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Bradenton Herald


The Bradenton Herald

June 19, 2005 Sunday EST EDITION

SECTION: LOCAL; BRIEF; Pg. 12

LENGTH: 891 words

HEADLINE: 'Fixed' for war?;
Downing Street Memo cries out for answers

BODY:
Why is the American public so apathetic about the Downing Street Memo?

A nation that just a few years ago was obsessed with fudging over sexual trysts by one president seems unconcerned about evidence of lying by another to justify a war that has cost the lives of more than 1,700 American service members, killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

Like a 2,000-pound elephant in the room that everyone tries to ignore, the Downing Street Memo will stay until it is acknowledged and dealt with. It will not go away without a thorough congressional investigation.

What is the Downing Street Memo? It is a summary by an aide to British Prime Minister Tony Blair of talks between Britain's intelligence chief and American officials in Washington in July 2002 regarding the situation in Iraq. The document, classified as top secret, was leaked to a British newspaper last month during Britain's national election campaign. It was a factor in Blair's party's loss of seats in Parliament. But in this country it has stirred barely a ripple of interest except among liberal commentators whose audience is relatively small and non-activist.

The meeting was held almost seven months before the initiation of the war in Iraq in March 2003. The memo deals with the planning by American officials that went into the decision to go to war. Compared to previous discussions between the British intelligence official and his American counterparts, "There was a perceptible shift in attitude" at this meeting, the memo states. "Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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. . ."

Impact is disturbing

Read in their context, those are extremely disturbing statements. They say that the Bush administration intended to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein as Iraq's leader. They say that, to justify that policy, the administration was manipulating intelligence and the facts to link terrorism and Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

They say, in effect, that the president lied about the reasons to go to war.

The memo goes on to say that "the case (against Saddam) was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

We know in retrospect that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That pretext was false. But what did we know in mid-2002 when this memo was written? That there was a great deal of doubt over whether Saddam had such weapons. The CIA reported it had no evidence of such capability. It found no evidence that Niger was supplying "yellow cake," or enriched uranium, to Iraq. The State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency gave pessimistic reports to the White House.

Yet the Bush team was going about the country in the subsequent seven months making unequivocal claims about Saddam's WMDs. Bush referred to the "yellow cake" in his '03 State of the Union speech. Vice President Dick Cheney said Aug. 26, 2002, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction." Both Bush and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice used the "mushroom cloud" metaphor to raise fears about Saddam's nuclear capability. Secretary of State Colin Powell added his claims about imminent peril in a speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003.

Was it all "fixed" to justify Bush's pre-emptive-strike policy? His political opponents have claimed as much since the war produced no WMD evidence and the sources of misleading intelligence were exposed as unreliable Iraqi dissidents. But here is verification by an independent source - a trusted ally sharing with his leaders his honest views, in assumed secrecy.

Denials aren't answers

Bush and Blair jointly denied the thrust of the memo in a joint press conference June 7. Both said they worked hard together to avoid war but it ultimately became unavoidable.

But they didn't answer the questions raised by the memo. Why was Saddam's removal so critical? What intelligence made them conclude that at least one of Britain's three conditions for joining in the war had been met: self-defense, averting a humanitarian catastrophe, or authorization by the U.N. Security Council?

Both leaders must be made to provide answers. This is not some political maneuver that can be swept under the rug. Indeed, Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal pales in comparison to massive deception to launch a war.

In the '90s we spent more than $60 million for a special prosecutor to spend years trying to dig up evidence of wrongdoing by President Clinton - wrongdoing about sexual trysts with women and a penny-ante land deal in Arkansas. Conservatives were outraged at Clinton's semantical acrobatics and his ultimate lie about whether he had sex "with that woman."

Here we have a war in which thousands are dying and being maimed, and a top-secret document that says evidence was "fixed" to justify it. It's not quite as definitive as a tape recording with the president's own voice, which Watergate produced, but it is definitely a smoking gun loaded with fingerprints.

Why is there so little interest in it being investigated?

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