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The backlash has built up even before the official release of former CIA Director George Tenet’s memoir, with criticism about his version of the run-up to the Iraq war, interrogation techniques and other events.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday disputed Tenet’s claim that the Bush administration, before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, never had a serious debate about whether Iraq posed an imminent threat or whether to tighten existing sanctions.
“The president started a discussion practically on the day that he took power about how to enhance sanctions against Iraq,” she said. “You may remember that in his first press conference, he said the sanctions had become Swiss cheese.”
Rice, who was Bush’s national security adviser in his first term, said the administration reviewed the sanctions, went to the United Nations to strengthen them and tried to tighten the no-fly zone in northern Iraq to better police Saddam Hussein’s forces.
She also said the question about the imminence of the threat was not “if somebody is going to strike tomorrow.”
“It’s whether you believe you’re in a stronger position today to deal with the threat, or whether you’re going to be in a stronger position tomorrow,” she said. “And it was the president’s assessment that the situation in Iraq was getting worse.”
A Tenet associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the book’s release Monday, said Tenet was not talking about improving the sanctions, but rather the debate about the wisdom of going to war. The associate said those debates did not happen in the presence of Tenet or other senior CIA officials, despite their participation in numerous discussions in the White House’s situation room.
The memoir from the second-longest serving CIA chief covers many topics â€” from his attempts to help negotiate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians during the Clinton administration, to the days surrounding Sept. 11, 2001, and to the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Looking ahead, he says, al-Qaida wants to change history and meet its top one goal of obtaining a nuclear device.
Tenet highlights the errors of others during his tenure from July 1997 to July 2004, such as the extraordinary efforts by Vice President Cheney and others to connect Iraq and al-Qaida.
Tenet also takes blame for other failures, such as the production of the botched National Intelligence Estimate in 2002 that was used to justify invading Iraq.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he does not accept assertions from Tenet that the U.S. government saved lives through some of the agency’s most aggressive interrogation techniques.
In an often defensive interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” aired Sunday, Tenet says the intelligence gained from suspected terrorists in the CIA’s covert detention program and its “enhanced interrogation techniques” was more valuable than all the other terrorism-related intelligence gathered by the FBI, the National Security Agency and his own agency.
Yet McCain said the U.S. cannot torture people and maintain its moral superiority in the world. “I don’t care what George Tenet says. I know what’s right. I know what’s morally right as far as America’s behavior,” the presidential candidate and former prisoner-of-war said Sunday.
McCain said he does not accept Tenet’s premise that the CIA’s practices save lives because torture and mistreatment historically have not worked in intelligence collection. “We’ve gotten a huge amount of misinformation as well as other information from these techniques,” McCain said.
Tenet and the CIA deny using torture. But McCain’s words suggest he believes the CIA’s practices amounted to torture and were wrong.
In his book, Tenet said McCain has engaged the country in an important moral debate “about who we are as people and what we should stand for, even when up against an enemy so full of hate they would murder thousands of our children without a thought.”
If elected officials believe certain interrogation actions put the country in a difficult moral position, they should be stopped, according to Tenet, once the Democratic staff director of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Critics have started picking apart the book’s accuracy. In a dramatic preface, Tenet said he ran into former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle coming out of the White House on Sept. 12, 2001, and Perle told him Iraq had to pay for the attack. “They bear responsibility,” Tenet recalls Perle saying.
On Sunday, Perle categorically denied the exchange to the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard and noted he was out of the country until Sept. 15. Tenet’s associate said the date may have been wrong, but the exchange took place.
Writing in Sunday’s Washington Post, the one-time head of Tenet’s Osama bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, said Tenet should have told his story sooner.
“At this late date, the Bush-bashing that Tenet’s book will inevitably stir up seems designed to rehabilitate Tenet in his first home, the Democratic Party. He seems to blame the war on everyone but Bush (who gave Tenet the Medal of Freedom) and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell (who remains the Democrats’ ideal Republican),” Scheuer wrote.
A half-dozen former CIA officers â€” including counterterrorism experts Larry Johnson and Vince Cannistraro â€” are urging Tenet to dedicate a significant portion of his royalties to soldiers and families of those killed or wounded in Iraq.
“We agree that the war of choice in Iraq was ill-advised and wrong headed. But your lament that you are a victim in a process you helped direct is self-serving, misleading and, as head of the intelligence community, an admission of failed leadership,” they wrote.
Rice appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition,” ABC’s “This Week,” and “Face the Nation” on CBS. McCain was on “Fox News Sunday.”
Associated Press Writer Scott Lindlaw in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Copyright Â© 2007 The Associated Press