Debating Downing Street
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Tomorrow in Washington, Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, will convene a public hearing on the so-called Downing Street Memo and other newly released documents that Conyers says show the administration's "efforts to cook the books on pre-war intelligence."
Conyers also says that he plans to raise new documents that back up the accuracy of the Downing Street memo, which is actually the classified minutes of a July 2002 meeting of Tony Blair and his senior advisers.
The minutes, which were published May 1 by the Sunday Times of London, paint a picture of an administration that had already committed to attacking Iraq, was manipulating intelligence and had already begun intense bombing of Iraq to prepare for the ground invasion. This was almost a year before the actual invasion officially began.
The minutes are from a July 23, 2002 briefing of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security advisers by British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove. The minutes contain an account of Dearlove's report that President George W. Bush had decided to bring about "regime change" in Iraq by military action; that the attack would be "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD" (weapons of mass destruction); and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Meanwhile, this past weekend, the Sunday Times of London had another expose, showing that British cabinet members were warned that the UK was committed to taking part in a US-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal. The memo was written in advance of the Downing Street meeting that produced the Downing Street Minutes.
Despite the explosive information in these documents, they have received very little attention in the corporate media in this country and Bush administration officials have only been asked about it a handful of times.
On June 7, after more than a month of media silence, a reporter for the Reuters news agency finally questioned President Bush and Tony Blair on the Downing Street Memo.
The Conyers hearing is scheduled for tomorrow on Capitol Hill, but only today did Conyers announce that they would be inside of the Capitol. Until this morning, they were scheduled to take place at the Democratic National Committee because the Republicans controlling the House Judiciary Committee refused to permit the ranking Democratic Member, John Conyers, to hold official hearings. Conyers now says he has managed to get an official room.
Among those scheduled to testify tomorrow are former US ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, attorney John Bonifaz and parents of soldiers killed in Iraq. The hearings will be followed by a rally outside the White House tomorrow evening and a petition with some half a million signatures will be delivered to the White House, calling on Bush to answer questions on the memo.
AMY GOODMAN: On June 7, after more than a month of media silence, a reporter for the Reuters news agency finally questioned President Bush and Tony Blair on the Downing Street Memo:
REPORTER: On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street Memo from July 2002 says, "Intelligence and facts remain fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action." Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?
TONY BLAIR: Well, I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all. And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations. Now, no one knows more intimately the discussions that we were conducting as two countries at the time than me.
And the fact is, we decided to go to the United Nations and went through that process, which resulted in the November 2002 United Nations resolution to give a final chance to Saddam Hussein to comply with international law. He didn't do so. And that was the reason why we had to take military action. But, you know, all the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict.
As it happened, we weren't able to do that because, as I think was very clear, there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked or the way that he acted.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I, you know, I read kind of the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I'm not sure who they dropped it out is, but I'm not suggesting you all dropped it out there. And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There is nothing farther from the truth. My conversations with the Prime Minister was how can we do this peacefully, what could we do, and this meeting, you know, evidently that took place in London happened before we even went to the United Nations or I went to the United Nations, and so it's - look, both of us didn't want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, responding to a question about the Downing Street Memo on June 7. Well, hearings are scheduled for tomorrow, but they won't be held in an official committee room. Instead, they will be held at the Democratic National Committee, because the Republicans controlling the House Judiciary Committee refuse to permit the ranking Democratic Member, John Conyers, to hold official hearings. Among those scheduled to testify on Thursday are former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Joe Wilson, attorney John Bonifaz and the parents of soldiers killed in Iraq. The hearings will be followed by a rally outside the White House tomorrow evening, and a petition with some half a million signatures, which will be delivered to the White House calling on Bush to answer questions on the memo.
We're joined now in our Washington, D.C. studio by two guests: Democratic Congress Member John Conyers of Michigan, who is organizing the hearing, and Ray McGovern, who will be testifying at the hearing. He was a 27-year career analyst with the C.I.A. During the Reagan administration, he was the senior intelligence briefer of then Vice President George H.W. Bush. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! We're going to begin with Congress Member Conyers. Can you talk about why you are holding this hearing, Congress Member Conyers? And welcome.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, there are a lot of reasons, but being on the Judiciary Committee, charged with protecting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we have got a very fundamental question here that goes beyond when did the President begin to decide he was going to invade, and to notice, Amy, that the President is still denying that he ever intended to use force, yet those criticizing the memo are saying that everybody knew all along that he was going to do it. So, this is playing out, but we have a very deeper constitutional question over the authority to go to war, because it now appears that the President was planning to go to war, from both information we have received inside his administration and now outside of it, and that is the importance of the Downing Street Memo and the detail that is now coming out of it.
