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Cheney raps Democrats on war charges

President also accuses critics of 'playing politics'

Vice President Dick Cheney accused critics of "losing their memory."


White House
Dick Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday lambasted Democrats accusing the Bush administration of misleading the country on prewar intelligence about Iraq, calling their allegations "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city."

"What we're hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war," Cheney said. "The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out.

"The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone. But we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them." (Watch if Cheney is becoming less popular in the White House -- 2:38)

Cheney made the remarks at the Frontiers of Freedom's 2005 Ronald Reagan Gala. The conservative think tank was honoring its founder, former U.S. Sen. Malcolm Wallop, from the vice president's home state of Wyoming.

Cheney's comments are part of a White House counteroffensive against allegations that the Bush administration misled the country, which have helped drag down the president's poll numbers. (Full story)

President Bush also responded to detractors during a joint news conference Thursday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Gyeongju, South Korea. Bush accused Democratic critics of "playing politics."

"Look, ours is a country where people ought to be able to disagree, and I expect there to be criticism," he said. "But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted -- many of them voted -- to support the decision I made.

"It's irresponsible to use politics. This is serious business making -- winning this war. But it's irresponsible to do what they've done. So I agree with the vice president," the president said.

Cheney's comments drew an angry response from Bush's Democratic opponent in last year's election, Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who said the vice president "engages in the politics of fear and smear."

"If the Bush White House cared as much about our troops as they do about their plummeting political fortunes, they would at last offer a clear strategy for success in Iraq and work to bring home 20,000 troops after the successful Iraqi elections," Kerry said in a statement. "Then, and only then, would they be even beginning to offer leadership equal to our soldiers' sacrifice."

But national security adviser Stephen Hadley on Wednesday called Democratic criticism a "disservice."

"That was an issue that was discussed during the 2004 campaign. It was looked at by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and it was looked at by the Silberman-Robb commission. They found no evidence to support it," Hadley said. "That issue needs to be closed. It does no good to anybody to keep re-litigating that issue."

The Silberman-Robb commission was appointed by Bush to investigate the causes of intelligence failures in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

That commission and the Intelligence Committee have said there was no evidence that political pressure skewed the intelligence, but they did not address how the administration made its case for war.

Before the Iraq invasion, administration officials -- including the president, Cheney and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell -- cited intelligence information that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to make their case for war.

But after Hussein was toppled, no such weapons were found.

Senate Democrats recently have stepped up criticism of the administration's handling of prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons, pressing for completion of an Intelligence Committee follow-up probe into whether the intelligence was manipulated or exaggerated to build support for the invasion.

Administration officials have insisted that while the intelligence turned out to be wrong, there was no attempt to mislead, noting that the Clinton administration and many Democrats in Congress also came to the conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Some Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, also have criticized the Bush administration's handling of the war.

Hagel on Tuesday defended the right to criticize the White House's war policies in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The Bush administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them," Hagel said, according to a transcript on the council's Web site.

"To question your government is not unpatriotic -- to not question your government is unpatriotic," said Hagel, who was decorated for his military service in Vietnam.

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