WASHINGTON – Democrats and Republicans turned up the heat Monday in an argument about how the Bush administration handled pre-Iraq war intelligence.
Democrats called for a high-level investigation similar to the one conducted by the Sept. 11 commission, but Republicans quickly charged that Democrats need to answer some questions of their own.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid , D-Nev., accompanied by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., held the latest in a series of relentless news conferences to accuse the administration of exaggerating pre-war intelligence.
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"First, how did the White House build its case for war? We need to know what information was cherry-picked and what contrary facts they ignored," Reid said.
He and others insist the Bush administration intentionally misled the public in order to sell the war.
"We must know to what extent this administration unfairly hyped Iraq's alleged nuclear capabilities and links to Al Qaeda in order to sell its case for war," Reid said.
Levin has released a declassified memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency that deals with Ibn Al-Shaikh Al-Libi , a captured member of Al Qaeda who initially told his interrogators in early 2002 that Iraq helped train the terror network in the use of chemical and biological weapons.
But Al-Libi couldn't name any Iraqis or give details so analysts doubted his account and circulated a memo saying so in February 2002.
But other sources made similar claims, and so several officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet made this statement about a year later.
"Iraq has in the past provided training in document forgery and bomb-making to Al Qaeda. It also provided training in poisons and gases to two Al Qaeda associates," Tenet said in February 2003.
That intelligence may have been one reason why one prominent Democrat close to the previous administration argued former Iraq President Saddam Hussein was doing more than rebuilding all his cache of weapons, including nuclear weapons.
"He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said from the Senate floor in October 2002.
Statements like Clinton's, which mirror those of the Bush administration, prompted GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to say Monday that those attacking the administration for the same kind of statements are waging a "shameful" and "cynical" effort to use the war for political gain.
Cornyn also pointed to Reid's own Web site, which Monday afternoon still referred to Hussein as a threat to peace and security.
"Under Saddam's rule, Iraq has engaged in far reaching human rights abuses, been a state sponsor of terrorism, and has long sought to obtain and develop weapons of mass destruction," the Web site reads.
Cornyn also noted that under President Clinton, Congress unanimously voted in 1998 for regime change in Iraq.
"Did President Clinton lie when he discussed the intelligence that led him to support the forced ouster of Saddam Hussein?" Cornyn asked.
The next phase of this increasingly nasty dispute comes Tuesday when the Senate Intelligence Committee starts looking at 500 statements from Republicans and Democrats to see if anyone said something not warranted by the intelligence at the time.
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