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New 'Downing Street Memo' says Bush, Blair agreed on 'regime change' in 2002

WORLD VIEWS: New 'Downing Street Memo' says Bush, Blair agreed on 'regime change' in 2002; Iraq seen to 'slide into civil war'; and more.
- Edward M. Gomez, special to SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Is it a second Downing Street Memo -- or something even more damning for both the Bush administration and the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair?

On May 1, Britain's Sunday Times broke the story of the now-infamous Downing Street Memo; that document, the minutes of a meeting of Blair's top advisers, showed that the prime minister had known, some eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, that a war not authorized by the United Nations would be illegal for British troops to take part in. Now The Times has scooped its rivals again with the news -- and the text of -- a leaked, extremely secret British Cabinet Office briefing paper dated July 23, 2002.

Prepared for Blair and his closest advisers, this newly discovered document clearly states that "since regime change was illegal, it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal."

The Times' news story, written by defense reporter Michael Smith, about the newly discovered, secret briefing paper noted that it had confirmed that Blair "had already 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." In his news article, Smith explained that fabricating conditions for going to war "was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal U.S. action."

The British Cabinet Office briefing paper also stated that "U.S. views of international law vary from that of the U.K. and the international community. Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law." It further stated that the British government "would regard the use of force against Iraq, or any other state, as lawful if exercised in the right of individual or collective self-defense, if carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe or if authorized by the U.N. Security Council." As it turned out, the U.S.-led attack on Iraq met none of those criteria.

Although mainstream American news media were very slow or apparently even reluctant to publish news of the Downing Street Memo until as late as the middle of May, this time, in the United States, the Times' revelation of the Cabinet Office briefing paper made the front page of The Washington Post.

Smith noted that many U.S. citizens, as they have learned about the Downing Street Memo and have become "angry at what they see as media self-censorship in ignoring [it]," have been flooding Web sites that have been set up to focus on the controversial British document. Many Americans, Smith noted, have "demanded to know why [it] has been largely ignored by the U.S. mainstream media" and have expressed their support for a letter that U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Ill.) and 88 other Democratic members of Congress have sent to President Bush. That missive asked Bush to confirm or deny that, as the Downing Street Memo asserted, in the run-up to the war, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" that led to the U.S.-led invasion. (Times)

Smith also noted that, because Bush has so far refused to answer the U.S. lawmakers, the members of Congress have set up a Web site named to collect signatures on a petition that urges the president to respond to their question. Another new site set up since the Downing Street Memo became known,, "is calling for a congressional committee to consider whether Bush's actions as depicted in the memo constitute grounds for impeachment."

In Sunday's Times, Smith predicted that Blair's just-uncovered, July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper "is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it."

* * * *
In other countries, some commentators have offered highly critical, bluntly worded assessments of just what they believe the Downing Street Memo represents.

In Canada, for example, Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis, writing just before news broke of the just-revealed Cabinet Office briefing paper, has authored one of the strongest. Language like his has yet to be seen jumping off the pages or screens of most mainstream U.S. news media outlets.

Of Bush and Blair's rush to war, Margolis writes, "And so it went. Lie after lie. Scare upon scare. Fakery after fakery, trumpeted by the tame [American] media that came to resemble the lickspittle press of the old Soviet Union. Ironically, in the end, horrid Saddam Hussein turned out to be telling the truth all along [about not having weapons of mass destruction], while Bush and Blair were not."

Margolis offers a conclusion that, so far, no major news sources in the United States has dared utter. The Downing Street Memo, he notes, "would have forced any of Europe's democratic governments to resign in disgrace. But not Bush and Blair. Far from it." He also chastises American news corporations for failing -- or refusing -- to investigate what appeared to news watchers in other countries to be a vitally important story linked to the war.

Instead, he observes, the U.S. mass media "amply confirmed charges of bias and politicization leveled against them by first ignoring the [Downing Street Memo] story, then grudgingly devoting a few low-key stories to the dramatic revelation. ... But don't just blame Bush and Blair. [Vice President Dick] Cheney, CIA boss George Tenet (a.k.a. 'Dr. Yes'), Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and other senior administration officials who promoted falsehoods over Iraq and war fever were just as guilty of deceiving and misleading the American people and Congress."

By contrast, he adds, "Kudos go to Blair's former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who refused to be party to the lies and resigned. No senior U.S. official had the guts or ethics to follow Cook's admirable example." (Toronto Sun)

* * * *
In Washington, U.S. policy makers may be hesitant to admit it, but in Europe, some news outlets are beginning to state clearly that with the "breakdown in security" in much of the country, Iraq has begun an unmistakable "slide into civil war." (L'Humanite) For those who may still not accept -- or want to accept -- this assessment, Behrouz Khosrozadeh, an international-relations professor based in Germany, predicts that "civil war and secession" (of parts of the country dominated by different ethnic or religious groups) will follow if Iraqis charged with drafting a new, permanent constitution fail to do so by their Aug. 15 deadline. (Tachles)

"We've been in a state of civil war for some time already," a doctor named Samir who fled Baghdad with his wife and children told a German reporter upon arrival at the Iraqi-Syrian border. "We're just glad to have escaped that hell."

For Samir, the war scene became unreal when the same Iraqi government that is trying to weed out terrorists began urging doctors to carry guns. The last straw came, he said, when he removed five bullets from a wounded man ("with all his family members by his side"), only to see the patient die. Then the dead man's brother put a gun to Samir's head. He was ready to shoot when, "at the last second, his father grabbed the arm with the weapon and pointed it upward[, and] the shot went into the roof," Samir recalled. "That was my last workday. My nerves were shot." (Schweriner Volkszeitung)

With similar grisliness, a reporter for the French newspaper L'Humanite, Anne Sophie Le Mauff, just back from Baghdad, wrote of an Iraqi man who was killed "with two bullets to the forehead." "His mistake? Working for an American company that specialized in security and being 'a Shiite without honor or shame,'" as a note from his killers indicated. The victim's father told the French journalist, "Killing has become a lucrative job."

Underscoring how unpredictable and frightening life in Iraq has become, Sheik Abdel Salam Koubeissi, a spokesman for a group of leading Muslim theologians, told Le Mauff that ordinary Iraqis feel trapped between the gunfire of insurgents and that of the security forces. As for Iraq's security officials, the sheik said that they had been "accustomed to Saddam's iron fist" and that, under the U.S.-led occupation, "they have very quickly learned from the Americans." Nowadays, he said, "[f]or nothing, they'll seize you, rough you up and throw you in prison even if you're innocent." But, he added, Iraq's police forces will "let terrorists go in exchange for colossal sums of money."

Author, artist and critic Edward M. Gomez is a former diplomat and correspondent for Time magazine in New York, Tokyo and Paris. He speaks several languages and has lived and worked all over the world. He is a regular contributor to The New York Times and other publications and is the U.S. editor of Raw Vision magazine.

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