US President George W Bush has given America's highest civilian award to three men closely involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
George Tenet was praised for addressing terrorist threats
Former CIA director George Tenet, Gen Tommy Franks and Iraq overseer Paul Bremer were given the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.
"These three men symbolise the nobility of public service, the good character of our country, and the good influence of America on the world," Mr Bush said.
But critics questioned the awards.
A spokesman for defeated presidential candidate John Kerry suggested that Mr Bush's choices were on a different level to other recipients, who have included civil rights heroine Rosa Parks and former President Jimmy Carter.
"My hunch is that George Bush wasn't using the same standard when honouring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honourees," David Wade was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.
Each of the three recipients has had their judgements challenged, but during the televised ceremony Mr Bush praised them for their contributions.
Mr Tenet was head of the Central Intelligence Agency during the 11 September 2001 attacks and subsequent war in Afghanistan where analysts say CIA personnel played a vital role in the quick overthrow of the Taleban regime.
More controversially, he is also reported to have told President Bush that there was a cast-iron case - or "slam dunk" - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Gen Franks was commander of the US military's Central Command during the war in Afghanistan and drew up detailed plans for the invasion of Iraq using far fewer troops than were deployed in the Gulf War of 1991.
The number of troops deployed has since been questioned, but Mr Bush chose to praise Gen Franks as "a liberator" of more than 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he labelled "two of the worst tyrannies in the world".
Mr Bremer, known by his nickname "Jerry", left Iraq earlier this year after handing power from the Coalition Provisional Authority he led to an interim Iraqi government.
"Jerry will be remembered for his superb work in laying the foundations of a new democracy in the Middle East," Mr Bush said.
The medal of freedom was established by Harry Truman as a war medal and reintroduced by John F Kennedy to honour distinguished civilian service in peacetime.