A year after President Bush officially declared his preemptive, first-strike doctrine on Sept. 17, 2002, a major battle is brewing in Congress to challenge some of the foundations of that policy: U.S. intelligence operations and their use by the administration.

“Preemptive warfare’s essential ingredient is accurate intelligence” without which “the world will be unable to distinguish preemptive warfare from ordinary aggression,” says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). Waxman is the author of House Resolution 2625, which would establish an Independent Commission on Intelligence About Iraq. The bill has been picking up support steadily since it was introduced June 26. It now has 126 sponsors, more than one-fourth of the House.

The commission would be charged with investigating the administration’s collection, assessment and representations to the public and Congress regarding the alleged threats of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and alleged Iraqi support for al Queda and other terrorist organizations. It would consist of 10 public members: five appointed by Republicans and five by Democrats. It would have subpoena power backed, if necessary, by court order, access to government records, funding and staff, and could hold public hearings.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told reporters, “The justification for war by President Bush was at best exaggerated and at worst fabricated. The American people are demanding answers as to why their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, are there in the first place.”

Parents and spouses of soldiers serving in Iraq joined Schakowsky in supporting Waxman’s bill at a Chicago news conference Aug. 28. Fran Johns, mother of a Marine just back from Iraq, said, “Many of us whose sons and daughters were sent to Iraq are questioning whether there was a compelling reason” for the war. Ron Macek, whose wife and brother are both serving in Iraq, said, “Every day we ask why?”

The Republican-controlled House and Senate Intelligence Committees, which are currently holding hearings on the issue, will not look into how the Bush administration used the intelligence. Waxman points out that “no political parties would have an advantage” in the independent commission his bill would establish.

Despite the bill’s 126 sponsors, House Intelligence Committee chair Porter Goss (R-Fla.) has not scheduled a hearing on the bill, and last week a committee staff person said there are no plans for a hearing in the near future.

HR 2625 was introduced with 24 co-sponsors. All of them, along with Waxman, were Democrats who had voted for the resolution authorizing use of force on Iraq last October. The bill quickly won the support of the MoveOn organization and United for Peace and Justice, two major national peace groups. Through its internet-based membership, MoveOn amassed over 400,000 signatures supporting an independent commission. Mass lobbying efforts drew in 110 co-sponsors before the House summer recess on July 25. Since the House reconvened Sept. 3, another 15 co-sponsors have come aboard, including two just in the last few days.

It will take similar efforts to force the House Republican leadership to hold a hearing. With support for the occupation of Iraq shrinking and concern for its human and economic costs growing, along with House members’ re-election concerns, many say such a breakthrough may be possible. The forced withdrawal of right-wing judicial appointee Miguel Estrada and defeat of the Bush administration’s overtime cuts shows that progressive legislative victories are possible in the Republican-dominated Congress.

To date there are 25 Democrats who voted against the Iraq war resolution last October who are not yet co-sponsors of the Waxman bill. This includes Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee member Robert Matsui (D-Calif.).

There are 205 Democrats in the House. Half of the remaining Democrats yet to co-sponsor HR 2625 are from the South. Eleven are from Texas. Many are from rural districts and/or have considerable Pentagon presence in their districts. For example, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and voted against the use of force resolution. But his district, which covers 11 counties, from part of San Antonio south to the border, includes Randolph and Brooks Airforce Bases and the Alamo, and borders Lackland Airforce Base and Fort Sam Houston. Finding ways to win support from House members like Rodriguez could point the way to winning others like him, and a score or more Republicans. With that approach, the bill could pass.

Readers can call toll free (800) 839-5276 to urge their congressional representative to support HR 2625, and to thank them if they already have.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.
Susan Webb contributed to this article.