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Graham: Saudi bombings 'could have been avoided'

Feingold faults administration's handling on war on terror

From Steve Turnham
CNN Washington Bureau

Sen. Bob Graham is greeted at a recent Democratic gathering in South Carolina.
Sen. Bob Graham is greeted at a recent Democratic gathering in South Carolina.

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CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Americans who live and work in Saudi Arabia.
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Colin Powell tours damage caused by the attacks in Riyadh.
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CNN's Andrea Koppel reports on officials' suspicions about al Qaeda.
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INFORMATION
Family members concerned about Americans in Riyadh may contact the U.S. State Department from inside the United States at (888) 407-4747

Or from outside the United States at
(317) 472-2328.
SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: The hunt for al Qaeda
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• Special report: War against terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Bob Graham, a Democratic presidential candidate, accused the Bush administration Tuesday of laxity in the war on terror, and said its failure to dismantle al Qaeda contributed to the deadly attack against U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia.

"It could have been avoided if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al Qaeda," said Graham, repeating his long-standing criticism that the Bush administration should not have gone to war with Iraq until al Qaeda and other terror groups had been properly dismantled.

Republicans strongly refuted the charge and suggested presidential politics was at work.

At least 20 people, including seven Americans, were killed by nine suicide bombers who attacked three housing compounds in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.(Full story)

Graham also charged that the administration had failed to act on information that might have averted the September 11, 2001 attacks. "That failure to act contributed to September 11 and the failure to act today continues [to put] Americans in a vulnerable circumstance," said Graham.

When pressed on what the administration knew before September 11, Graham said he could not be specific because the information is still classified. He said the administration is labeling much information as such because it is "embarrassing" to the White House.

Monday, a Bush administration official dismissed Graham's increasingly critical comments about the administration's handling of the war on terror as "proof Senator Graham is running for president."

Graham's latest comments followed a Senate floor speech Tuesday by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, in which he accused the administration of having a "confused approach" to the war on terror. Feingold said the speech was written well before the Saudi Arabian bombings occurred.

During a stop in Indiana -- as part of his effort to drum up support for tax cuts -- Bush said the Saudi bombings "remind us that the war on terror continues."(Full story)

Bush cited progress in that war. "I figure we've destroyed about one-half of al Qaeda, the top operators of al Qaeda, and that's good," he said. "But we've got more work to do."

Back in Washington, Senate Republicans dismissed the charge by Graham.

"I think, if anything, it demonstrates that we do have a lot of work to do," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said of the Saudi bombings. "It is going to take a long-term commitment, and I obviously would wholeheartedly disagree with any allegation that this is a failure on the part of the United States."

Top Democratic aides said the comments by Graham and Feingold are not the result of a concerted strategy to criticize the president in the wake of the Saudi Arabian bombings.

"You've heard the one about herding cats," said one Democratic aide, referring to the difficulty of keeping independent-minded senators on message.

Debt ceiling

That "official" Democratic message concerns the national debt.

With action on the Senate tax bill stalled until Wednesday morning, Democrats are demanding that the Republican leadership use the down time to raise the $6.4 trillion ceiling on the national debt. If that ceiling is not raised by Memorial Day, the government will run out of credit.

Democrats blame the growing debt on the Bush tax cuts. Republicans dispute that link, arguing that the debt reflects current spending, not future plans.

At a news conference where Democrats unveiled a "debt clock" to dramatize their point, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee, said the tax cut threatens Social Security and Medicare.

"All of them are being threatened by this policy of ever escalating deficits and debt," Conrad said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said he plans to introduce an amendment calling for a $200 billion debt limit increase, which he said should get the government through the end of the year.

Frist said the Senate will deal with taxes first, the Global AIDS bill, and then the debt ceiling, in that order.


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