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: