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Bush says war critics rewrite history

By Caren Bohan
Reuters
Friday, November 11, 2005; 4:53 PM

TOBYHANNA, Pa (Reuters) - President George W. Bush ripped into Democratic critics of the Iraq war on Friday, charging them with trying to rewrite history by accusing the White House of manipulating intelligence before the war.

Bush, facing waning public support for the war that has helped push his approval ratings to new lows, hit back at critics who have said his administration misused intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to justify the war.

Democrats responded to Bush's Veterans Day speech by accusing the president of exploiting the holiday to try to shore up his faltering political standing.

Bush said he respected his opponents' right to disagree with him about the decision to go to war against Iraq, and that as president he accepted responsibility for what has taken place there under his watch.

But he added, "it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began."

"Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgment related to Iraq's weapons programs," Bush said.

"The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges," Bush added in a speech that broadly reviewed Washington's declared war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Bush's aggressive counter-attack followed stepped up charges by Senate Democrats that top administration officials, and particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, manipulated intelligence on Iraq and leaked classified information to discredit critics of the war.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Cheney, was indicted last month for obstructing justice, perjury and lying after a two-year investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Plame's husband has said she was outed to get back at him for his criticism of the war.

A few days later, Democrats imposed a rare closed session of the Senate to force majority Republicans to complete a probe on whether the prewar intelligence was misused.

Administration officials have acknowledged the intelligence on Iraqi weapons was faulty, but have said Democrats, Republicans and foreign intelligence agencies had believed Baghdad had deadly weapons before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

BUSH AIMS AT ONE CRITIC

Bush opened fire at one critic in particular, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who voted for the war in a key 2002 Senate vote and whom Bush defeated in the presidential election a year ago.

He quoted from Kerry's Senate speech supporting the use of force if necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein, based on charges that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were ever found.

Kerry, Bush said, backed the president "because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hand is a threat and a grave threat to our security."

Kerry, one of 29 Democrats who voted for the war, responded by accusing Bush of dishonoring "America's veterans by playing the politics of fear and smear on Veterans Day."

"Today they (administration officials) continue the same games hoping Americans forget the mess they made in Iraq that's cost over 2,000 Americans their lives and their failure to find Osama bin Laden. Americans will not forget," Kerry said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who also voted for the war, charged that Bush was resorting "to his old playbook of discredited rhetoric about the war on terror and political attacks as his own political fortunes and credibility diminish."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who voted against the war, called Bush's speech a "campaign-like attempt to rebuild his own credibility by tearing down those who seek the truth about the clear manipulation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan tried to turn the tables on Kennedy, saying he chose "Veterans Day to continue leveling baseless and false attacks that send the wrong signal to our troops and our enemy during a time of war."

He said Kennedy has "found more time to say negative things about President Bush then he ever did about Saddam Hussein."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Adam Entous and Tabassum Zakaria)

© 2005 Reuters