Peoria Journal Star

January 27, 2004

LaHood stands by vote to invade Iraq
Intelligence panel member says administration did not mislead Congress


By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood said Monday that he and other members of the House Intelligence Committee will have some questions for the CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies in light of the departing U.S. weapons inspector's assertion that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

"I'm not prepared to say at this point where the blame lies. As a member of this committee, I think it's incumbent on me to try and find out," LaHood said Monday.

However, the Peoria Republican said he does not regret his vote to authorize the invasion against Iraq.

"Absolutely not," LaHood said. "I really don't. I think all the information that was presented to us was information that led to the liberation of Iraq. I just think we've done a great thing for the people of Iraq and we've done a great thing for that region of the world by deposing Saddam Hussein."

He noted that Democrats as well as Republicans voted for the use of force against Iraq.

David Kay, the outgoing chief U.S. weapons inspector, has been quoted in interviews as saying Iraq didn't stockpile forbidden weapons after the 1991 Gulf War as the Bush and Clinton administrations had contended.

In interviews with the New York Times and National Public Radio, Kay said there were major problems with pre-war intelligence indicating Iraq possessed such weapons. He called for an overhaul of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Responding to Kay's statements, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said "It's increasingly clear that there has been a massive intelligence failure." She said President Bush owes an explanation to the American public and the world.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., called for a nonpartisan independent commission to investigate the issue.

LaHood said Kay's reputation gives weight to his assertions, but he stopped short of blaming intelligence agencies.

"I'm going to take a look at what (Kay) says, and I think our committee will look very carefully at the way that intelligence was gathered.

"I know we'll have opportunities over the next few weeks and months to talk to some of the highest level of people in the intelligence community and find out what they think.

"I think it's incumbent on members of the Intelligence Committee who have supported the invasion and liberation of Iraq, based on information we received from the highest levels, including the director and his team, including highest ranking officials of the president's administration, presented in public at the U.N.," he said.

LaHood, who is seeking to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee next year, has been a strong supporter of the intelligence community. That support hasn't wavered.

"I don't think Congress was misled," LaHood said. "I think some of the work of the intelligence community has been absolutely brilliant. I said early on when Saddam was captured, the credit goes to the intelligence community and to the military."