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Clinton defends successor's push for war

Says Bush 'couldn't responsibly ignore' chance Iraq had WMDs


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(CNN) -- Former President Clinton has revealed that he continues to support President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq but chastised the administration over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

"I have repeatedly defended President Bush against the left on Iraq, even though I think he should have waited until the U.N. inspections were over," Clinton said in a Time magazine interview that will hit newsstands Monday, a day before the publication of his book "My Life."

Clinton, who was interviewed Thursday, said he did not believe that Bush went to war in Iraq over oil or for imperialist reasons but out of a genuine belief that large quantities of weapons of mass destruction remained unaccounted for.

Noting that Bush had to be "reeling" in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Clinton said Bush's first priority was to keep al Qaeda and other terrorist networks from obtaining "chemical and biological weapons or small amounts of fissile material."

"That's why I supported the Iraq thing. There was a lot of stuff unaccounted for," Clinton said in reference to Iraq and the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in 1998.

"So I thought the president had an absolute responsibility to go to the U.N. and say, 'Look, guys, after 9/11, you have got to demand that Saddam Hussein lets us finish the inspection process.' You couldn't responsibly ignore [the possibility that] a tyrant had these stocks," Clinton said.

Pressed on whether the Iraq war was worth the cost to the United States, Clinton said he would not have undertaken the war until after U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix "finished his job."

Weapons inspectors led by Blix scoured Iraq for three and a half months before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 but left after President Bush issued an ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to leave the country.

"I want it to have been worth it, even though I didn't agree with the timing of the attack," Clinton said.

Clinton blamed the Abu Ghraib prison abuses on poorly trained National Guard personnel and higher-ups in the Bush administration.

The former president said he was not surprised by the abuses committed by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib but that he was surprised by their extent.

"There is no excuse for that," Clinton said.

Clinton blamed the abuses on the higher echelons of the Bush administration.

"The more we learn about it, the more it seems that some people fairly high up, at least, thought that this was the way it ought to be done," he said.

Implying that the United States should lead by example, Clinton said of the abuses, "No. 1, we can't pull stunts like that, and No. 2, when we do, whoever is responsible has to pay."


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