WASHINGTON — In a long-delayed report, the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday rebuked President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for making prewar claims -- particularly that Iraq had close ties to Al Qaeda -- that were not supported by available intelligence.
The report, which was opposed by most Republicans on the panel, says the president and other members of his administration repeatedly exaggerated evidence of an Al Qaeda connection to take advantage of the charged climate after Sept. 11. It is the most pointed reproach to date of the Bush administration's use of intelligence to build the case for the Iraq war. But the document stops short of calling for any follow-up investigation or sanction.
"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 (D-W.Va.), chairman of the intelligence panel. "Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretenses."
In a second report, the committee provides new details on clandestine, post-Sept. 11 meetings between Defense Department officials and Iranian dissidents seeking support for a plan to overthrow the Islamic regime. The report faults national security advisor Stephen Hadley and others for their roles in an effort that was hidden from the CIA.
The report on the Bush administration's case for war, 170 pages long, reads like a catalog of erroneous claims. The document represents the most detailed assessment to date of whether those assertions were backed by classified intelligence reports available to senior officials at the time.
The report largely exonerates Bush administration officials for some of their prewar assertions, including claims that Baghdad had stockpiles of illegal chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing a nuclear bomb. Even though those claims were subsequently proved wildly inaccurate, the report notes, they were largely consistent with U.S. intelligence at the time.
But the report says the Bush administration veered away from its own intelligence community's conclusions in two key areas: Iraq's relationship with Al Qaeda and the difficulty of pacifying Iraq after a U.S. invasion.
Statements in dozens of prewar speeches and interviews created the impression that Baghdad and Al Qaeda had forged a partnership. But the report concludes that such assertions "were not substantiated by the intelligence" being shown to senior officials at the time.
Claims that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, for example, were dubious from the beginning and subsequently discounted. The idea that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda hinged on intelligence from a source who soon was discredited.
Bush officials strayed even further from the evidence in suggesting that Hussein was prepared to provide weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda terrorist groups -- a linchpin in the case for war.
In October 2002, for example, Bush warned in a key speech in Cincinnati that "secretly, and without fingerprints, [Hussein] could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." The threat was repeated frequently in the run-up to war but was "contradicted by available intelligence information," the committee says.
On post-war prospects, the report contrasts the rosy scenarios conjured by Cheney and others with more sober intelligence warnings that were being presented to senior officials.
Cheney's prediction that U.S. forces would "be greeted as liberators" was at odds with reports from the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which warned nearly a year earlier that invading U.S. forces would face serious resistance from "the Baathists, the jihadists and Arab nationalists who oppose any U.S. occupation of Iraq."
The release of the report is likely to touch off renewed debate over the committee's approach and methodology. Senior Republicans accused Democrats of using the report to score political points in an election year and of refusing to subject congressional Democrats' prewar claims to similar scrutiny. Republicans also complained that officials mentioned in the report were not afforded a chance to respond.
In dissenting views attached to the main text, Republicans cited quotes from Rockefeller, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and others that often echoed Bush administration language in describing the Iraq threat.
"The report released today was a waste of committee time and resources," said a conclusion signed by Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the committee, and three of his colleagues. Bond accused Democrats of "a partisan agenda" and said they had "cherry-picked information and distorted policymakers' statements."