WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats forced the Republican-controlled Senate into an unusual closed session yesterday, questioning intelligence that President Bush used in the run-up to the war in Iraq and accusing Republicans of ignoring the issue.

“They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why,” Democratic leader Harry Reid said.

Taken by surprise, Republicans derided the move as a political stunt.

“The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. “They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas,” the Republican leader said.

Democrats sought assurances that Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas would complete the second phase of an investigation of the administration’s prewar intelligence.

After about two hours, senators returned to open session having appointed a six-member task force – three members from each party – to review the committee’s progress and report back to their respective caucuses by Nov. 14.

Roberts’s committee produced a 511-page report last summer on flaws of an Iraq intelligence estimate assembled by the country’s top analysts in October 2002, and he promised a second phase would look at issues that couldn’t be finalized in the first year of work.

The committee had started the second phase of the review, Roberts said, but it has not been completed. He said he had intended all along to work on the second phase beginning next week.

In mid-afternoon yesterday, Reid demanded the Senate go into closed session. The public was ordered out of the chamber, the lights were dimmed and the doors were closed. No vote is required in such circumstances.

Reid’s move shone a spotlight on the continuing controversy over prewar intelligence. Despite administration claims, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and some Democrats have accused the White House of manipulating the information.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was indicted last Friday in an investigation that touched on the war, the leak of the identity of a CIA official married to a critic of the administration’s Iraq policy.

“The Libby indictment provides a window into what this is really all about, how this administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence in order to sell the war in Iraq and attempted to destroy those who dared to challenge its actions,” Reid said before invoking Senate rules that led to the closed session.

Libby resigned from his White House post after being indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury.

Democrats contend that the unmasking of Valerie Plame was retribution for her husband, Joseph Wilson, publicly challenging the Bush administration’s contention that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Africa. That claim was part of the White House’s justification for going to war.

As Reid spoke, Frist met in the back of the chamber with a half-dozen senior GOP senators, including Roberts, who bore the brunt of Reid’s criticism. Reid said Roberts reneged on a promise to fully investigate whether the administration exaggerated and manipulated intelligence leading up to the war. Reid claimed that Republicans have repeatedly rebuffed Democratic pleas for a thorough investigation.

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a former majority leader, said a closed session was appropriate for such overarching matters as impeachment and chemical weapons – the two topics that last sent the senators into such sessions.

In addition, Lott said, Reid’s move violated the Senate’s tradition of courtesy and consent. But there was nothing in Senate rules enabling Republicans to thwart Reid’s effort.

The Senate had been considering a budget bill when it went into closed session.

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