After John Conyers and other House Judiciary Committee Democrats held a hearing Thursday into the "Downing Street Memorandum," a leaked top-secret British government document showing that by mid-2002 the Bush administration had resolved to invade Iraq and to "fix" the "facts and intelligence" "around the policy" so as to connect terrorism and WMDs to Saddam Hussein as a justification for the attack, they delivered of a letter with the signatures of more than 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and more than half a million U.S. citizens. -- But "White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the memo on Thursday and indicated that no one in the White House plans to respond to the letter. 'This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed,' he said." -- The Times (UK) reported that despite a virtual blackout of news about the Downing Street Memo in the U.S. mainstream media, it was "forced onto the political agenda by bloggers, who have refused to let the scandal die down." -- Patrick Mulvaney of the Village Voice offered "a primer on the Memo and its implications" for readers who may still be clueless. -- "Controversy over the Downing Street Memo may also wither away," opined Mulvaney. "But there is a real possibility the issue could gain serious traction in the days and weeks ahead." -- In a column, investigative journalist Greg Palast reminds Conyers and his colleagues of how the Downing Street Memorandum fits into what is known about the Bush administration's motives in Iraq and what he has reported at length in Harper's and in a BBC documentary film: the Iraq war is known to have been motivated by large corporate interests, and can be linked to actions that began as soon as George W. Bush took office. ...
DEMOCRATS QUESTION U.S. PRE-WAR ACTIONS
By Pete Yost
June 16, 2005
WASHINGTON -- Some congressional Democrats are insisting that the White House provide more information about what led to the decision to go to war in Iraq, citing a British document known as the "Downing Street memo" as evidence intelligence was distorted.
Rep. John Conyers and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee conducted a public forum Thursday prompted by documents that have surfaced from inside the British government about prewar planning.
Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who advised the Bush administration in 2002 that Saddam Hussein had not tried to buy a certain kind of uranium from Africa, said Conyers' hearing was important.
"We are having this discussion today because we failed to have it three years ago when we went to war," Wilson said.
"It used to be said that democracies were difficult to mobilize for war precisely because of the debate required," and the lack of debate in this case allowed the war to happen, he said.
Wilson wrote a 2003 newspaper opinion piece criticizing the Bush administration's claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. After the piece appeared someone in the Bush administration leaked the identity of Wilson's wife as a CIA operative, exposing her cover.
Wilson has said he believes the leak was retaliation for his critical comments. The Justice Department is investigating and two reporters are being threatened with jail time for refusing to divulge their sources on the issue.
The Downing Street memo says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.
The "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," says the memo, recounting a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team. The meeting took place just after British officials returned from Washington.
U.S. officials and Blair deny the assertion about intelligence and facts being "fixed," a comment that the memo attributes to the chief of British intelligence at the time. The meeting took place eight months before the invasion of Iraq.
Conyers pointed to statements by Bush in the run-up to invasion that war would be a last resort. "The veracity of those statements has -- to put it mildly -- come into question," he said.
The London Sunday Times disclosed the contents of the memo May 1.
Bush should respond to questions raised by the Downing Street memo, says a letter signed by Conyers and over 90 other members of Congress, as well as a half-million Americans.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the memo on Thursday and indicated that no one in the White House plans to respond to the letter.
"This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," he said.
The Sunday Times also reported on an eight-page briefing paper prepared for Blair which concluded that the U.S. military had given "little thought" to the aftermath of a war in Iraq.
The briefing paper of July 21, 2002, said a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise and that "as already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
CONGRESS DISCUSSES SECRET DOWNING ST. MEMOS
By Jenny Booth
June 16, 2005
Members of the U.S. Congress were this afternoon hearing evidence about two secret Downing St. memos written before the invasion of Iraq which seem to imply that President Bush systematically misled the American people.
The first of the two memos were leaked to the Sunday Times in May, but the potential scandal was ignored by the mainstream U.S. media.
The memos were however forced onto the political agenda by bloggers, who have refused to let the scandal die down. Today their efforts were due to bear fruit, when anti-war Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will hold an informal meeting to hear evidence on the top secret minutes as part of a hearing on intelligence issues before the Iraq war.
After the hearing, Congressman John Conyers Jr. was due personally to deliver a letter to President Bush asking for answer about America's path to war. The petition has been signed by over 100 members of Congress and half a million ordinary U.S. citizens.
The letter is due to be followed by a public rally by anti-war campaigners in front of the White House.
"It's the first time that the memo has been addressed in such a way on Capitol Hill," said Roland Watson, Times Washington correspondent.
"It's a further sign that the issue of the memo is finally picking up some momentum in Washington."
The first memo is a transcript of a meeting head in Downing St in July 2002. In it, C, the head of MI6, says that based on meetings in Washington there had been a shift in attitude and that "military action was now seen as inevitable." President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, and would do so "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," it states.
The next line is the one that has excited opponents of the war. The memo continues: "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Since the memo was first published in the Sunday Times and on Times Online in May, it has remained among the most frequently read articles every day. Congressman Conyers has even set up a website for the memo, at www.downingstreetmemo.com, where the signatures for the petition have been gathered.
