War Inquiry Met Second-Tier Bush Officials

The British official inquiry team examining the origins and conduct of the Iraq War met with some relatively senior former officials of the George W. Bush administration on a weeklong visit to the U.S. earlier in May. But neither Bush, Dick Cheney, nor any other very senior Bush-era policymaker, military, or intelligence official appears to have been willing to speak to the inquiry team, which is led by Sir John Chilcot, a former senior civil servant.

In an official statement issued on Friday, the inquiry committee said that it had held a series of "private discussions" between May 17 and May 21 with "people from the current and former administrations," as well as the current ambassadors. Although the committee has held public hearings in London in which most of the top U.K. officials involved in war-relateddecisions—including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and many of their top advisers—gave testimony in public, the inquiry commission said that while the Americans they met had agreed to have their names released to the public, because the meetings "were not formal evidence sessions, records of the conversations are not being published." (See the complete list of former Bush administration officials who spoke to the inquiry whose names were released today, but whose contributions are not spelled out in any detail, here.)

Only a written statement submitted by Paul Bremer, the former ambassador (and de facto viceroy) in Iraq, has so far been published on the inquiry's Web site. In it, Bremer takes some pains to defend two of his, and the Bush administration's, most controversial and consequential post-invasion decisions regarding postwar Iraq: the decision to disband the Iraqi Army, which had been one of the foundations of Saddam Hussein's regime, and the decision to ban Saddam's Baath Party and begin a process of "de-Baathification" that is still roiling Iraqi politics today. Bremer says that as the invasion proceeded, Saddam's Army largely demobilized itself, and they concluded that the best approach would be to build a new Iraqi Army untainted by any affiliation with Saddam. As for de-Baathification, Bremer takes a veiled shot at Iraqi politicians—like onetime Bush administration favorite Ahmad Chalabi—who have used the de-Baathification process to build a personal power base. Bremer says that although the de-Baathification policy of the provisional post-invasion Iraqi government he headed "was intended to target a small portion of party members, it was later abused by Iraqi politicians and became a political tool with large negative consequences. In retrospect, it was a mistake for the CPA to devolve the implementation of the de-Baathfication program to Iraqi politicians who then attempted to broaden the decree's effect."

A British official familiar with the inquiry's activities, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, indicated that the list of Americans published by the committee was almost certainly a complete list of U.S. people who had spoken to the inquiry team, and that it was unlikely, though not completely impossible, that other American witnesses had cooperated with the inquiry in secret. As we reported here, many other high-level Bush administration officials, from the president and vice president themselves to key Iraq policy officials like Condoleezza Rice and Pentagon officials Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith, to key intelligence officials like former CIA director and deputy director George Tenet and John McLaughlin, either would not respond to questions as to whether they would meet with the inquiry or indicated rather forcefully that they were not interested in cooperating with it. The available evidence would appear to confirm that, in terms of getting access to the highest-ranking players in the controversy, the British inquiry largely struck out.