We now have a serious question of whether -- if the Members of Congress had known of the determination, the fixed stated position of the President when at the same time he was telling us that he was exploring every option to avoid war, I don't think he would have got a successful vote that gave him additional military authority. So, we're talking about who determines how we go to war, and it's been cleverly set up through this administration, a war against terror, and a war in which we were going to get in a preemptive sort of way someone that was a danger to this country, and that looks so absurd now, that Iraq, with hardly anything, was going to be a danger to this country. It makes it clear that the much deeper question is not how do we get our boys out of there, which of course, we want to do, but who is going to have this awesome power if we're in this unending war against terror to commit the United States and its awesome military power to force.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about why you're holding this meeting, not in Congress, but in the Democratic National Committee headquarters?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Well, we have been precluded, as you have suggested, but flash, this just in: We think that we're going to be able to get a room for the hearing inside the Capitol.
AMY GOODMAN: So, it won't be at the D.N.C.?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: No, ma'am.
AMY GOODMAN: Ah.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: We would much prefer it to be very accessible to our colleagues, and it's very appropriate. This is a very serious matter. We're talking about who has the right to declare war, and were we properly informed? Misleading the Congress and the American people is a very serious matter, and what we're trying to do is document, Amy, on evidence around and outside of the administration the fact that it was a clear intention of President Bush to go into Iraq months before he ever got the permission from Congress. But yet, he's still denying that he ever wanted to go to war. And those -- there are those in -- some in the media who are saying oh, everybody knew that all the time. There's nothing new about the Downing Street Memo...
AMY GOODMAN: ...Congress member Conyers joins us in Washington, along with former C.I.A. analyst, Ray McGovern. Ray McGovern, can you talk about what is most explosive about both, what is being called the Downing Street Memo, that talks about fixing the facts and intelligence around the policy, and this latest expose of the Sunday Times of London, showing British cabinet members were warned that Britain was committed to taking part in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and they had no choice but to find a way to make it legal?
RAY McGOVERN: Well, Amy, we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity had been saying for three years that the intelligence and the facts were being fixed to support an unnecessary war. We never in our wildest dreams expected to have documentary proof of that under a SECRET label: "SECRET: U.K. EYES ONLY" in a most sensitive document reserved just for cabinet officials in the Blair government. And so, what we have now is documentary proof that, as that sentence reads, the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.
The Washington Post this morning is still at it. They quote that sentence, and they say, "Well, this is vague, but intriguing." Well, there's nothing vague about that at all, and it's not at all intriguing. It's highly depressing. Now, we veteran professionals, we professionals that toil long and hard in the intelligence arena are outraged at the corruption of our profession, but we are even more outraged by the constitutional implications here because as Congressman Conyers has just pointed out, we have here a very clear case that the Executive usurped the prerogatives of Congress of the American people and deceived it into permitting, authorizing an unauthorizeable war.
And, you know, when you get back to how our Constitution was framed by those English folks that were used to kings marching them off to the war blithely for their own good, of course, those framers of our Constitution were hell-bent and determined and wrote into the very first Article of our Constitution that the power to make or authorize war would be reserved to the representatives of people in the Congress, not in the Executive. And so, for that usurpation to happen, that is a constitutional issue, and we're even more outraged by that.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress Member John Conyers, there's a piece at Salon.com by Eric Boehlert that talks about the press coverage of this in this country, it's called "We Dropped the Ball on Downing Memo," a quote of A.P. And it says, "As newspaper editors look back and examine why the controversial Downing Street Memo, first published by the Times Of London received so little coverage in their paper, several of them are pointing to the same culprit, the Associated Press. Editors rely on the worldwide wire service to let them know what's worthy of attention, and that's particularly true for international events. In the case of the Downing Street Memo out of London, they say the A.P. simply failed to cover the story."
