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Critics Question Pre-War Knowledge of Iraq WMD

Aired June 17, 2003 - 19:16   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And in London now, possible political fallout for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The House of Commons wants to know if he misled the government by exaggerating claims Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Critics of President Bush have the same questions. No weapons of mass destruction have been found since major conflict ended in Iraq more than one month ago.

Well, Tony Blair isn't alone in facing tough questions about the reasons for war with Iraq, as we just mentioned. Just yesterday, President Bush responded to recent suggestions that U.S. intelligence on hand at the time may not have supported what he told Americans about the threat posed by Iraq. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made it clear to the dictator of Iraq that he must disarm. We asked other nations to join us in seeing to it that he would disarm and he chose not to do so. So we disarmed him. And I know there's a lot of revisionist history now going on. But one thing is certain. He is no longer a threat to the free world. And the people of Iraq are free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: While that may be certain, it is not really the central issue in this debate. The issue in question is whether official statements about Iraq before the war were consistent with U.S. intelligence at the time and whether they've been borne out by facts obtained since the war.

Now it's about a month and a half since the president declared an end to Iraqi combat operations. He began the war telling Americans they were in imminent danger from Iraq's hidden weapons of mass destruction. They have not been found, which of course has raised passionate debate about how imminent the threat really was and what the president's rationales were for war.

Arguments on each side of this debate have their flaws. To better understand the debate, we've asked national security correspondent David Ensor to do something a little unusual tonight. We asked him to give us two reports. First, a look at how critics see flaws in the administration's case on Iraqi weapons. Later we'll look at flaws in the arguments of President Bush's critics as his supporters see them. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: The dictator of Iraq is not disarming.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The case for war against Iraq from the leader of the free world in the State of the Union address. Exhibit A, for the administration's critics, President Bush citing a close ally.

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

ENSOR: The allegation was wrong. It was based on documents later exposed as sloppy forgeries with the wrong letterhead and wrong names, designed to falsely implicate Niger in selling yellow cake, raw uranium to Iraq.

RAY CLOSE, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL: It's amazing to me that this could have happened. It processes the measure of the type of pressure people are under in Washington now to produce information that adds to the dossier of evidence against the Iraqis.

ENSOR: Worst of all, U.S. officials now tell CNN the White House should have known better.

(on camera) A CIA report cited a former ambassador sent to Niger to investigate. He listed multiple reasons the allegation had to be false. The White House had that report, officials say, nearly a year before the president made the speech.

(voice-over) Exhibit B for the administration's critics: Vice President Cheney on a March TV talk show talking about Saddam Hussein.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know he's been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.

ENSOR: Exaggeration, say critics. U.S. intelligence officials say they have no evidence Iraq reconstituted its nuclear program as Cheney suggested. Only that it may or may not have tried to, unsuccessfully.

Pressed for what intelligence was behind Cheney's assertion, administration officials cited evidence Iraq had tried to acquire aluminum tubes, which could be used to make gas centrifuges to enrich uranium. But the International Atomic Energy Agency and other experts say the tubes would have been unsuitable.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I think the administration's making a mistake by focusing on the aluminum tubes, because they're not a clear indicator of a nuclear weapons effort in Iraq.

ENSOR: Exhibit C for critics: the president post war on Polish television.

BUSH: We found the weapons of mass destruction. You know, we found biological laboratories.

ENSOR: Questionable, say the critics. U.S. intelligence officials do say they cannot find any other potential use for the trailers filled with sophisticated equipment. But actual weapons of mass destruction? U.S. officials have yet to find a single molecule.

JONATHAN TUCKER, BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS EXPERT: The fact that no traces of agent have yet been found and that, in fact, other chemicals that one would not expect in this type of facility have been found do raise doubts about the conclusiveness of the analysis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: There's ammunition, then, for the administration's critics. But there are holes in the critics' arguments too. And in the next hour we'll take a look at some of those, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. David Ensor, thanks very much. As David just said, we're going to have his follow-up report. A look at how the administration sees the flaws in the arguments of its critics. That's coming up in our 8 p.m. hour.

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