Tenet: No 'Serious Debate' Before Iraq Invasion Former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet has written a new book about his time at the agency during the Sept. 11 attacks. Tenet writes that in the lead up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration never held a "serious debate" about the true threat Saddam Hussein posed.
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Tenet: No 'Serious Debate' Before Iraq Invasion

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Tenet: No 'Serious Debate' Before Iraq Invasion

Tenet: No 'Serious Debate' Before Iraq Invasion

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ALEX COHEN, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, an eyewitness account of the devastation in Darfur, Sudan from the only NPR reporter allowed there in years.

COHEN: But first, in a new book, former CIA chief George Tenet is highly critical of how the Bush administration got in to the Iraq war. And that's already drawn a reaction from the White House. Today, Spokesman Dan Bartlett said that Tenet may not have been aware of how seriously President Bush weighed the decision to go to war.

CHADWICK: The book is titled "At the Center of the Storm." It is in bookstores Monday. The New York Times already has a copy. We're speaking with reporter Scott Shane. Scott, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. SCOTT SHANE (New York Times): Glad to be on with you.

CHADWICK: In this book, George Tenet makes some pretty damaging claims against the Bush White House in the months before the war in Iraq. Explain what he has to say.

Mr. SHANE: Well, he describes himself as CIA director, as being very focused on the al-Qaida threat before and after 9/11, but particularly after 9/11. And he says that he only, sort of, gradually became aware that others in the administration, particularly Vice President Cheney, and some of the people in the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz dogfight were very, very focused on Iraq.

And he says that the determination to go to war was such that there was never a full debate within the administration, at least, that he was aware of, of the imminence of the Iraqi threat, never a significant discussion about whether you could contain that threat without going to war. It's quite an indictment of the process that led up the war.

CHADWICK: This is the director, the then director of the CIA, saying in the lead up to the war with Iraq, there was never a real, thorough assessment of the status of the threat from Iraq.

Mr. SHANE: That's right. And he was called the director of Central Intelligence at that time. He was not only the director of the CIA, but he was the guy in charge of the entire intelligence community, all 16 agencies. So he presumably had one of the best pictures, perhaps the best picture of what we knew about the world.

CHADWICK: There's an interview with Mr. Tenet on 60 Minutes coming this weekend by reporter Scott Pelley of CBS. There's a clip on the CBS evening news last night. Here's George Tenet from that interview on the subject of torture.

(Soundbite of 60 Minutes Interview)

Mr. GEORGE TENET (Former CIA Director): You know, the image that's been portrayed is this we sat around the campfire and said, oh boy, now we go get to torture people. But we don't torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don't torture people.

Mr. SCOTT PELLEY (Correspondent, CBS News 60 Minutes): Okay, come on George…

Mr. TENET: So we don't torture people.

Mr. PELLEY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Mr. TENET: We don't torture…

Mr. PELLEY: Water boarding.

Mr. TENET: We do not… I don't talk about techniques, and we don't torture people.

Mr. PELLEY: Now listen, listen to me.

Mr. TENET: I want you listen to me. So the context is, it's post-9/11. I've got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are going to be blown up, planes that are going to fly into airports all over again, plot lines that I don't know. I don't know what's going on inside the United States. And I'm struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur. Everybody forgets one central context that what we live through - the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.

CHADWICK: Scott Shane?

Mr. SHANE: He says we do not torture, but it's very well documented that's water boarding - the simulated drowning technique, and other very harsh techniques were used on these prisoners. And many in the human rights communities certainly consider those to be torture.

CHADWICK: You write in the paper today about the anger George Tenet felt and writes about as regards Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. SHANE: He's particularly angry because later on as things went badly in Iraq and the war did produce an awful lot of American casualties and became far less popular, Mr. Cheney, on one occasion he describes on Meet the Press, twice quoted the famous or infamous slam-dunk comment from Mr. Tenet, saying that Mr. Tenet had described the case for - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a slam dunk.

Of course, the weapons were never found. And later on, he suggests that Vice President Cheney was, in effect, blaming Tenet and the CIA for getting the United States into war.

CHADWICK: We went to war because we had bad intelligence from George Tenet and the CIA.

Mr. SHANE: That's the message that he conveys. He says that as he watched the Meet the Press that day, he felt, boy, as if I needed - you needed me saying slam dunk to take us to war. In other words, he's suggesting that the vice president had made up his mind about going to war with Iraq. And the slam-dunk comment, which he says was misunderstood and taken out of context, had very little impact.

So he feels that Mr. Cheney and others have made him a scapegoat for the war as the war has become less popular.

CHADWICK: New York Times reporter, Scott Shane. Scott, thank you.

Mr. SHANE: Thank you.

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