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Bush: Arms 'we thought' were in Iraq not found
Updated: 2004-02-06 13:39

US President George W. Bush acknowledged on Thursday that the United States had not found banned weapons "we thought" were in Iraq, but defended the war as "the right thing" to do.

"We have not yet found the stockpiles of weapons that we thought were there," Bush said in a speech at the port of Charleston, South Carolina, in his clearest acknowledgment of problems with prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons.

However, he said, "Knowing what I knew then and knowing what I know today, America did the right thing in Iraq."

In a speech that laid out a political defense of his Iraq policy in an election year, Bush also blasted critics of the war, saying, "If some politicians in Washington had their way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power."

Bush spoke shortly after CIA Director George Tenet defended his agency's work despite intelligence that had inaccurately accused ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of maintaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Those accusations were at the heart of Bush's case for going to war. Tenet said in a Washington speech that the intelligence community was neither "completely right nor completely wrong" about Iraq, and said analysts "never said there was an imminent threat."

Bush and other administration officials did say before the war that Iraq presented an "immediate" or "gathering" threat, and long after the war they maintained confidence in finding banned weapons. The former chief U.S. arms inspector in Iraq, David Kay, said last week U.S. prewar intelligence on Iraqi weapons was almost all wrong.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush still had "great confidence" in Tenet.


And Bush said on Thursday he acted properly in going to war. "We had a choice -- either take the word of a madman or take action to defend the American people. Faced with that choice I will defend America every time."

Saddam "had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction," including scientists, technology and infrastructure, he said.

"We know Saddam Hussein had the intent to arm his regime with weapons of mass destruction because he hid all those activities from the world until the last day of his regime. And Saddam Hussein had something else: He had a record of using weapons of mass destruction against his enemies and against innocent Iraqi citizens," Bush said.

Bush is expected to announce on Friday the appointment of a commission to investigate prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Bush's speech to military personnel and others, in South Carolina, a state that had been crawling with Democratic presidential candidates before Tuesday's primary, was heavily laced with re-election campaign themes of the economy and national security.

After the speech, Bush also made a campaign-style quick stop at the "Sticky Fingers" restaurant and bar to greet customers.

The South Carolina stop was similar to one in New Hampshire two days after that state's primary last month.

"These Democrats have had the state playing field to themselves for months," said Republican strategist Scott Reed. "They have spent millions of dollars advertising, and most of it has been negative toward Bush. There is something to be said for going back in there, getting the (poll) numbers back in balance, and charge up the base of your party so they stay in the Bush column.

Bush beat Democrat Al Gore by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin in South Carolina in 2000. The winner of this year's Democratic primary in South Carolina, Sen. John Edwards, was born in the state and represents neighboring North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.

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