Bush vows to 'reveal the truth' on Iraqi weapons
Democrats challenge White House on claims
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush vowed Thursday to "reveal the truth" about what he has described as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
Bush faces growing criticism and calls for congressional hearings about his administration's pre-war assertions on the threat posed by Iraq.
Speaking to troops in Qatar as he headed home from a Middle East peace summit, Bush suggested it shouldn't be surprising that no such weapons have been found, despite the fall of Saddam's regime and the presence of coalition forces in Iraq for more than two months.
"This is a man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder," Bush said. "He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he's got a big country in which to hide them. We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth."
The president pointed to the recent discovery of what he described as two "mobile biological weapons facilities" as evidence of Saddam's interest in and Iraq's capability of producing biological weapons.
In New York, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council Thursday that inspectors found no evidence before the March invasion that Iraq had reconstituted its chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.(Full story)
"The commission has not at any time during the inspections in Iraq found evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items, whether from pre-1991 or later," Blix told the Security Council in what is expected to be his final report.
But he also said Iraq was unable to account for chemical or biological weapons it claimed to have destroyed, and weapons inspectors were unable to clear up discrepancies before they left Baghdad in advance of the invasion.
"This does not necessarily mean that such items could not exist. They might. There remain a long list of items unaccounted for," Blix said. "But it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it was unaccounted for."
'Perception of deception'
On Capitol Hill, Democrats are growing increasingly vocal in challenging the Bush administration to better explain its claims.
The Bush administration cited the weapons of mass destruction as the key reason for invading Iraq and removing Saddam -- who remains unaccounted for -- from power.
The Senate's senior Democrat Thursday called on Bush to dispel the "perception of deception" about Baghdad's banned weapons programs.
"The questions continue to grow. The doubts are beginning to drown out the assurances," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia. "For every insistence from Washington that the weapons of mass destruction case against Iraq is sound comes a counterpoint from the field -- another dry hole, another dead end."
Some Democrats, including several who are seeking their party's 2004 presidential nomination, question whether the administration slanted or manipulated intelligence data to make the case for war with Iraq. Others say the intelligence data may have been flawed, a claim rejected last week by CIA Director George Tenet.
"Like millions of Americans, I'm wondering where the hell the weapons of mass destruction are," Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-Pennsylvania, said Wednesday at a House International Relations Committee hearing.
Administration officials have denied the suggestions they distorted evidence to justify the war, and say Iraq had made an extensive effort to hide its weapons programs from international inspectors.
Rumsfeld defends presentation
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the intelligence presentation Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations in February "was accurate, and will be proved to be accurate."
"We haven't found Saddam Hussein, and I don't know anyone who's running around saying he didn't exist," Rumsfeld told reporters Thursday, following a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill.
Critics in Europe are also raising questions, forcing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to defend his support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Spain's opposition Socialist Party has formally requested that Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar explain to parliament what happened to Iraq's reputed weapons of mass destruction.
The Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees are reviewing classified background documents related to the Bush administration's pre-war statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the intelligence panel, has not, however, scheduled a hearing about the matter, even though some lawmakers, mostly Democrats, are calling for such a move. Roberts, R-Kansas, said he wants to give the weapons hunt in Iraq more time.
A 1,200-member Pentagon survey team is being dispatched to the Persian Gulf to continue the hunt for Iraq's suspected weapons. The team also will have responsibility for finding terrorists, war criminals and prisoners of war.
National Security Correspondent David Ensor, U.N Producer Liz Neisloss, Congressional Producer Steve Turnham, and CNN.Com Producer Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.