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ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL REPORT

Iraq Journals

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Friday, March 12

Kyl says White House did not mislead country before Iraq war

By Sergio Bustos GNS

WASHINGTON - There was "nothing devious" in the way the Bush administration handled intelligence information before deciding to invade Iraq, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said Friday.

``The reality is, no one was duped,'' Kyl said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. ``We were all working off of the same data. Reasonable people reached different conclusions about what to do based on a commonly understood set of facts.''

Kyl, who holds a Republican leadership position in the Senate, made his remarks to rebut comments that Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts made to the same group last week.

Kennedy is a top adviser to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, also of Massachusetts. Kyl's speech on Friday means he is joining a contentious debate on a critical issue in this year's presidential campaign.

Kyl, who served eight years as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is expected to take up the administration's cause on several intelligence-related issues before next fall's election.

In his speech March 5, Kennedy accused the administration of using ``manipulation and distortion'' in justifying its decision last year to go to war with Iraq. He charged that the administration ``allowed its wishes, its inclinations and its passions to alter the state of facts and the evidence of the threat we faced from Iraq.''

``If we view these events simply as an intelligence failure rather than a larger failure of decision-making and leadership, we will learn the wrong lessons,'' said Kennedy.

Kyl charged that Kennedy was far off the mark.

``One need not veer off into conspiracy theories to explain honest differences of opinion about policies,'' he said Friday.

Kyl recalled that CIA Director George Tenet rejected Kennedy's assertions in a recent appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He also argued that the Bush administration was only following through on the Clinton administration's policy toward Iraq. Kyl noted that Clinton signed into law the Iraq Liberation Act backing ``regime change'' in Iraq while the country was still controlled by Saddam Hussein.

Kyl also challenged Kennedy's claim that Bush began planning action against Iraq only days into his administration, an assertion based on statements by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill.

``From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country,'' O'Neill is quoted as saying in ``The Price of Loyalty'' by Ron Suskind. ``It was all about finding a way to do it.''

Kyl said Friday that O'Neill later clarified his comments in an interview with NBC in January, saying Bush was only following the policies of the Clinton administration.

Kyl also rejected Kennedy's charge that top administration officials told Americans that Iraq represented an ``imminent threat'' to the United States and that there were connections between Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

While acknowledging that U.S. intelligence services ``may have been wrong,'' Kyl repeatedly dismissed Kennedy's charge that administration officials deliberately misled the American people.

``There's a big difference between a possible intelligence failure and misrepresentation of the intelligence,'' Kyl said. ``I respect those who disagree, but I believe history will judge that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.''

Last month, Bush appointed a nine-member independent commission to evaluate the effectiveness of intelligence agencies in assessing which countries have weapons of mass destruction.

The commission, which includes GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, will focus primarily on intelligence collected before the war with Iraq. It will also look into intelligence gathered on other countries, including North Korea.

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On the Web:

The Council on Foreign Relations. Click on references to ``Iraq War'' to read transcripts of speeches by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona.