Abercrombie, 'Iraq Watch' Democrats denounce Bush
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Late in the evening, long after other lawmakers have gone home, Rep. Neil Abercrombie takes to the House floor and hammers President Bush on Iraq.
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U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and a handful of other House Democrats who call themselves "Iraq Watch" want an independent commission to investigate U.S. intelligence claims about Iraq.
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"And we need to bring this truth forward and that is why we better have this commission or let me tell my colleagues, this administration and the elitists that support it are going to pay a fearful price."
For the past few months, Abercrombie and a handful of other House Democrats who call themselves "Iraq Watch" have held court before C-SPAN cameras once a week in an otherwise empty House chamber, expressing outrage over what they call failures in the gathering and analyzing of intelligence along with misleading statements by the Bush administration.
Disclosures that President Bush relied on faulty intelligence in claiming that Iraq was building a nuclear program, and the absence so far of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, have forced the Bush administration to defend its contention that Iraq was such an imminent threat to the United States that war was the only alternative.
Democrats have called for a bipartisan inquiry into prewar intelligence, putting pressure on the Republicans who control Congress to investigate the Bush administration. At a news conference this week, Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, D-Pa., who started Iraq Watch, demanded an independent commission and a U.N. Security Council resolution asking NATO to play a role as peacekeepers and for international help with the reconstruction of Iraq.
The debate on Iraq takes a stronger tone and intensity than before the war, when only a few Democrats were willing to seriously question the president. Abercrombie, who along with Hawai'i's Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka voted last fall against giving Bush the authority to use military force in Iraq, said there was not enough skepticism in Congress before the war.
"There was obvious fudging going on," Abercrombie said in an interview. "There was obvious obfuscation. There was obvious manipulation."
Hoeffel, who voted to give Bush the authority to go to war, now believes he may have been misled. "I think the information was exaggerated," he said.
Anti-war activists who were unsuccessful at convincing a majority of Americans that they should oppose the war are heartened that lawmakers in Congress are belatedly paying attention to some of their arguments.
One activist group, MoveOn.org, has collected more than 412,000 signatures calling for an independent commission on Iraq similar to the panel looking into the events leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorism. The group has gathered more than 2,000 signatures in Hawai'i.
As budding political offensives go, Iraq Watch is not unusual.
Lawmakers often use the time before and after the House conducts its regular business to champion causes or denounce perceived injustice.
During the previous administration, conservative Republicans routinely commandeered the House floor to excoriate President Clinton, knowing full well that their only audience at first was the TV cameras and a few true believers back home. But these conservatives found that relentless pressure eventually could attract attention and build into a movement.
Caught in his denials about indiscretions with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton was impeached, although not removed from office.
"That's not our goal," said Abercrombie, who wants to take Iraq Watch on the road with public forums. "It's easy enough to savage the president. That doesn't accomplish anything.
"There's a presidential election under way and he'll have to answer for himself."