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Cheney raps Democrats on war charges

Vice president blasts 'cynical and pernicious falsehoods'

Vice President Dick Cheney accused critics of "losing their memory."


White House
Dick Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday lambasted Democrats accusing the Bush administration of misleading the country on prewar intelligence, calling their allegation "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

"What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war," Cheney said. "The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out.

"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone. But we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them."

Cheney made the remarks at the Frontiers of Freedom's 2005 Ronald Reagan Gala. The conservative think tank was honoring its founder, former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop, from the vice president's home state of Wyoming.

Also Wednesday, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told CNN that the Democratic criticism was a "disservice."

"That was an issue that was discussed during the 2004 campaign. It was looked at by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and it was looked at by the Silberman-Robb commission. They found no evidence to support it," Hadley said. "That issue needs to be closed. It does no good to anybody to keep relitigating that issue."

The Silberman-Robb commission was appointed by President Bush to investigate the causes of intelligence failures in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

That commission and the Intelligence Committee have said there was no evidence that political pressure skewed the intelligence, but they did not address how the administration made its case for war.

Before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration officials -- including President Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell -- cited intelligence information that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to make their case for war.

But after Hussein was toppled, no such weapons were found.

Senate Democrats have recently stepped up their criticism of the Bush administration's handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons, pressing for completion of a promised Intelligence Committee follow-up investigation into whether the intelligence was manipulated or exaggerated to build support for the invasion.

Bush administration officials have insisted that while the intelligence turned out to be wrong, there was no attempt to mislead, noting that the Clinton administration and many Democrats in Congress also came to the conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In Wednesday's speech, Cheney charged that "some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein."

"In Washington, you can ordinarily rely on some basic measure of truthfulness and good faith in the conduct of political debate," Cheney said. "But in the last several weeks, we have seen a wild departure from that tradition."

The vice president also said that before the war, "there was broad-based, bipartisan agreement that Saddam Hussein was a threat."

"In a post-9/11 world, we couldn't afford to take the word of a dictator who had a history of WMD programs, who had excluded weapons inspectors, who had defied the demands of the international community, who had been designated an official state sponsor of terror, and who had committed mass murder."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lashed out at the vice president's own credibility.

"Just because he says it doesn't make it so," she told CNN. "There are pages [and] pages of statements that he has made that have been factually incorrect."

Cheney's remarks are the latest salvo in a White House counteroffensive against the allegations that Bush and his administration misled the country, which have helped drag down the president's poll numbers. (Full story)

On Monday, Bush himself responded to the charges, saying his critics are "playing politics with this issue and they are sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy."

Some Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain and Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, have also criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Hagel on Tuesday defended the right to criticize the White House's war policies in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them," Hagel said, according to a transcript on the council's Web site.

"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," said Hagel, who was decorated for his military service in Vietnam.

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