With the anniversary of the preemptive “Operation Iraqi Freedom” approaching in the midst of the presidential primaries, body counts and budget expenditures are growing and no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are to be found.

As voters look more closely at their government, the buck on Iraqi intelligence has begun passing in the direction of the White House. In another attempted preemptive effort, President George W. Bush tried to palm it off on a commission that will report long after the November elections.

It was a fumble. In a Feb. 7 editorial, The New York Times criticized the ability of seven of the nine members of Bush’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction to “unravel what was wrong with American intelligence,” and said that Bush “withheld the mandate to get at the big political question they could answer: Did the administration hype intelligence to increase support of the war?”

The Times added that Bush “chose not to allow a truly independent panel” that could look at how “his administration had presented the intelligence in making the case for war,” leaving voters to find their own answers.

In a Feb. 3 letter to the president, Democratic congressional leaders Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), with others, said a commission appointed by and reporting to only the White House could not independently address the question of “whether senior administration officials … misled the Congress and the public about the nature of the threat from Iraq.”

Addressing Bush, they said, “Even some of your own statements and those of Vice President Cheney need independent scrutiny.” They called for a commission to examine not only the intelligence community’s performance but also “the use by policymakers of intelligence on Iraq,” and said the commission must be “appointed on a bipartisan basis by the congressional leadership.”

The dubious independence of the Bush commission is shown in the Feb. 6 executive order establishing it, which says, “The Commission shall, subject to the authority of the President, be independent.”

Section 5 of the executive order says the secretary of defense, the attorney general, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency – all members of Bush’s inner circle – will oversee the commission’s compliance with “security rules.” Section 6 says the commission shall solely advise the president and no one else. Section 7 states the commission is “intended only to improve the internal management of the executive branch,” making clear that it will have no subpoena power or other legal powers for its investigation.

In sharp contrast to the president’s proposals are House and Senate bills that would authorize a more independent commission on Iraq intelligence issues and the White House’s use or abuse of such intelligence. HR 2625 and S.1946 would establish 10-member panels, appointed by the president and House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, with five from each of these parties. They would report not only to the president, but also to Congress and the people, and would have subpoena powers.

HR 2625, which focuses on U.S. intelligence and its use leading up to the attack on Iraq, was introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) last June 26. It has an impressive 138 cosponsors, all Democrats except for independent Bernard Sanders (Vt.). The Republican House leadership hasn’t even discussed holding a hearing on it.

S. 1946, introduced by Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) on Nov. 24, updates Waxman’s bill to include the war and occupation of Iraq and the exposure of a covert CIA agent whose spouse gave the lie to some administration claims about alleged Iraqi WMDs. Its cosponsors include Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin (D), and, as of Feb. 9, Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Diane Feinstein (Calif.), Christopher Dodd (Conn.), and Russell Feingold (Wis.).

The Friends Committee On National Legislation has launched a grassroots lobbying effort to win more support for S. 1946 and HR 2625 “to restore public trust, rebuild U.S. credibility abroad, and ensure government accountability on critical issues of war and peace” with a “truly independent investigation into the administration’s use of the intelligence in making the case for war.”

Although the Republican domination of both houses of Congress has kept the issue under wraps to date, the 33 Senate seats and 435 House seats up for election this year may provide handles for peace and democratic forces to focus enough attention to crack the Republican cover-up.

The author can be reached at rosalio_munoz@sbcglobal.net.