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Cheney Scolds War Critics as ‘Dishonest’

Times Staff Writer

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday lashed out at Democrats who accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, saying such critics were spreading “one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired” in Washington.

Cheney also suggested that the Democratic attacks could undermine troop morale.

“The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out,” Cheney said in a speech in Washington to a conservative think tank.

“American soldiers and Marines are out there every day in dangerous conditions and desert temperatures ... and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie,” Cheney said.

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The vice president’s tough words escalated a bitter partisan dispute over the origins of the Iraq war that has become a daily barrage of charges and counter-charges between Senate Democrats and top Bush administration officials, including the president.

In two recent speeches, President Bush disputed Democratic charges that the White House had manipulated the available intelligence to build support for invading Iraq.

The president said Democrats now leveling accusations had access to the same intelligence he did before they voted to authorize military force in Iraq.

On Wednesday evening, Cheney picked up where Bush left off.

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“What we are hearing now is some politicians contradicting their own statements and making a play for political advantage in the middle of a war,” the vice president told the Frontiers of Freedom Institute.

Democrats quickly responded to Cheney’s speech.

“It is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney,” said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). “The vice president continues to mislead America about how we got into Iraq and what must be done to complete the still unaccomplished mission.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) joined the criticism.

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“In the last 24 hours, 10 of our brave soldiers have been killed in far-off Iraq,” Reid said. “On such a night, you would think Cheney would give a speech that honors the fallen and those still fighting by laying out a strategy for success. Instead we have the vice president of the United States playing politics like he’s in the middle of a presidential campaign.”

Recent polls show plummeting public support for the war and a parallel slide in Bush’s job approval ratings, now at the lowest level of his presidency.

The controversy over prewar intelligence has returned the spotlight to the vice president, because it was Cheney who often led the way in presenting the prewar case that Iraq’s then-president, Saddam Hussein, presented a threat to the United States.

In his speech, Cheney said Democrats had departed from the tradition of adhering to “some basic measure of truthfulness and good faith in the conduct of political debate,” adding: “The suggestion that’s been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.”

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Bush chimed in from his weeklong trip to Asia to support Cheney’s aggressive language.

Asked during an appearance in South Korea who was right -- Cheney for calling the war criticism reprehensible or Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for saying that questioning one’s government is patriotic -- Bush appeared perturbed and fired back: “The vice president.”

“It’s irresponsible to use politics,” he said. “This is serious business, winning this war. But it’s irresponsible to do what [the Democrats have] done.”

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Times staff writer Peter Wallsten in South Korea contributed to this report.


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