WASHINGTON - In a long-awaited report, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence rebuked President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday for making prewar claims - particularly that Iraq had close ties to al-Qaida - that were not backed by available intelligence.
The report, which was supported by some Republicans but criticized by many others, accuses the president and other members of his administration of repeatedly exaggerating the evidence of an al-Qaida connection to take advantage of the charged climate after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Intelligence Committee. "Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretenses."
The report amounts to the most direct rebuke to date of the Bush administration's use of intelligence to build support for the Iraq war. But the document, which catalogs hundreds of statements by administration officials, stops short of calling for any further inquiry or punishment.
In a second report released yesterday, the committee provides new details on a series of clandestine meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian dissidents seeking support for a covert plan to overthrow the Islamic regime in Tehran.
In that document, the committee accuses national security adviser Stephen Hadley and others of "inappropriate" conduct for an activity that the committee concludes was intentionally hidden from the CIA.
The main focus of the documents released yesterday was a detailed examination of hundreds of statements that Bush, Cheney and other administration officials made in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Many of the White House statements about Iraq's work on chemical and biological weapons, and its alleged pursuit of nuclear capabilities, were consistent with intelligence reporting available to government officials at the time, even though that intelligence was later shown to be wildly off base.
But statements suggesting that Iraq and al-Qaida had forged a partnership were not substantiated by the underlying intelligence, the report concluded. And statements by Bush and Cheney indicating that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was prepared to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States "were contradicted by available intelligence information," the report said.
However, senior congressional Republicans accused Democrats on the Intelligence Committee of using the report to score political points in an election year and of violating previous agreements to examine not only the prewar claims of Bush administration officials but those of Democratic members of Congress.
The Republicans attached dissenting views that included quotations from Rockefeller and other Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, that warned that Iraq posed a growing danger to the United States.
"It is ironic that the Democrats would knowingly distort and misrepresent the committee's findings and the intelligence in an effort to prove that the administration distorted and mischaracterized the intelligence," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel.
In response, Rockefeller drew a distinction between the statements of many congressional Democrats and those of top Bush administration officials.
"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 accurate," he said.
Greg Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times.