WASHINGTON – Democrats (search) say President Bush's appointment of a bipartisan commission to examine intelligence on Iraq's (search) weapons falls short of their demands for an independent probe of why prewar claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs now appear to have been wrong.
Although a former Democratic senator and governor, Charles Robb (search) of Virginia, will serve as the panel's co-chairman, Democrats say the panel cannot be truly independent if all nine members were selected by Republican Bush.
"We had an opportunity to have a truly independent commission that could have brought fresh eyes to the subject. Instead, we have a commission wholly owned by the executive branch investigating the executive branch," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said.
Bush signed an executive order Friday creating the commission to examine why weapons inspectors have found no chemical and biological weapons stockpiles that U.S. intelligence believed Iraq had before last year's war or evidence of an aggressive nuclear weapons program.
Their existence was the administration's main argument for war.
"Some prewar intelligence assessments by America and other nations about Iraq's weapon stockpiles have not been confirmed," Bush told reporters. "We are determined to figure out why."
The commission also will review U.S. intelligence on weapons programs in countries such as North Korea and Iran, he said. In addition, the panel was told to review spy work on Libya before leader Moammar Gadhafi committed that nation to rid itself of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and on Afghanistan before U.S. troops drove its Taliban rulers from power.
Co-chairing the panel with Robb will be retired judge federal appeals Laurence Silberman, a Republican. Robb, son-in-law of the late President Lyndon Johnson, has been practicing law since leaving the Senate in 2001. Silberman, who served as deputy attorney general in the Nixon and Ford administrations, was named to the appeals court by President Reagan in 1985.
Bush also named to the panel: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton; former federal judge Patricia M. Wald; Yale University president Richard C. Levin; and retired Adm. William O. Studeman, former deputy director of the CIA.
Wald, a former chief judge for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, served as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Bush intends to name two more members.
The president had initially rejected demands for a commission on prewar intelligence, but pressure built after the former CIA adviser for the weapons search in Iraq, David Kay, said prewar intelligence was wrong. Seeking to defuse what could become a major campaign issue, Bush created the panel and gave it until March 31, 2005, to issue a report -- well after the November presidential election.
Democratic criticism continued. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a presidential candidate, said Bush was using the panel to affix blame to the intelligence community instead of the policy-makers, including the president, who used the information to make decisions.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said, "On the one hand, the commission is charged with looking at prewar intelligence assessments on Iraq but apparently not at exaggerations of that intelligence by the Bush administration.
"On the other hand, the commission is tasked to look at so many other areas that it will not be able to adequately focus on the paramount issue of the analysis, production and use of prewar intelligence on Iraq. "
Another Democratic senator, Evan Bayh of Indiana, said the panel "seems to me to be a very credible group of people, ... and that bodes well for the inquiry" if they have timely access to the information they need.
Republican lawmakers backed Bush. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., said it is "totally appropriate" to make the commission's scope more than just Iraq.
"Once you get into how well our intelligence community works and how we deal with weapons of mass destruction and analyzing how our collectors collect and our analysts analyze, I think you are going to find there are systemic problems in our intelligence," he said.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, praised the selections of Robb and McCain. "Both have rendered distinguished service in our military, both have shown independence of thought on serious issues and both are experienced in the arena of national security," he said.