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Loose Ends in Iraq

July 9, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: So how solid was the prewar intelligence? How safe are U.S. troops? How long will they stay in Iraq, and did Secretary Rumsfeld’s answers to those questions today satisfy the Senate?

For that, we turn to the two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Virginia Republican John Warner, the committee’s chairman, and Michigan’s Carl Levin, the committee’s ranking Democrat. Both recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Iraq.

Sen. Warner, I want to ask you about that trip. After having been in Iraq over the long weekend and seeing what you saw, do you have any unanswered questions or questions you didn’t know you had before you left?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Oh, this is a constant learning experience for all of us. Going there was invaluable. First and foremost, to see the courage and the determination, the willing to accept risks by the coalition forces, and particularly those proudly wearing the American uniform, and the strong leadership from the top military right on down to the sergeants.

I was never more proud to have an association with the men and women of the armed forces, and I found that Ambassador Bremer, who has now been given the difficult challenge of trying to bring about economic stability in a political situation in Iraq, so that the Iraqis can eventually control their own nation, great progress is being made there. He’s trying hard and within this month of July hopes to complete the establishment of a council of all Iraqis to elect their own chairmen and that council will look over the civil affairs, the police, the education, the hospitals, and the security situation in Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: If I might just interrupt you for a moment, I’m curious about the unanswered questions. These are some of the things that you were pretty sure about before you left. What did you come back not knowing?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: There’s a very strong program going on by a general and a civilian in pursuit of the evidence regarding weapons of mass destruction. I cannot at this time of course for classified reasons share you the information that they gave both my colleague and I and the other seven senators with us, but I left with the feeling that progress is being made in unraveling the mystery about Saddam Hussein’s program of weapons of mass destruction. I’m confident that Saddam Hussein had them; he had a record of using them before in military operations, and we had to proceed on the assumption that he would use them against the coalition forces.

GWEN IFILL: All right. Well, let me direct that same question to Sen. Levin. Today you led the questioning about – especially about the uranium buy from the country of Niger, and whether indeed the United States or whether the president intentionally or unintentionally misled in his State of the Union Speech. Were you satisfied with the answers you got from Sen. Rumsfeld today – I mean from Secretary Rumsfeld today?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: No, I wasn’t. As a matter of fact Secretary Rumsfeld, the day after his State of the Union message made the same statement that the president did, that uranium was sought from an African country by Iraq, and it was – it’s utterly amazing to me that the intelligence community in this country had information for eight or nine months – it was a bogus report about the uranium sale – and yet did not bring that to the attention of the President of the United States or his security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, or the secretary of defense.

Now the secretary of defense in direct answer today to Sen. Pryor’s question said he did not have any knowledge of the fact that this was bogus until just a few days ago. The intelligence community should have the responsibility of preventing the policy makers from representing to the American people material which is not accurate, and they apparently totally failed in this case.

Condoleezza Rice said about a month ago that nobody at her level had any information that these were bogus facts about this alleged sale of uranium until recently, that they were in the bowels of the CIA. That is unacceptable for our intelligence community to allow this to happen, and that’s why we need such an in-depth bipartisan inquiry.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Levin, when the president was asked about this today while traveling in Africa, he said that this is merely a rewriting of history. Tony Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain, said he stands by the reports that were in this British intelligence report. Do you think there should be greater concern at a higher level about the quality of information?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, there’s no doubt, now, that this was factually inaccurate information. I don’t think the president can stand by it, because just the other day the White House acknowledged the statement shouldn’t have been made in the State of the Union message. It was factually erroneous.

So it’s hard for me to believe the president is standing by something he said in the state of the union address, when the White House very specifically just two nights ago said it was factually wrong and never should have been made.

GWEN IFILL: Well, what the president was actually saying was that people were rewriting history. It’s Tony Blair who was standing by the information. I want to go back to Senator Warner on this point, especially about the intelligence questions. You both serve offer the intelligence committee as well, and have information you obviously can’t share. But do you have concerns, particularly about how information of this kind, which proved to be factually incorrect, could make it into a State of the Union speech?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: We’ll eventually find out how that happened. Our committee, together with the intelligence committee is looking into various facets of this thing. But the key thing is I interpret the president today; very clearly said, yes, this was a mistake. It should not have been in the state of the union, except at that time it was the intelligence that was being discussed at the top levels of our government and the falsification of the document hadn’t worked up. A mistake was made, admit it, let’s move on.

But it was only one piece of intelligence that led to the conclusions that Secretary Powell presented to the United Nations, that was presented to the congress in a number of hearings and consultations. One bit of information, but the other matrix around is a solid case for the action that we took by using force against Saddam Hussein.

