After months of refusing to admit that his administration may be guilty of misleading the American people on the rationale for going to war in Iraq, President Bush finally acknowledged in February the need for an “independent” commission to consider the possible misuse of American intelligence. The use of this “intelligence” led us into a conflict in which more than 560 Americans have been killed and more than 3,000 have been wounded, along with untold numbers of Iraqis and noncombatants.
The decision to name the Commission on the Investigation of U.S. Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction was long overdue. Congress, the American people and especially our troops expect credible and thorough answers into how and why our nation went to war and how and why only the intelligence that supposedly supported the case was used by the administration while contrary evidence was ignored.
Yet with the president as the sole authority in the creation of the commission, we now have a group independent only in name. The president has abandoned true impartiality by dictating its agenda. Republicans will say that there are Democrats on the WMD commission, and that’s true, but the key point is that these are Democrats President Bush has chosen.
There were other options. A bill by Rep. Henry Waxman (D‑Calif.), H.R. 2625, would have created a truly independent commission appointed by Congressional Republicans and Democrats.
President Bush gave the commission an exceedingly broad mandate, including a review of threats concerning Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Afghanistan. Effectively, the president watered down a focus on the WMD intelligence related to Iraq — and in assigning the commission a March 2005 reporting deadline, he also ensured its report will not impact the November elections.
To voice our concerns about this plan, 33 progressive members of Congress joined me in writing the Commission’s newly appointed co-chairs, Judge Laurence Silberman and former Senator Charles Robb (D‑Va.). We wrote: “We strongly believe that this commission should have been appointed through a bipartisan process, with the full and equal participation of the leadership of both parties, rather than through the sole authority of the administration itself. We regard this appointing authority and the power to set the agenda of the commission as particularly important since questions about the use of intelligence prior to the war in Iraq rise to the very highest levels of the administration itself.”
We also pushed for a more focused mandate: “Our nation went to war with Iraq in the spring of 2003 after this president and other members of his administration repeatedly told Congress and the American people in absolutely no uncertain terms that our country faced a grave and imminent threat from Iraq and its vast stores of weapons of mass destruction.”
Finally, we reminded the president’s appointees that time is of the essence because for this year’s elections the American people needed the opportunity to reach their own conclusions. “We regret that your commission was not formed months ago,” we wrote. “If it had been, you would no doubt be well on your way to completing your report. However, such was not the case, and the deadline the president has set before you is to complete your mission by March 31, 2005. We believe that there must be a public accounting of these questions well before that date, and we call on your body to issue an interim report within six months and to complete your work on these questions by the end of this calendar year.”
We also insisted that the commission address questions about the role key officials played in evaluating or shaping intelligence interpretations, including the vice president, the secretaries of State and Defense, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. We wanted to know how and why nuance, ambivalence and qualification disappeared from administration communications to the public and members of Congress regarding the suspected presence of and threat posed by Iraqi WMD. And why intelligence, which often resides in shades of gray, was presented in such stark black and white terms.
Surprisingly, the response came back quickly, but its speed was in inverse to its results. Silberman and Robb repeatedly fell back on Executive Order 13328, which created the commission, as not having the scope to address our questions. They did agree that the commission should “complete its work in a timely fashion,” but they claimed that the March deadline was not too far out but possibly too “ambitious.” Furthermore, they argued that their findings should be deliberately kept out of the political debate. We could not disagree more.
Clearly, this commission is not likely to address the real questions related to WMD intelligence. The American people deserve real answers about why this nation went to war with Iraq. They deserve these answers and they must receive them. The fate of our nation as a transparent society depends on such a clear accounting. This commission — Bush’s commission — will not provide that.