WASHINGTON – A government document raises doubts about claims Al Qaeda (search) members received training for biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, as Senate Democrats on Sunday defended their push for a report on how the Bush administration handled prewar intelligence.
Democrats forced the Senate into an unusual closed session last week as they sought assurances the Intelligence Committee would complete an investigation of intelligence about Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Republicans said the session was a stunt and that the report, after nearly two years, was nearly complete. They did agree to appoint a bipartisan task force to review the committee's progress and report by Nov. 14.
"We cannot have a government which is going to manipulate intelligence information. We've got to get to the bottom of it," Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Newly declassified portions of a document from the Defense Intelligence Agency (search) showed that the administration was alerted that an Al Qaeda member in U.S. custody probably was lying about links between the terrorist organization and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
The document from February 2002 showed that the agency questioned the reliability of Al Qaeda senior military trainer Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (search). He could not name any Iraqis involved in the effort or identify any chemical or biological materials or cite where the training was taking place, the report said.
The DIA concluded that al-Libi probably was deliberately misleading the interrogators, and he recanted the statements in January 2004, according to the document made public by Sen. Carl Levin, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"In other words, he's an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing substantial intelligence trust," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (search), a member of the Intelligence Committee.
"And that is a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people," Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told CNN's "Late Edition."
Levin said in a statement that the declassified DIA material — which he had requested from the agency — indicates that the administration's use of prewar intelligence was misleading and deceptive.
Levin said President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and intelligence and diplomatic officials cited, months after the information from the defense agency in February 2002, chemical and biological training by Iraq as they gathered support for the war.
"This newly declassified information provides additional, dramatic evidence that the administrations prewar statements were deceptive," Levin said. "More than a year before Secretary Powell included that charge in his presentation to the United Nations, the DIA had said it believed the detainee's claims were bogus."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters with Bush on his South American trip that he had not seen a report about the documents. McClellan said issues about postwar intelligence have been explored in the past and that steps have been taken to ensure the administration has the best intelligence possible.
"If Democrats want to talk about how intelligence was used, all they need to do is start by looking at their own comments that they made. Because many of their comments said we cannot wait to address this threat," McClellan said.
On the Sunday news shows, Republicans accused Democrats of trying to use faulty intelligence for partisan political purposes and pointed to Democratic support for the resolution giving Bush the authority to go to war.
"Whether it is from defense intelligence, whether it's from the CIA, whether it's from other sources around the world, and we need to get that right to make the right decisions," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va. "But what we don't need is a bunch of partisanship.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, D-Utah, said a previous Senate report showed nothing improper in the handling of the intelligence, and he called the closed session "a political stunt."
"We all know that the intelligence with regard to these matters was flawed. We found that out since that it was flawed," Hatch said on "Face the Nation" on CBS. "I think everybody on the intelligence committee, everybody in the administration relied on flawed intelligence."
In fact, Rockfeller, reminded that he voted to give Bush the authority to go to war and made statements suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, said Sunday, "I mean, I was dead flat wrong."