GWEN IFILL: So you, as a senator, as a leading senator in this matter, do not feel at all misled by the administration about the reasons we went into Iraq?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I certainly at this point in time, and I have studied this now day after day, for months. I have not seen those facts which would lead this senator to believe that our president, our secretaries of state or defense or the CIA director or any of them, manipulated or tried to change this information in such a way as to promote a political goal of going to war. That was not it. We went to war because it was a threat to have weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein and his government. And as time will tell, he had them and we made the right decision to use force when diplomacy failed.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Levin, do you believe that the administration has been as candid as it can be about these issues, not only about the uranium sale, but also about the existence of weapons of mass destruction?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think there’s significant, very troubling evidence that the intelligence community exaggerated, shaded, shaped their conclusions in order to support the policy goals of the administration. Not just with this uranium sale, which the intelligence community knew for at least nine months before the State of the Union message was bogus information and apparently did not share it with the top policy makers, but also relative to the aluminum tubes issue, relative to the connection of Iraq — the alleged connection between Iraq and al-Qaida, and a number of other issues relative to the weapons of mass destruction.

The American people were told that it was those weapons of mass destruction, which were there with certainty, which caused us to go to war. It seems to me it’s critically important that we have confidence in the intelligence, particularly if it’s going to lead to fateful decisions, life and death decisions. For instance, now there’s a suggestion that there’s a connection between Iran and al-Qaida, that the intelligence community is allegedly making. If we can’t have confidence in that we may be making a very bad mistake. We have got to have confidence in the intelligence provided to us.

If we find out that the intelligence community stretched and exaggerated the relationship between al-Qaida and Iraq, who then is going to believe them when they make an allegation, if they do, about a relationship between Iran and al-Qaida? The stakes here are huge.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Warner, another theme in today’s hearings was about the postwar, if you want to call the postwar situation in Iraq today. Tommy Franks, who also testified today, said we did anticipate “a” level of violence, but then he went on to suggest perhaps not “this” level of violence that we have seen.

Are U.S. troops prepared, from what you could see from your visit and what you have heard in your briefings, prepared for the kind of situation they are facing there now, the pockets of resistance?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: It’s a serious situation, and certainly our delegation and I think everybody in the United States Senate, and indeed in America, is somewhat concerned about the level of violence against coalition forces, and particularly our troops. They seem to be bearing the brunt of this. But they are well trained. They are not flinching. And most importantly, they are taking the fight now tonight — and have been doing so for weeks — directly against those targets that they have reason to believe are perpetrating these strikes. Particularly in what is called the fourth ID up in the North, which is the area where these strikes are taking place in significant numbers against our forces.

We have had troops – in numbers of 3,000 in one operation, 4,000 in another, and 6,000 in another – going out making raids, finding weapons, finding people, who have linkages with the use of those weapons, finding money, which is being paid to these out of work, army people, other people, who just for a few bucks perpetrate these crimes against the coalition forces.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Levin, you asked the secretary today about NATO’s role in all of this? He basically said yes, he is talking to a lot of different countries and NATO is part of the process. Were you satisfied with the answer, that American troops are not stretched too thin or taking too much of brunt of this?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: No. I think the American troops are the target, because we were the source of getting rid of Saddam Hussein. And the Ba’ath supporters of Saddam Hussein are going to do anything they can to try to disrupt the aftermath here.

So it’s important, it’s critically important, that we reach out to the international community, that we internationalize this effort. If there’s soldiers from Germany, for instance, wearing a NATO patch, they are not going to be the same target in all likelihood as we are as American soldiers going it with just the British.

So we ought to do our best to involve NATO. We have not, as far as I know, applied to NATO to take specific formal action to request NATO countries, as NATO countries, not individually, but as Germany and other countries to send troops to Iraq.

It’s a mystery to me why we have not asked NATO to do this. As a matter of fact, when I asked the secretary today “Have we?” he didn’t know. He finally said, “We did, I guess, before the war.” Whether we did it after the war, as we should, he said he would have to get back to us.

I find it absolutely extraordinary that the secretary of defense does not know whether or not for certain we have requested NATO as an entity to authorize NATO forces to go to Iraq after this war was over. Same thing with the United Nations. We should be going to the United Nations. If we get their support at the United Nations, it could make the difference as to whether Indian troops and Egyptian troops and other countries go in.

GWEN IFILL: I’m certain you will keep asking those questions. Senators Warner and Levin, thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Thank you.