Jim Cox, USA Today Senior Assignment Editor for Foreign News tells Salon that when the story first broke last month, (quote), "We looked to wires for guidance, but for days didn't see anything. It was a month before the paper reported on the memo." Cox takes the blame for that omission. On Sunday, the Ombudsman at the Minneapolis Star Tribune addressed readers' complaints about the paper's lack of Downing memo coverage. According to that account, the paper's Nation-World Editor, Dennis McGrath was aware of the memo story when it broke in May, and he and his deputies (quote) "began watching for a wire story." A week later they were still watching. He said, 'We were frustrated the wires were not providing stories on this." The paper eventually assigned the story to a local reporter.
And it goes on to say, finally, that in response to a request, Deborah Seward, A.P.'s International Editor, conceded to Salon in an email, "Yes, there is no question A.P. dropped the ball in not picking up on the Downing Street Memo sooner." "Seward deserves credit," says Eric Boehlert, "for admitting A.P.'s error, but a more pressing question remains about the media at large: Why, in the face of the clearly newsworthy memo which made international headlines and went straight to the issue of how and why President Bush decided to invade Iraq, did senior editors and producers at virtually every major American news outlet let the story slip through the cracks?" Congress Member Conyers.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Miss Goodman, the problem with the media in the United States is that it's been intimidated, seduced, and in other words brought under the thrall of this administration like no other time in my 40-year experience here in Washington, D.C. It's incredible. Now, this news was perfectly available to any citizen, not only A.P. or any other media service. Recently, I held a forum with a dozen other members of Congress about bias in the media. This selectivity to protect the President and the administration at all costs, and hoping that these stories will go away.
Remember Watergate. A little three-sentence blurb in The Washington Post far in the back part of the paper about a political burglary, and it had to grow from there. The administration has been stonewalling. Can you imagine that it started off with 89 members of Congress sending him a letter just asking him a few questions about the Downing Street memorandum, transcribed by British intelligence, and we got nothing?
Now we have over 500,000 American citizens now. It's incredible what's happened. The harder they try to keep this down, the more people become enraged, and they have joined us and we're going to be delivering petitions of these citizens that are saying, "Just speak to this question, Mr. President. How many Congressmen have to sign a letter to get you to respond to something as fundamentally important as this?"
AMY GOODMAN: In our news headlines today, Wisconsin, the state's Democratic Party, has passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush, as well as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The resolution called on Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against the three officials accusing them of misleading the country in the lead up to war. Last year, the Democratic Party in Nevada passed the same resolution. The National Green Party, as well as former presidential candidate, Nader, have -- Ralph Nader, have called on Bush's impeachment. Are you calling for President Bush's impeachment?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: At this point, I'm still collecting evidence. There are a lot of other bits of evidence that we have to put together to make it perfectly clear that this isn't a matter of how you interpret a memo that speaks in the plainest of language, and I, as the senior member on the committee that would be in charge of anything that comes under the rubric of the I-word, I am staying away from that subject until I have completed my investigation. There are others, who -- constitutional scholars, lawyers, professors that are all looking at this question, but I can tell you this: Deceiving the Congress, deceiving the American people, planning a war that is not pre-emptive, cooking the books to create weapons of mass destruction, and then trying to beef up the intelligence to comport to a -- to provoke Iraq to join us in a war, then going to the United Nations, hoping that the United Nations demand to go in and examine for these hidden weapons, all of these pretexts which failed, and now we have the question of whose -- does Article I, Section 8, giving the Congress the power to declare war, is that still in existence or have we slipped into this era where in a never-ending war against terrorism, we may be confronted with presidents who may operate as carelessly and as recklessly as this President that we have at this point?
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Michigan Congress Member John Conyers who is holding a hearing on the Downing Street Memo tomorrow, and has won a small victory. It will actually be able to be held in Congress. Ray McGovern also with us, a long-time C.I.A. analyst for more than a quarter century, a top briefer for former Vice President George H.W. Bush. I wanted to ask you about Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, who had said that there were no weapons of mass destruction, cited by western officials, U.S. officials, for many other reasons, but they never brought up that issue. Can you talk about the significance of this?