The second memo, referred to as DSMII, was published this week, saying that British ministers were told that they had no choice but to find a way to make the war in Iraq legal. The publication of the second document provoked the sceptical U.S. press to take notice, and the story appeared on the front page of the respected Washington Post.
WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE DOWNING STREET MEMO?
By Patrick Mulvaney
** Getting a grip on the Bush/Blair war scandal **
June 16, 2005
Today on Capitol Hill, Democratic representatives Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and John Conyers of Michigan will lead a hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo -- minutes from a British leadership meeting that suggest the Bush administration first decided to go to war in Iraq and then built a case for it later.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Jackson Lee said the public needs to understand what happened. "This is just the beginning. I look to 2002 and the names many of us were called for opposing the war in Iraq, and then I look at where we are today," she said. "If this is to meet the test of history, we have to have a comprehensive answer to what happened."
The Memo has been big, big news in Britain, but has received little attention in the U.S. What follows is a primer on the Memo and its implications.
On July 23, 2002, British prime minister Tony Blair met with several of his top advisers to discuss plans for the future concerning the United States, Iraq, and the United Nations. The minutes from that meeting were marked "secret and strictly confidential." But on May 1, in the heat of Blair's campaign for re-election, those minutes -- which have come to be known as the Downing Street Memo -- surfaced in the Times of London.
The Memo confirmed what many progressives had long suspected: that the Bush administration planned to launch a war in Iraq and then rigged a case to justify it. According to the Memo, Britain's intelligence chief reported the following assessment with regard to his then recent trip to Washington: "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The British media, from the Guardian to the BBC News, quickly explored the Memo and its implications and subsequently unearthed more documents that cast further doubt on the official Bush-Blair version of the run-up to the Iraq war (as well as the preparations for its aftermath). In the meantime, however, the titans of the U.S. press largely dodged the Downing Street bullet. As Media Matters for America noted in a study released June 15, the editorial pages of four of the nation's five largest newspapers -- USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times -- remained "conspicuously silent about the controversy surrounding the document" in the first six weeks after its publication.
Nonetheless, reactions to the Memo have slowly and quietly gathered steam across the United States. Progressive media outlets including the Village Voice ("The Bush Beat," "Power Plays"), TomPaine.com, Democracy Now!, and the Nation have covered the story on a regular basis, and smaller newspapers from Tennessee to Wisconsin have also taken up the issue. Daily Kos began a campaign to "lift the virtual news blackout" on the story.
On the advocacy front, more than 500,000 people signed a letter to President Bush earlier this month demanding an explanation for the latest revelations, and groups of veterans and peace activists have formed a coalition to push for a formal congressional investigation. Moreover, Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese, among others, have actually raised the prospect of impeachment for President Bush.
With the issue clearly gaining momentum, the key question now is whether the Memo has the muscle to sway not only those who opposed the war in the first place, but also those who at some point supported it.
Neither testimony from Joseph Wilson and Richard Clarke nor the enduring absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has unsettled the American public enough to reopen the debate over the war. Controversy over the Downing Street Memo may also wither away.
But there is a real possibility the issue could gain serious traction in the days and weeks ahead. The Memo is strikingly concrete; beyond the commentary on intelligence-fiddling and fact-tweaking, it notes quite plainly that "the case was thin" for military action in Iraq. And perhaps even more importantly, the people of the United States have become increasingly frustrated with the Iraq war; in fact, a recent Washington Post poll found that for the first time since major combat operations began in March 2003, more than half of all Americans feel the war has not made the nation safer.
PALAST FOR CONYERS: THE OTHER DOWNING STREET 'MEMOS'
By Greg Palast
Macon (GA) Daily
June 16, 2005
MACON,GA. -- Greg Palast, unable to attend hearings in Washington Thursday, has submitted the following testimony:
It's official: The Downing Street memos, a snooty New York Times "News Analysis" informs us, "are not the Dead Sea Scrolls." You are warned, Congressman, to ignore the clear evidence of official mendacity and bald-faced fibbing by our two nations' leaders because the cry for investigation came from the dark and dangerous world of "blogs" and "opponents" of Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush.
On May 5, "blog" site Buzzflash.com carried my story, "Impeachment Time: 'Facts Were Fixed,'" bringing the London Times report of the Downing Street memo to U.S. media which seemed to be suffering at the time from an attack of NADD -- "news attention deficit disorder."
The memo, which contains the ill-making admission that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" to match the Iraq-crazed fantasies of our President, is sufficient basis for a hearing toward impeachment of the Chief Executive. But to that we must add the other evidence and secret memos and documents still hidden from the American public.
Other foreign-based journalists could doubtless add more, including the disclosure that the key inspector of Iraq's biological weapons, the late Dr. David Kelly, found the Bush-Blair analysis of his intelligence was indeed "fixed," as the Downing Street memo puts it, around the war-hawk policy.
