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Prewar report doubted Iraq-al Qaeda tie

Senator: Document shows White House was 'deceptive'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Democratic senator on Sunday said newly declassified information shows that Bush administration officials repeatedly accused Iraq of training al Qaeda terrorists long after interrogators concluded the source of the report was "intentionally misleading" captors.

Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, cited declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents to back up his account.

"This newly declassified information provides additional, dramatic evidence that the administration's prewar statements were deceptive," the Michigan Democrat said in a written statement.

"The underlying intelligence simply did not support the administration's repeated assertions that Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to al Qaeda," said Levin, also a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Those assertions were given prominent play in the administration's arguments for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Top administration officials -- including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- all repeated them in the months before the invasion.

But the assertions were based on the word of a captive al Qaeda operative whom the Defense Intelligence Agency had previously concluded was probably lying to his interrogators.

In February 2002, a DIA report on the questioning of Ibn Shaykh al-Libi stated, "More likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."

"Despite the DIA's findings, administration officials made numerous statements based on the detainee's claims that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al Qaeda," Levin said.

Levin also argued in 2004 that the Pentagon had hyped dubious intelligence linking Iraq to al Qaeda terrorist network in the months before the invasion.

His latest criticism comes as Democrats have launched a concerted effort to refocus public attention on the roots of the war, where the U.S. military's death toll climbed on Sunday to 2,047. (Full story)

Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he would not have supported the 2002 congressional resolution that authorized military action "knowing what I know now."

Rockefeller told CNN's "Late Edition" that al-Libi was "an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing substantial intelligence trust."

He said Sunday's disclosure was another reason the Intelligence Committee needs to wrap up a promised investigation into how policymakers used intelligence data to push for war. The panel's initial probe focused on the quality of the intelligence and not how policymakers used it.

"That is a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people," Rockefeller said.

Democrats closed the Senate to the public Tuesday afternoon to pressure the Intelligence Committee's chairman, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, to move forward on the follow-up probe -- a move Republicans blasted as a stunt.

The Senate reopened after members agreed to appoint a bipartisan task force to assess the progress of the Phase 2 probe and report back by November 14.

Roberts told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the panel has been working on the report "for a considerable amount of time."

"We have several working drafts that we will give to members as of this week," Roberts said.

The Democrats' pressure in the Senate followed the indictment of Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges including perjury and obstruction of justice.

Libby is accused of lying about the disclosure of the identity of a CIA officer whose husband had challenged a key assertion in the administration's case for war. (Full story)

Pentagon: Document 'out of context'

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said Sunday that the DIA report Levin cited was a single document "out of context, without the analysis or any other indication as to how it may have factored in."

In an interview with CNN, he called its release "troubling and ironic, given the underlying allegation that this selected release is intended to address, namely someone's perception that intelligence was used selectively."

Top administration officials, including Bush himself, repeatedly asserted that Iraq was concealing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and could one day provide those weapons to terrorists.

"We have learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bombmaking, poisons and deadly gases," Bush said in a nationally televised speech from Ohio in October 2002.

"You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror," Bush told reporters at the White House in September 2002.

Rice, now secretary of state, made the same claim in September 2002. And Powell included the allegation in his presentation to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.

But once a U.S.-led army had toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, none of the suspected weapons programs were found.

The independent commission investigating the 9/11 attacks concluded in 2004 that there was no collaborative relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq, though some contacts between the two sides dated back to the early 1990s.

And in 2002, the declassified DIA report said: "Saddam's regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with Bush in Latin America Sunday that both Democrats and Republicans "came to the same conclusion" before the war -- "that Saddam Hussein was a threat and a threat that needed to be addressed."

"We welcome the opportunity to talk about the threat that Saddam Hussein and his region posed," McClellan said. "It was a brutal regime; it was an oppressive regime and the world is better off with him removed from power."

Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican, said the intelligence at the time raised fears that Iraq could have provided weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

"Recognize the mindset of this country and our leaders in this country that we got hit on 9/11, 2001, and we didn't want to sit back," said Allen, another Intelligence Committee member. "We needed to make sure we're proactive in trying to thwart and protect, thwart terrorist attacks and protect Americans."

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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