Why is it taking the Senate intelligence committee forty times longer to examine how the Bush administration used–or misused–the prewar intelligence on Iraq and WMDs than it took for the United States military to topple Saddam Hussein? American troops reached Baghdad in three weeks (there were a few complications after that). But the intelligence committee, led by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has dilly-dallied for two-and-a-half years when it has come to reviewing how George W. Bush and his top aides represented–or misrepresented–the WMD intelligence as they led (or misled) the nation to war. Last fall, the Senate Democrats shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the committee’s lack of progress in producing the so-called Phase II report that was supposed to focus on this matter. Roberts and the Republicans promised to conclude the inquiry soon. Yet another nine months have gone by, and as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the committee is still not yet done. The Post noted:
The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee’s findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.
And those two sections do not focus on the central subject–the administration’s use of the prewar intelligence. One examines the intelligence agencies’ prewar WMD estimates with what was found on the ground in Iraq. The other looks at what information provided by Iraqi exiles made it into official intelligence estimates. (It does not explore the influence of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress on Bush administration officials before the invasion.)
I take the committee’s lackadaisical approach to this issue personally, for Roberts once directly promised me that the Phase II would be a priority. This is what happened. On July 9, 2004, Roberts and his committee released a 500-plus page report on how the intelligence community screwed up the prewar intelligence. But the committee’s report (over the objection of its Democratic members) ignored the touchy matter of whether Bush officials had mischaracterized the intelligence to win support for the invasion of Iraq. Not surprisingly, the committee, under Roberts direction, was avoiding this subject as the 2004 election neared. At the press conference Roberts held to mark the release of the committee’s report on the WMD intelligence, I asked him about this missing part of the inquiry. Here’s the exchange:
QUESTION: Given the 800 American GIs who have lost their lives so far, thousands have had serious injuries, lost limbs, all on the basis of false [WMD] claims…[and that] American taxpayers have had to kick in almost $200 billion, doesn’t the American public and the relatives of people who lost their lives have a right to know before the next election whether this administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified — before the election, not after the election?
ROBERTS: This is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn’t get that done with the work product that we put out….It is one of my top priorities….Now, we have 20 legislative days. We want to have hearings from wise men and women in regards to the [intelligence] reform effort, and we will proceed with staff on phase two of the report. It involves probably three things — or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you’re talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one — what is the last one? What’s the third one? Help me with it….Well, that’s prewar intelligence on Iraq.
There is a third one, and I don’t know why I can’t come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told [Senator] Jay [Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee], I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, ‘We’ll proceed with phase two. It is a priority.’ I made my commitment, and it will be done.
So Roberts looked straight at me and said that the Phase II report was a “priority” for him and that he had made a commitment to complete this mission. Yet he has not made good on that commitment. It causes me to wonder if he misled me–that is, if he falsely declared he was committed to such a review only to kick the can down the road past the 2004 election. Now, according to the Post, he’s trying to do the same with the 2006 elections. The paper noted:
The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration’s deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.
Were Roberts truly committed to this task, it would have been done before the 2004 election. One committee staffer once told me this sort of review could be finished within months. Yet Roberts has been playing games–and he has got away with it. The Phase II controversy boils up (into public view) every six months or so and then fades. And only once has the Democrats succeeded in embarrassing Roberts for doing nothing. So he keeps kicking that can–rather than looking inside it. It’s a funny way to treat a “priority.”
BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: If any of you happen to be near Cape Cod this week, I will be speaking/performing at the Payomet Theater on the evening of Wednesday, August 2. The event is billed “An Evening of Political Insight, Gossip and Outrage, Volume II,” and it will combine satire, humor, analysis, self-righteous indignation, and bombast. I’ll let the reviewers describe it in further detail. But as regular readers of DavidCorn.com know, I’ve taken a stab at stand-up during the past few years, and last summer when asked to participate in a spoken word series at the Payomet Theater in Truro (a town situated between Wellfleet and Provincetown), I let portions of that stand-up routine bleed into my usual lecture on the Current Political Situation. For some odd reason, I was invited back this summer. If you need more information, go to the home page of the Payomet Performing Arts Center.