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Senators talk war in closed session

Nov. 2, 2005

by LIZ SIDOTI, the Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- In a day of political drama, Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session Tuesday, questioning intelligence that President Bush used in the run-up to the war in Iraq and accusing Republicans of ignoring the issue.

"They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why," Democratic leader Harry Reid said.

The afternoon halt in Senate business let Democrats steer the spotlight to the war in Iraq, an issue on which the president is doing badly in public opinion polls.

Taken by surprise, Republicans derided the move as a political stunt but agreed two hours later to a bipartisan review of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation into prewar intelligence.

"The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. The Republican leader also said President Bush's decision to nominate Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court had "set the Democrats back on their heels. ... This may just be a reaction to that."

Democrats sought assurances that Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas would complete the second phase of an investigation of the administration's prewar intelligence.

A six-member task force -- three members from each party -- was appointed to review the Intelligence Committee's work and report to their respective leaders by Nov. 14.

Roberts' committee produced a 511-page report in 2004 on flaws in an Iraq intelligence estimate assembled by the country's top analysts in October 2002, and he promised a second phase would look at issues that couldn't be finished in the first year of work.

The committee worked on the second phase of the review, Roberts said, but it has not finished.

He blamed Democrats for the delays and said his staff had informed Democratic counterparts on Monday that the committee hoped to complete the second phase next week.

"Now we have this ... stunt 24 hours after their staff was informed that we were moving to closure next week," a clearly angry Roberts told reporters. "If that's not politics, I'm not standing here."

In mid-afternoon Tuesday, Reid demanded the Senate go into closed session.

The public was ordered out of the chamber, the lights were dimmed, and the doors were closed.

No vote is required in such circumstances.

Reid's move refocused attention on the continuing controversy over prewar intelligence.

Despite administration claims, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and some Democrats have accused the White House of twisting the intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq.