WASHINGTON - In a report long delayed by partisan squabbling, the Senate Intelligence Committee accused President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney yesterday of taking the country to war in Iraq by exaggerating evidence of links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda in the emotional aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"The president and his advisers undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the attacks to use the war against Al Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein," Senator Jay Rockefeller, the committee's Democratic chairman, said in a statement.
The committee's report cited some instances in which public statements by senior administration officials were not supported by the intelligence available at the time, such as suggestions that Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda were operating in a kind of partnership, that the Baghdad regime had provided the terror network with training, and that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers had met an Iraqi intelligence operative in Prague in 2001.
But the report found that on several key issues - including Iraq's alleged nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs - public statements from Bush, Cheney, and other top officials before the war were generally substantiated by the best estimates of the intelligence agencies, though the statements did not always reflect the agencies' uncertainty about the evidence. Invading US troops subsequently found no unconventional weapons arsenal and little effort to build one.
Republicans on the committee sharply dissented from some of its findings and attached a detailed minority report that listed prewar statements by Rockefeller and other Democrats describing the threat posed by Iraq.
"The report released today was a waste of committee time and resources that should have been spent overseeing the intelligence community," said the minority report, signed by Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the committee's top Republican, and three GOP colleagues.
A second committee report made public yesterday detailed a series of meetings between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents in Rome and Paris in 2001 and 2003. It accused Steven Hadley, now the national security adviser, and Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary, of failing to properly inform the intelligence agencies and the State Department about the meetings.
The two reports are the final parts of the committee's so-called phase two investigation of prewar intelligence on Iraq. The first phase of the inquiry, completed in July 2004, identified faults in the intelligence agencies' analysis of the threat posed by Hussein.
In September 2006, the committee issued reports on two parts of the phase two study, one on how prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons programs and links to terrorism compared with postwar findings, and another on the intelligence agencies' use of information from the Iraqi National Congress, the controversial opposition group to Hussein.
In May 2007, the committee, now led by Democrats, put out a third part of the phase two review, this one examining prewar predictions by the intelligence agencies about post-war Iraq.
But it would take another year to complete the look at prewar public statements by executive branch officials. In the end, the Republicans chose to issue their own dissenting report, aimed at showing that some Democrats had themselves made bellicose comments about Hussein and the threat he posed.