Lies on Iraq? A Senate report won't be ready for the election -- again

Senate Republicans continue to stall efforts to compare what the Bush administration said with what the Bush administration knew.

Published September 7, 2006 1:20PM (EDT)

Well, here's a surprise: The long-awaited -- and long-delayed -- Senate Intelligence Committee report comparing what Bush administration officials said about Iraq before the war with what they actually knew about Iraq before the war won't be released until after the November elections, senators tell the Washington Post.

You remember this one.

Back in February 2004, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts agreed that his committee would investigate allegations that the intelligence community failed on Iraq as well as claims that the Bush administration misused or manipulated the intelligence it received. The catch? Roberts demanded that the second half of the probe -- the part that focused on what the White House did -- be put off until after the 2004 presidential election. After that election -- after what George W. Bush called the "accountability moment" on Iraq -- Roberts declared that there was no need to proceed with the second part of the probe at all. "I don't think there should be any doubt that we have now heard it all regarding prewar intelligence," he said. "I think that it would be a monumental waste of time to replow this ground any further."

Fast-forward to November 2005, and frustrated Democrats move the Senate into closed session to get Roberts and his Republican colleagues moving on the probe again. The move seemed to work: Despite Bill Frist's stuck-pig screaming, the parties agreed to a deal by which a small group of senators would check in on the progress on the second part of the investigation and make sure that it was moving to fruition.

And now? Here we are. The committee is apparently ready to release reports on two subparts of the second part of the probe. One deals with the extent to which information from Iraqi exiles like Ahmed Chalabi was included in official intelligence estimates -- but not, at Roberts' insistence, on whether men like Dick Cheney fell under the spell of members of the Iraqi National Congress. The other report to be released now compares prewar estimates of Iraq's alleged WMD with what U.S. teams actually found in Iraq after the war. This one should be easy: The Bush administration said repeatedly that Saddam Hussein had dangerous WMD and was building more. He didn't and he wasn't.

As the Post notes, Democrats are insisting and Republicans are acknowledging that there's a lot of damaging material in the two reports that will be released now. But the larger point is this. A report comparing what the administration said with what U.S. teams found deals only with the part of the problem the White House has pretty much admitted already: We thought there were WMD and there weren't. It doesn't deal with the much bigger one: the fact that the White House had a lot of reason to doubt that Saddam had WMD and insisted that he did anyway.

November may bring another "accountability moment" on Iraq, but it won't be because the U.S. Senate has done its job.

By Tim Grieve

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

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Iraq Iraq War Middle East Pat Roberts R-kan.