The Downing Street memo of July 23, 2002, has already been debated here
. We'll come back to that memo, but, as of today, another couple of documents have emerged which are, if anything, even more damning.
To look at them chronologically, we first have a report from British Ambassador Christopher Meyer
to Tony Blair, describing a meeting he had with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz on March 17, 2002:
On Iraq I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice last week. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option. It would be a tough sell for us domestically, and probably tougher elsewhere in Europe. The US could go it alone if it wanted to. But if it wanted to act with partners, there had to be a strategy for building support for military action against Saddam. I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN SCRs and the critical importance of the MEPP [Middle East Peace Process] as an integral part of the anti-Saddam strategy. If all this could be accomplished skilfully, we were fairly confident that a number of countries would come on board. [emphasis mine]
Clearly, "regime change" (illegal of itself) was being discussed by the US and Britain four and a half months before the Downing Street meeting. A second document has come to light, though, through The Sunday Times
that contains the brief that was issued immediately before
the July 23 meeting. First, it states that British ministers were warned in July 2002 that "Britain was committed to taking part in an American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a way of making it legal". The report goes on to say that Tony Blair had agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months earlier - April, 2002. The briefing paper admitted that since regime change was illegal it was "necessary to create the conditions" which would make it legal. In other words, as of July, 2002, "the conditions" did not exist
that would justify an invasion of Iraq.
The article goes on:
The document said the only way the allies could justify military action was to place Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
"It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject," the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack the allies, they would be "most unlikely" to obtain the legal justification they needed. [emphasis mine]
In short, the brief stated that Hussein was being set up. The minutes of the meeting arising from that brief are what have since become known as "the Downing Street memo"
. Those minutes detailed the secret pledge to President Bush to help oust Hussein, showed that Britain's Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, had warned such action could be illegal, and that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, had thought the case for war was "thin".
Most damningly, Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, revealed in the memo that, during recent talks in Washington, Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD - and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"
. There has been much debate here about what the meaning of the word "fixed" is - but that misses the point. What is being clearly stated is that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy, not that the policy was being fixed around the intelligence and facts. In short, the policy came first - the "intelligence" and "facts" came second. And the hard sell to the UN, Congress, and the American people by any means necessary came last of all.
Of course, the Bush administration didn't wait for the UN - or Congress. Another article
in today's Times
reminds us that British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said in the same July 23 meeting that the "US had already
begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime":
No bombs were dropped on southern Iraq in March 2002 but by July, with the "spikes of activity" in full flow, about 10 tons of bombs were being dropped a month. The problem was that the Iraqis didn't retaliate. They didn't provide the excuse Bush and Blair needed.
So at the end of August the allies started the air war anyway. The number of bombs dropped on southern Iraq shot up to 54.6 tons in September alone. [emphasis mine]
These figures show that Bush and Blair began their war, not in March 2003, but at the end of August 2002 - six weeks before Bush received congressional backing to use force against Iraq should it pose an immediate threat
- and more than two months before the UN vote.
Ever since the Downing Street Memo emerged six weeks ago, there has been a virtual blackout on it in the American press. Democrats.com went so far as to offer a $1,000 reward to any journalist who asked President Bush about the memo's contents. Last Tuesday, an intrepid reporter from Reuters finally raised the question at Bush and Blair's joint press conference - and it has been getting a bit
of coverage since. But allegations of media self-censorship have been backed up by the ombudsmen of The Washington Post, The New York Times
and NPR, who have all questioned the lack of coverage their organs have given the story.
Rep. John Conyers drafted a letter to Bush, signed by eighty-nine
members of Congress, asking if it the "intelligence and facts" had indeed been "fixed around the policy" by the White House. As the president has refused to answer the letter, Congressional Democrats are mounting their own inquiry starting this Thursday. In the meantime, Conyers has begun collecting signatures on a petition
demanding a response to the letter. It has already gathered more than half a million signatures (including my own).
For this discussion, I would like to look at the response to these documents by the US media, Congress, and the White House. If possible, I would like to avoid discussion of impeachment possibilities and general Bush-bashing. I would also like to avoid the whole "But the world's a better place without Saddam Hussein!" argument. The rationale
for ousting Hussein is irrelevant to this discussion, as are the possible implications of waging aggressive warfare and the "fixing" of intelligence. If you would like to discuss the contents or the implications of these documents, feel free to start another thread.
I would like to focus on your opinion
regarding the responses by the American media - why have they not been covering this and will they now start doing so?
- and the federal government - will/should Congress investigate and will/should the White House address these documents?
Questions to debate, then:
Why has "the liberal media" not been covering the Downing Street memo and its implications or the Conyers letter? Will the publication of these new documents prompt them to start reporting the news?
Should there be a full investigation of these documents by Congress? Should President Bush answer the questions put by eighty-nine members of Congess and half a million citizens?