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Generals Say They Believed Iraq Had WMD


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Generals Say They Believed Iraq Had WMD

In their first joint testimony since the war began, the chiefs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines stood by the decision to invade, even though intelligence used to justify the campaign apparently turned out wrong.

Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee told the Senate Armed Services Committee (news - web sites) he was "absolutely convinced" during the war planning stage that Saddam "had chemical weapons, if not biological weapons, and that he would use them" as soon as American troops crossed over the Iraqi border.

The Marine Corps went to "great lengths" to make sure troops had protective suits, masks and air filters, as well as chemical and biological detection devices, he said.

"I'm happy that I was wrong on that," Hagee said. "But looking back on the intelligence that we had at that particular time, there is nothing different that I would do, even having perfect vision looking back."

Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker was not in his position at the time, but the other service chiefs pretty much agreed with Hagee.

"I stand by my position at that time," said Air Force Chief of Staff. Gen. John P. Jumper.

"It was my belief that this cause was just," said Adm. Vernon Clark, chief of Naval Operations. "That was my position then and that's what I believe today."

Clark read part of a letter he wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld the day the invasion began.

"For some this is about WMD," Clark wrote. "For others, this is about al-Qaida. For us, it's about all of that and more. Iraq has been shooting at our aircraft for over five years."

He was referring to U.S. aircraft that patrolled no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq in an effort that officials said was designed to deny Saddam the ability to attack minorities living in those regions.

Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon (news - web sites) briefing that if Saddam had chosen to cooperate with weapons inspectors and disclose what it had on weapons of mass destruction, war could have been averted. "He chose war. If he had chosen differently, if the Iraqi regime had taken the steps Libya is now taking, there would have been no war," Rumsfeld said.

The chiefs were responding to a request from Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the committee chairman, who noted that they have the responsibility to tell a president if they disagree about the need for war.

The decision to go to war has been called into question again in recent weeks since David Kay, who led the search for weapons of mass destruction, said he now believes no weapons stockpiles exist. The Bush administration had said its certainty that Saddam had weapons was the main reason for the campaign, but critics charge the administration wanted the war and manipulated intelligence to justify it.

"I think it's appropriate, since this is your first appearance as a group before this committee since the commencement of hostilities, that in your opening statements each of you ... advise this committee," Warner said. "You had the opportunity to approach the president ... if you had any doubts ... concerning the advisability of the use of force at the time it was used."

Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the committee's top Democrat, said there were consequences to the intelligence problem on weapons and on other issues.

For instance, there were more than 500 sites where weapons of mass destruction were believed stored, he said, adding: "That means that there may have been targets that we did not strike because we were concerned about collateral damage from a potential release of chemical and biological weapons."

Intelligence also indicated Iraqi police would stay in their stations, and when that didn't happen, it likely contributed to the widespread looting that destroyed government files and buildings, Levin said.

The chiefs also expressed concerns about where they will get money during a period between budget proposals that looms later this year.

Senators also complained about the administration proposal, which would pay for continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (news - web sites) — and for a planned 30,000-troop increase in the number of people in the army — out of a supplemental budget rather than the regular department budget.

"I think what it does, it increases the size of the deficit and ... deceives the American people about the size of the deficit and the debt that we are incurring," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The administration plans to ask for the supplemental in calendar year 2005 — after the November presidential election and months after the Sept. 30 end of the 2004 fiscal year.

Asked later at a Pentagon press conference how the gap would be handled, Rumsfeld said: "I guess the same way we did last year and the year before." The money will be taken from other accounts in the military's $402 billion budget, he said.

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