RAY McGOVERN: Yes. This gentleman's name was Hussein Kamel. He was one of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law. And he defected in 1995 and was thoroughly debriefed by U.N. and U.S. and U.K. debriefers. He had quite a story to tell, because he was head of the missile, chemical, biological and nuclear programs in Iraq. And he was able to finger some of the things that the U.N. inspectors did not know, and what he told them turned out to be quite right. He also told them that the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and weapons were destroyed at his order in July of 1991, right after the Gulf War. That's in black and white. It's in the debriefing report. An enterprising British researcher went to Vienna. I don't know how he got access to the debriefing report, but he did, and he found out that Kamel also said, as I said, that all those weapons were destroyed at his order. Of course, he was in charge.
Now, curiously enough, that seemed to escape our leaders. It was never cited, although Hussein Kamel himself was held up as the paragon of a reliable source. Dick Cheney, himself, in his major speech of 26 August, 2002, held Hussein's son-in-law as one of our most lucrative, reliable sources, but he never told us that this source, this wonderful source, also told us that all those weapons had been destroyed in July of 1991 at his order. Now, there's no excuse for them not knowing that. It may have slipped in a crack between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., I suppose, but it also appeared in Newsweek four weeks before the war. Four weeks before the war, the report that Hussein Kamel, their paragon source, had said all those weapons had been destroyed. Now, the C.I.A and the spokesmen there and all of the other spokesmen in government said this was ludicrous, this was false; besides, it's untrue and everything else. And they came down real hard on it.
Guess what our domesticated press did with that. No more story on that, because they were all cheerleading for the war. And I'll just make one more point about our domesticated press. The Washington Post today in this lead editorial says that these memos were not given much play in the press because, (quote), "They do not add a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's pre-war deliberations." Now, if The Washington Post knew that as of 23 July, 2002, the President had, in the British word, inevitably decided on war, if they knew that the president intended to use as justification the conjunction between terrorism and so-called weapons of mass destruction, and if they knew that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy, you know, they really ought to -- they surely should have told us that, The Washington Post should have.
It's really ludicrous. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious a situation. Because what needs to happen here is you have a start-up newspaper in Washington called The Washington Spark, okay? Now, on the 11th of May, they carried the whole story, including the memo itself. Right here. Now, that hasn't appeared in The Washington Times or The Washington Post, but here in The Washington Spark, new start-up paper, just days after the memo, it's there. So it's possible there's some kind of a rule against publishing things that are so critically damaging of our President, and the editorial in the Post today is Exhibit A.
AMY GOODMAN: I encourage people to go to our website at DemocracyNow.org. We interviewed Rolf Ekeus, who had questioned Hussein Kamel and said that at the time, he said, there were no weapons of mass destruction. By the way, the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein did ultimately go back to Iraq, and he was executed by Saddam Hussein and his forces. Question for Congress Member John Conyers, as you hold this hearing tomorrow, what kind of attention are you getting, and what kind of response have you gotten from Republicans? Have any supported you in this raising of questions around the fixing of the facts and intelligence to fit the policy?
REP. JOHN CONYERS: A few Republican members of Congress have quietly given me the thumbs up sign to indicate that they know that what we're doing is not partisan, that it is indeed trying to make sure our Constitution isn't ripped to shreds in this one administration, but none of them have dared to come forward. Well, I take that back. We had a vote on Lynn Woolsey's amendment a couple weeks ago in which we said that the President must come forward with a plan to leave Iraq, and we were able to get several members of Congress, not Democrats, to join us on that. There have been little, tiny indications from one or two or three or four members that they're prepared to publicly state that what we are seeking has nothing to do with partisanship.
We're trying to preserve the greatest Constitution for a democratic government that's ever been written. And it can't be preserved if we're going to allow these transgressions that, as you and Mr. McGovern have pointed out, are so obvious that the media's ignoring them, gives a deafening roar of silence. The silence, it becomes so loud that even the people are now rising up. And you can't keep the truth down. And it finally begins to come up. We have seen that in Watergate. We have seen that in the Vietnam incident. I think we may be seeing it now because more and more media are now turning to it, and now they're apologizing, and as usual, I forgive all of the media for their lapses and transgressions, but please, let's cover --
RAY McGOVERN: Let's do it now.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: Let's start doing the job.
RAY McGOVERN: Amen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Congress Member John Conyers of Michigan will be holding a hearing on Thursday on the Downing Street Memo. It will take place in Congress. Former C.I.A. analyst, Ray McGovern, thank you for joining us. We know that you can get more information at AfterDowningStreet.org and of course, you can go to our website which links to all of the information related to this at
Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program Democracy Now!.