Retired military officers on Monday are expected to bluntly accuse Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of bungling the war in Iraq, saying U.S. troops were sent to fight without the best equipment and that critical facts were hidden from the public.
"I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the administration did not tell the American people the truth for fear of losing support for the war in Iraq," retired Maj. Gen. John R. S. Batiste said in remarks prepared for a hearing by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.
A second witness, retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, is expected to assess Rumsfeld as "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically ...."
"Mr. Rumsfeld and his immediate team must be replaced or we will see two more years of extraordinarily bad decision-making," said his testimony prepared for the hearing, to be held six weeks before the Nov. 7 midterm elections in which the war is a central issue.
The conflict, now in its fourth year, has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 American troops and cost more than $300 billion.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., the committee chairman, told reporters last week that he hoped the hearing would shed light on the planning and conduct of the war. He said majority Republicans had failed to conduct hearings on the issue, adding, "if they won't ... we will."
Since he spoke, a government-produced National Intelligence Estimate became public that concluded the war has helped create a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Several members of the Senate Democratic leadership were expected to participate in the hearing. Dorgan said Republican lawmakers had been invited.
Even before the session convened, Republicans counter-attacked.
"Today's stunt may rile up the liberal base, but it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack," Sen. Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky., said in a statement. He called Rumsfeld an "excellent secretary of defense."
It is unusual for retired military officers to criticize the Pentagon while military operations are under way, particularly at a public event likely to draw widespread media attention.
But Batiste, Eaton and retired Col. Paul X. Hammes were unsparing in remarks that suggested deep anger at the way the military had been treated. All three served in Iraq, and Batiste also was senior military assistant to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Batiste, who commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, also blamed Congress for failing to ask "the tough questions."
He said Rumsfeld at one point threatened to fire the next person who mentioned the need for a postwar plan in Iraq.
Batiste said if full consideration had been given to the requirements for war, it's likely the U.S. would have kept its focus on Afghanistan, "not fueled Islamic fundamentalism across the globe, and not created more enemies than there were insurgents."
Hammes said in his prepared remarks that not providing the best equipment was a "serious moral failure on the part of our leadership."
The United States "did not ask our soldiers to invade France in 1944 with the same armor they trained on in 1941. Why are we asking our soldiers and Marines to use the same armor we found was insufficient in 2003," he asked.
Hammes was responsible for establishing bases for the Iraqi armed forces. He served in Iraq in 2004 and is now Marine Senior Military Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, National Defense University.
Eaton was responsible for training the Iraqi military and later for rebuilding the Iraqi police force.
He said planning for the postwar period was "amateurish at best, incompetent a better descriptor."
Public opinion polls show widespread dissatisfaction with the way the Bush administration has conducted the war in Iraq, but division about how quickly to withdraw U.S. troops. Democrats hope to tap into the anger in November, without being damaged by Republican charges they favor a policy of "cut and run."
By coincidence, the hearing came a day after public disclosure of the National Intelligence Estimate. The report was completed in April and represented a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government, according to an intelligence official.
Retired officers to criticize Rumsfeld
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special CorrespondentMon Sep 25, 7:11 AM ET