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Cheney fires back at war critics

V.P. says debate legitimate, still slams Senate Democrats for opposition
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While the vice president said today it's not wrong to criticize the war in Iraq, Cheney still shot back at critics who allege the administration deliberately hyped pre-war claims.

Cheney said, "Disagreement, argument and debate are the essence of democracy."

"What is not legitimate and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible is the suggestion by some U.S. Senators that the President of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence," said Cheney in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

The vice president and president have underscored words like "purposely" or "deliberately" because that's what a growing number of Americans believe was done.

In South Korea last week, Bush said "when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible."

But many of the administration's pre-war claims turned out to be wrong.

In the president's Jan. 28, 2003 State of the Union Address, he said, "The British government has learned that Saddam recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Similarly, in August of 2002 Cheney declared, "We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons."

But it was Vice President Cheney who alleged a link between Iraq and a 9/11 hijacker then denied having made the allegation. 

Although a few years earlier on Dec. 9, 2001, Cheney said, "It's been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service."

In recent days, the debate over Iraq has intensified largely thanks to Democratic Congressman John Murtha

Murtha, a Vietnam combat veteran and a Pentagon hawk, called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq last Thursday.  "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It's time to bring the troops home," he said.

This weekend on "Meet The Press," Murtha said his vote for war with Iraq in 2002 was a mistake, in hindsight.

On a different Sunday show, however, Donald Rumsfeld was asked if he, as secretary of defense, owes the American people an apology.  Rumsfeld shifted the blame to the CIA.

"Why would the Defense Department — it's the intelligence community that made the intelligence.  It was CIA," Rumsfeld told CNN.

The fact remains that Rumsfeld himself set up a Pentagon office of special plans that collected it's own intelligence.  The group was led by neo-con hawk Douglas Feith who passed some of the intelligence, including wild claims from Ahmed Chalabi, directly to the office of the vice president.

That brings us back to Vice President Cheney who today at least seemed to tone down the hot rhetoric in one respect.  Mr. Cheney said he disagreed with Jack Murtha.  But he said Murtha is a good man and a patriot, and that a discussion about Iraq is legitimate.

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.