First Published: 2003-06-02

Controversy mounts over Iraq's WMD

US lawmakers defend war in Iraq despite questions about banned weapons as congress might open probe.


Middle East Online

If they are not found, that will indicate a very serious intelligence failure

WASHINGTON - Senior US lawmakers from both major political parties Sunday defended their support for the war on Iraq despite doubts about the intelligence used to justify the US-led assault.

Seven weeks after the fall of Baghdad, little proof has emerged to back up US and British claims Iraq was developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

"I still believe we will find those weapons," Senator John McCain told ABC television's "This Week" program. "Obviously all of us are disappointed that we haven't found more so far."

But McCain, an Arizona Republican who is a leading voice in the US legislature on foreign policy matters, said there is "ample testimony to the brutality and repressiveness of this regime," and that in his opinion "our liberation of Iraq was fully vindicated."

He and Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut however said a congressional investigation may be needed to determine whether US intelligence sources hyped information regarding the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the war.

"Obviously it's going to be important for us to get the answer to the question of whether or not those weapons were there," Dodd said.

Virginia Republican Senator John Warner, told CNN Sunday that the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee - both of which he chairs - are "going to take a look at this."

"But by the fact that we're just investigating it, should not in any way indicate that we're putting any credibility doubt against" those providing the information, he said.

Comments from the legislators came as the US newsweeklies Time and Newsweek reported that officials in the administration of President George W. Bush - particularly in the Pentagon - may have jumped to conclusions about Iraq's banned weapons from shaky intelligence.

The magazines said the administration's tendency to read what it wanted to hear in the reports may be why little evidence has surfaced of Baghdad's nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs.

Central Intelligence Agency officials told Time they would soon present evidence Iraq was developing such weapons, but it appeared searchers were running out of leads.

The case against Iraq was based largely on assumptions rather than hard evidence, Newsweek reported, citing unnamed administration and intelligence officials.

The Pentagon also tended to choose the most dire explanation for intelligence where the meaning was not clear, Time said.

"There was a predisposition in this administration to assume the worst about Saddam," a senior military officer told the newsweekly. "They were inclined to see and interpret evidence a particular way to support a very deeply held conviction."

An unnamed Army intelligence officer blamed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the tendency.

"Rumsfeld was deeply, almost pathologically, distorting the intelligence," the officer told Time.

Senator Bob Graham, who opposed the war and is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, warned that the failure to find weapons in Iraq could carry a political cost for Bush.

"If they are not found, that will indicate a very serious intelligence failure, or the attempt to keep the American people in the dark by manipulating that intelligence information," he told CNN.

"If we reach the point that one of those two is the basis for our inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it is going to undercut the confidence of the American people and raise serious doubts with the international community as to the basic truthfulness of the United States."

But even if the evidence of Iraqi weapons was distorted or exaggerated, Dodd said "I would still come to the same conclusion," and vote in favor of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

"This is a regime that has ... stored, housed, and used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, and clearly other evidence that demonstrates his capacities to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction where there.

"I'm satisfied that this was a just war, and that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein in the end."


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