no threat to the United States or to its neighbors, a former senior State Department intelligence official said Wednesday.
Its missiles could not reach Israel, Saudi Arabia or Iran, said Greg Thielmann (search), who held a high post in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
But Thielmann, one of four critics at a session held by the private Arms Control Association (search), said the Bush administration had formed a "faith-based" policy on Iraq and took the approach that "we know the answers; give us the intelligence to support those answers."
Bush, at a news conference in South Africa, said he was "absolutely confident" in going to war against Iraq despite the discovery that allegations Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in Africa for a nuclear weapons program was based on fabricated information.
"There's no doubt in my mind that when it's all said and done the facts will show the world the truth," Bush said. "There's going to be, you know, a lot of attempts to try to rewrite history, and I can understand that. But I'm absolutely confident in the decision I made."
In Washington, Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the administration decided to use military force in Iraq because the information about the threat of Saddam's regime was seen with a different perspective after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder," Rumsfeld said. "We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11."
Under questioning from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., Rumsfeld said he did not know how much the administration would propose to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for the new budget year that begins Oct. 1.
He said under the $62.4 billion midyear spending bill, the United States expects to spend an average $3.9 billion a month on Iraq from January through September this year. An average of $700 million a month is being spent in Afghanistan.
Thielmann said the administration had distorted intelligence to fit its policy purposes. He said Iraq had no active nuclear weapons program and that while CIA Director George Tenet told Congress Iraq had Scud missiles, the intelligence finding actually was that the missiles could not be accounted for.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, said 1,044 American servicemen and women have been wounded in action or injured since the war in Iraq began March 20. Of that total, 382 have been wounded or injured since Bush declared major combat over on May 1, according to the Pentagon's figures. Of the 212 U.S. troops who have died in Iraq since the war began, 74 died after May 1.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division is beginning a phased pullout of its 16,000 troops, with the entire unit expected back in the United States by September, Rumsfeld told the committee. The division, which played a central role in capturing Baghdad in April, is based at Fort Stewart, Ga.
In the immediate aftermath of the toppling of Saddam's government in April, it was expected that the 3rd Infantry Division would go home by June. But the soldiers were kept longer because of a surge of anti-U.S. violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in central Iraq.
Rumsfeld said there are now 148,000 American troops in Iraq. He did not say whether the 3rd Infantry Division would be replaced by another U.S. unit, although he said he expects thousands of international soldiers to begin operating in the country by late summer or early fall.
Democrats pressed Rumsfeld about whether the administration specifically requested forces from NATO. Rumsfeld said his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, made a formal request for postwar assistance in December
"None since the war?" asked Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee's top Democrat.
"I have no idea," Rumsfeld said, offering to find out.
At the Arms Control Association session Wednesday, Gregory V. Treverton, a senior analyst at Rand, a government-financed research group, challenged what he said was the administration's persistent description of intelligence as evidence when it often is a qualified judgment.
But the administration extracted from the data the "best bumper stickers" it could fashion, said the former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council.
Joseph Cirincione, a proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, credited U.N. inspectors with doing a good job of finding weapons in Iraq and having them dismantled.
But he said the administration in its statements made the inspectors "look like fools" and went far beyond U.S. intelligence findings on Iraq.