Here is a small timeline of confidential skullduggery dug up and broadcast by my own team for BBC Television and Harper's on the secret plans to seize Iraq's assets and oil.
February 2001 -- Only one month after the first Bush-Cheney inauguration, the State Department's Pam Quanrud organizes a secret confab in California to make plans for the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam. U.S. oil industry advisor Falah Aljibury and others are asked to interview would-be replacements for a new U.S.-installed dictator.
On BBC Television's "Newsnight," Aljibury himself explained,
"It is an invasion, but it will act like a coup. The original plan was to liberate Iraq from the Saddamists and from the regime."
March 2001 -- Vice-President Dick Cheney meets with oil company executives and reviews oil field maps of Iraq. Cheney refuses to release the names of those attending or their purpose. Harper's has since learned their plan and purpose -- see below.
October/November 2001 -- An easy military victory in Afghanistan emboldens then-Dep. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to convince the Administration to junk the State Department "coup" plan in favor of an invasion and occupation that could remake the economy of Iraq. And elaborate plan, ultimately summarized in a 101-page document, scopes out the "sale of all state enterprises" -- that is, most of the nation's assets, "especially in the oil and supporting industries."
2002 -- Grover Norquist and other corporate lobbyists meet secretly with Defense, State, and Treasury officials to ensure the invasion plans for Iraq include plans for protecting "property rights." The result was a pre-invasion scheme to sell off Iraq's oil fields, banks, electric systems, and even change the country's copyright laws to the benefit of the lobbyists' clients. Occupation chief Paul Bremer would later order these giveaways into Iraq law.
Fall 2002 -- Philip Carroll, former CEO of Shell Oil USA, is brought in by the Pentagon to plan the management of Iraq's oil fields. He works directly with Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. "There were plans," says Carroll, "maybe even too many plans" -- but none disclosed to the public nor even the U.S. Congress.
January 2003 -- Robert Ebel, former CIA oil analyst, is sent, BBC learns, to London to meet with Fadhil Chalabi to plan terms for taking over Iraq's oil.
March 2003 -- What White House spokesman Ari Fleisher calls "Operations Iraqi Liberation" (OIL) begins. (Invasion is re-christened "OIF" -- Operation Iraqi Freedom.)
March 2003 -- Defense Department is told in confidence by U.S. Energy Information Administrator Guy Caruso that Iraq's fields are incapable of a massive increase in output. Despite this intelligence, Dep. Secretary Wolfowitz testifies to Congress that invasion will be a free ride. He swears, "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon," a deliberate fabrication promoted by the Administration, an insider told BBC, as "part of the sales pitch" for war.
May 2003 -- General Jay Garner, appointed by Bush as viceroy over Iraq, is fired by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The general revealed in an interview for BBC that he resisted White House plans to sell off Iraq's oil and national assets.
"That's just one fight you don't want to take on," Garner told me. But apparently, the White House wanted that fight.
The general also disclosed that these invade-and-grab plans were developed long before the U.S. asserted that Saddam still held WDM:
"All I can tell you is the plans were pretty elaborate; they didn't start them in 2002, they were started in 2001."
November/December 2003 -- Secrecy and misinformation continues even after the invasion. The oil industry objects to the State Department plans for Iraq's oil fields and drafts for the Administration a 323-page plan, "Options for [the] Iraqi Oil Industry." Per the industry plan, the U.S. forces Iraq to create an OPEC-friendly state oil company that supports the OPEC cartel's extortionate price for petroleum.
THE STONE WALL
Harper's and BBC obtained the plans despite official denial of their existence, then footdragging when confronted with the evidence of the reports' existence.
Still today, the State and Defense Departments and White House continue to stonewall our demands for the notes of the meetings between lobbyists, oil industry consultants and key Administration officials that would reveal the hidden economic motives for the war.
What are the secret interests behind this occupation? Who benefits? Who met with whom? Why won't this Administration release these documents of the economic blueprint for the war?
To date, the State and Defense Department responses to our reports are risible, and their answers to our requests for documents run from evasive to downright misleading. Maybe Congress, with it's power of subpoena, can do better.
BLOGS, THE MEDIA, AND DEMOCRACY
Let me conclude with a comment about those pesky "blogs" that so bother the New York Times. We should stand and offer a moment of quiet gratitude to the electronic swarm of gadfly commentators who make it so much harder for the U.S. media to ignore news not officially blessed. Yes, Judith Miller's breathless reports for the Times that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction may have maintained "access" for the mainstream press to its diet of White House propaganda, but the blogs insure that, whatever nonsense the U.S. press is biting on, the public need not swallow.
--This week Greg Palast's investigative team was named winner of a 2004-5 Project Censored award from the California State University at Sonoma Journalism School for their exposé of the secret U.S. plans to seize Iraq's oil assets. Special thanks to the chief investigator on Iraq, Leni von Eckardt, as well as additional support from Matt Pascarella. The investigation was conducted for Harper's Magazine, BBC Television Newsnight, and "blog" outlet TomPaine.com.