No slam-dunk


Geraldine Sealey
July 10, 2004 12:07AM (UTC)

As Mary Jacoby wrote in Salon today, the agreement that pushed off until after the election Part Two of the Senate pre-war intel probe -- into the Bush administration's culpability -- was arguably less-than-swift deal-making on the part of Democrats. The focus on the CIA's role in providing the flimsy, faulty "evidence" about Saddam's weapons systems and the danger he posed is already being used by Republicans as an "out" for the White House, to foist blame on the intelligence community and George "Slam Dunk" Tenet.

At a press briefing today, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts explained that while Bush's case for war was based on entirely false information -- it wasn't his fault.

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"ROBERTS: Well, let me just say this: I think that the president of the United States -- and I'm not speaking for him; he can speak for himself, obviously -- but he more than anyone knows the value of intelligence. And he more than anyone is going to have very strong support for reform within the intelligence community.

He made very declarative statements, there's no question about it. He made a case to go to war. We all did. Look at the statements that we've all made -- some of the people who are now being so terribly critical. We believed it.

But the information was wrong. What he said was what he got from the intelligence community, and what he got was wrong."

Democrats are trying, without an official report implicating the administration in coercing the CIA, to remind Americans of the White House's heavy hand in finding the evidence to fit its desire to wage war on Iraq -- the special intelligence unit at the Pentagon, visits by Dick Cheney and other officials to the CIA, the insistence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida and the pressure felt by CIA analysts to find one. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin pointed out that "Tenet himself said, and this report reflects that, that he was told by analysts that they were under tremendous pressure. And what Tenet said is, well, in that case, just try to ignore that pressure. But the pressure was clearly there."

And it was there long before 9/11. Let's not forget former Bush cabinet member Paul O'Neill's description of his first National Security Council meeting, in early 2001. "From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying 'Go find me a way to do this.'"

The administration has also proved, through the course of this fiasco, that if the CIA didn't come up with the intelligence it needed to make its case for war -- it did not matter, officials cited the bogus information anyway, and in the case of Dick Cheney, continue to. At least one, glaring case: The CIA found that there was no credible information that an April 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence agent and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta ever took place. Nonetheless, this story was cited by administration officials as proof of a Saddam al-Qaida link and, in fact, Cheney is still regaling audiences with it, even though the Senate intelligence committee and a 9/11 commission staff report say the meeting did not occur.

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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