WASHINGTON – Antiwar and peace circles are once again taking aim at the Bush White House, this time counting on Congress to investigate the recent intelligence flaps surrounding the Iraq war.
More than 400,000 people from across the country have contacted members of Congress, part of a petition campaign spearheaded by MoveOn.org that asks lawmakers to investigate the claims that led the United States to use military force to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"There needs to be a full-scale, independent investigation into all of this controversy," said David Cortwright, co-founder of Win Without War (search) and president of the Fourth Freedom Forum. "We've been pushing this concept of accountability for weeks now."
But counter-groups are launching their own campaign in support of President Bush.
Citizens United (search), which held a 15,000-strong "Rally for the Troops, Rally for America" in Washington last April, is sending 100,000 letters written by Americans supporting the president to the White House. It is also preparing a television commercial that will address the criticisms pointed toward Bush.
"I do believe there needs to be a response" to the antiwar critics, said Citizens United President David Bossie. "The White House cannot, while conducting the business for America, while conducting the agenda for America ... fighting the war on terror, getting the economy back on track, getting things through Congress ... they don't have time to deal with these types of issues every day, nor should they."
Claims that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa and doubts about the country's weapons of mass destruction (search) program are providing the impetus for the latest wave in antiwar activism.
Opposition groups want the White House to fully disclose any other information being withheld from the American public.
"We entrust the federal government to make those kinds of decisions based on the best information. In this case ... the war was really oversold to us," said Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War veteran and founder of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center.
Citizens can sign the online petitions at MoveOn.org, which ask lawmakers to create an independent commission to investigate whether the Bush administration contorted evidence to take the country to war.
Some members of Congress have already heeded the call. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., has attracted 111 co-sponsors for a bill that would create an independent commission.
The panel would be modeled after the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, and would probe intelligence regarding threats posed by Iraq and claims made by executive-branch officials about the threats.
"My presumption is, when members come back into town, additional members will be signing on to the bill," said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Government Reform Committee, of which Waxman is the ranking Democrat.
Lawmakers return from the summer recess Sept. 3.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., has also introduced a bill that would create a select committee in Congress to investigate the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence.
"I think something will happen — it's just a question of whether or not it's going to be thorough enough or open enough," Gustafson said.
Antiwar activists also argue that it is time to bring U.S. troops home.
"This is going sour for Bush. People are realizing that not only is there a great likelihood that the truth was messed around with," said Bill Dobbs, media coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, "but they're questioning something that is costing us upwards of $3.4 billion a month and a lot of American lives."
The White House, while admitting some lack of communication about the intelligence information, is standing its ground.
"Our coalition forces are taking the fight to the enemy in an unrelenting campaign that is bringing daily results," Bush said during a Rose Garden press conference last week.
Bush also said that he takes personal responsibility for the famous 16-word sentence in his State of the Union address — "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" — that was later determined to be based on faulty intelligence.
The White House did get some good news last week when its lead weapons inspector told two Senate panels that inspectors could be close to finding weapons of mass destruction.
"We are gaining the cooperation, the active cooperation, of Iraqis who were involved in that program," said former U.N. chief weapons inspector David Kay. "We are, as we speak, involved in sensitive exploitation of sites that we are being led to by Iraqis. There is solid evidence being produced."
Bush supporters say they aren't just going to sit idly by as the administration faces a chorus of criticism.
"It's vital that we have a role that defends the president and educates the American people between the president and his detractors, mainly the Democratic presidential hopefuls," Bossie said.