Another false step in the march to war?

A Defense Intelligence Agency report warned the Bush administration about the claims of a captured al-Qaida official. The White House repeated them anyway.

Published November 7, 2005 2:45PM (EST)

When the Democrats moved the Senate into closed session last week to demand progress on an investigation into the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence, they succeeded in knocking the media off the preordained White House message of the day -- it was bird flu, if we recall correctly -- and back into the questions of Iraq, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Valerie Plame.

But was Harry Reid's parliamentary ploy more than just a one-day tactical victory? Maybe so. A report in the New York Times over the weekend suggests that the Democrats have new evidence that will prove useful in making the case that the administration played fast and loose with the facts in the march to war. A Defense Intelligence Agency report prepared in 2002 and released to the Times last week by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin shows that the Bush administration was warned that an al-Qaida official in U.S. custody was fabricating stories about an Iraq/al-Qaida connection before the administration began to use his claims as a basis for war.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi told his interrogators that Iraq was training al-Qaida members in the use of WMD, a claim on which George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and other administrations officals relied in making their case for war. But before they started using Libi's claims, the DIA document had warned the administration that Libi's stories lacked the sort of details that would give them credibility. "It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers," the report said. "Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest."

The scenarios certainly retained the administration's interest. Even after the DIA report was circulated, Bush seemed to rely on it when, during his major Iraq speech in Cincinnati in October 2002, he said that the United States has "learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases." Several months later, Powell relied on Libi more explicitly when he made the case for war before the U.N. Security Council by saying, among other things, that he was tracing "the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaida."

The White House had no immediate comment on the report.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Carl Levin D-mich. Iraq Iraq War Middle East