June 6, 2008 -- The Iraq war is now five years old, but on Capitol Hill, lawmakers are still bickering over whether the flawed intelligence that led to the March 2003 invasion was intentionally mishandled.
The Senate Intelligence Committee wrapped up an exhaustive, four-year inquest into pre-war intelligence when it published on Thursday the final two chapters of an ongoing assessment. Several Republicans on the committee joined with Democrats to ratify the report, which concludes that, in speeches they gave in the run-up to the war, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had an active program to seek weapons of mass destruction even though there was available intelligence to refute that claim.
While there are new details in the reports today, for anyone who has closely followed the news coverage of the Iraq war, there were no significant new revelations. The Bush administration has acknowledged that the intelligence leading to the Iraq war was flawed, and an internal Pentagon report released last year eviscerated former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Office of Special Plans, which was set up in the Pentagon to provide administration officials with intelligence.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the committee has continued to investigate the pre-war intelligence to avoid a repeat of the run-up to the Iraq war in the future.
"The tragic fact is that, on issues of war and peace, which should require the most meticulous and the most precise adherence to the truth, the administration was too often careless with its words, including, in some cases, making presentations that were not substantiated by the available intelligence or, worse, directly contradicted by the available intelligence," said Rockefeller, who later called the administration's activity in the run-up to the war "heinous."
"There is no question that we all relied on flawed intelligence," Rockefeller said Thurday. "But there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully supported by intelligence."
He said it is important for leaders to learn from the mistakes they made in the past to "protect the future."
The End of an Investigatory Odyssey
The committee's marathon investigation has stretched over four years now, although only since Democrats took control of the committee in 2007 have they been able to ratify the most critical sections of the report.
"It is ironic that the Democrats would knowingly distort and misrepresent the committee's prior phase-one findings in an effort to try to prove the unprovable: that the administration distorted and mischaracterized intelligence," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the vice chairman and highest-ranking Republican on the committee.
The two chapters released today mark the end of an investigatory odyssey. After taking control of Congress, Democrats released a chapter on "prewar intelligence assessments of post-war Iraq" last year.
Back in 2006, when Republicans were in charge, GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe sided with Democrats to release a section on post-war findings about Iraq's WMD programs and links to terrorism as well as a look at the use by the intelligence community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress.
Phase II of the Intel Committee's assessment began only after Democrats complained that an initial assessment did not go far enough. Phase I was released in July 2004.
Congress Still Searching for Truth
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who sits on the committee, said today that the report raises some questions about whether Rumsfeld was truthful in his 2002 testimony before Congress when he said that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were buried in bunkers. The existence of such weapons was something suspected by the intelligence community, but not verified.
Lying to Congress is against the law, although Wyden did not say he believes Rumsfeld should be charged with criminal wrongdoing — at least not without further investigation, he said.
"This has been a long process, many of us feel an overly long process, but it was essential for us to answer these questions about how we got into Iraq so that there would be genuine public accountability," Wyden said.
"And with respect to some of the statements that Secretary Rumsfeld made that I have outlined perhaps in painstaking detail this morning, I think further review is warranted."