John Kerry, the Democratic contender for the White House, and his newly chosen running mate, John Edwards, have launched a scathing assault on President George Bush over the war in Iraq, saying faulty intelligence directly caused the loss of hundreds of American lives.
"They were wrong and soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong," Mr Kerry said in one of a number of interviews given jointly with Mr Edwards to several US newspapers at the weekend, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. "And America's paying billions of dollars because they were wrong. And allies are not with us because they were wrong."
Mr Edwards agreed, although in less aggressive terms. "My view is that what George Bush has done in Iraq, both in the lead-up to the war and more importantly his planning for winning the peace, has cost America dearly, and cost the possibility of success dearly."
The interviews were part of an effort to capitalize on public enthusiasm for the selection of Mr Edwards, a senator from North Carolina, announced on Tuesday. They also signaled the determination of Democrats to make the most of Mr Bush's continuing difficulties over Iraq.
Those difficulties deepened with the release last Friday of a scathing Senate Intelligence Committee report into the failings of the US intelligence community before the war.
Senator Kerry stopped short of accusing Mr Bush of lying about Iraq. But he tried to question the veracity of the current White House in general. "The value of truth is one of the most central values in America, and this administration has violated [it]," , he told The Washington Post on board the Kerry-Edwards campaign plane. "Their values system is distorted and not based on truth."
The intelligence report significantly helps the Kerry camp in making Iraq a key point of argument in the campaign. Although both Democrats joined a senate vote authorizing Mr Bush to invade Iraq in 2002, the report makes clear that senators gave their approval on the basis of faulty information.
But asked whether they would have voted differently had they known the truth about Saddam Hussein's capabilities, both men declined to say. "I'm not going to go back and answer hypothetical questions about what I would have done had I known this," Mr Edwards said. Mr Kerry added: "The vote is not today and that's it. I completely agree with John Edwards."
George Bush's team swiftly struck back at the Democrats. "Senator Kerry has displayed a stunning lack of conviction and a stunning lack of decisiveness regarding the war on terror," said Steve Schmidt, a spokes-man for the Bush campaign.
Mr Kerry bemoaned what he said was the deleterious effect of the Iraq row on attitudes towards government. He suggested a new era of cynicism had emerged comparable with that of the Vietnam War: "I think there is a new level of cynicism and lack of credibility towards government," he said.
He partially apologized for some of the more extreme remarks made about President Bush by assorted entertainers at a fund-raising function in New York City on Thursday.
During a high-profile concert at Radio City Music Hall, Mr Bush was sometimes characterized as a "thug". "Obviously some performers stepped over a line neither of us believes appropriate, but we can't control that," he commented.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd