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Open Iraq Hearings Crucial

June 19, 2003

President Bush dismisses questions as to whether his administration misrepresented intelligence about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, calling such accusations the product of "revisionist historians." But who's revising what with this daily name-calling campaign over recent history? The only way the administration can put to rest questions about its actions is to give up its resistance to a thorough congressional investigation of the intelligence concerning Iraq.

This is not just a matter for the record or for partisan jousting, although a congressional investigation would serve both purposes. It goes to the crux of the conduct of American foreign policy, this country's global credibility and the constitutional duties of the commander in chief. Polls indicate that most Americans are indifferent as to whether Iraq really had weapons of mass destruction. But the British are outraged over the testimony Tuesday of two former Cabinet ministers in a parliamentary hearing on Iraq that they believe Prime Minister Tony Blair twisted intelligence to exaggerate the danger posed by Saddam Hussein.

In Washington, the Senate and House are conducting closed intelligence hearings this week. But Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, balks at open hearings. Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, correctly seeks open hearings and a public report.

Committee member Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wants to publicly question CIA Director George J. Tenet. Levin contends Tenet misled Americans and believes the U.S. did not fully disclose to United Nations weapons inspectors full intelligence on possible Iraqi weapon sites; to have done so might have prolonged the push for inspections and disrupted the administration's rush to war, Levin says. These and other such serious accusations -- including whether the administration pressured analysts to come up with worst-case analyses of Iraqi weaponry -- can best be answered in public hearings.

Bush officials may hope they can ward off such sessions, stalling in the hope that U.S. forces do find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Especially as the parties head into the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrats will be eager to hammer at this topic and anything else they can find to embarrass Bush. But something more than partisanship is at stake here now: Britain is conducting a real investigation into the intelligence it had about Baghdad, and the U.S. can too. If America must mobilize the world in the days to come about grave concerns such as the nuclear intentions of North Korea or Iran, it will need intelligence that isn't under a cloud of doubt about what may, or may not, have happened with Iraq.

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