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Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio)
June 17, 2005 Friday 4X EDITION
SECTION: A; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 838 words
HEADLINE: Democrats try to build case to impeach president;
Critics hold hearing on Iraq war;
Bush inquiry urged
BYLINE: By Stewart M. Powell; Hearst Newspapers
Democratic critics on Thursday tried to build a case for the impeachment of President Bush for allegedly taking the nation to war in Iraq on false pretenses.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and a veteran of impeachment proceedings against President Nixon in 1974, launched an unofficial, Democrats-only inquiry into allegations that Bush contrived U.S. intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify a long-planned U.S.-British invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
The Conyers hearing lacked official standing because it wasn't authorized by the Republican leaders of the House.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan quickly rebuffed Conyers' inquiry, saying Bush has no plans to respond.
Conyers ''voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed,'' McClellan said. ''Our focus is not on the past. It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq.''
Conyers' forum invoked all the trappings of an official congressional inquiry -- including sworn testimony, American flags and coverage by C-SPAN -- as he publicly demanded that Bush ''explain his actions'' for going to war on what may have been ''false pretenses'' and ''false information.''
The inquiry was triggered by the publication last month of secret minutes of the British war cabinet in July 2002 indicating that Bush may have deceived Congress eight months before the invasion of Iraq when he publicly claimed he was pressing for a diplomatic end to the standoff over suspected weapons of mass destruction when he was secretly laying the groundwork for war.
The minutes -- dubbed the ''Downing Street Memo'' because the meeting was held at No. 10 Downing St., the prime minister's official residence -- have never been disowned by the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Earlier this month, however, Bush and Blair denied at a joint White House news conference that they had secretly agreed in advance to invade Iraq before seeking authorization by the U.N. Security Council or that they had ''fixed'' pre-war intelligence to justify an invasion.
The Downing Street Memo quoted Sir Richard Dearlove, then-head of British intelligence, telling that his recent meetings in Washington showed ''a perceptible shift in attitude'' to the point that U.S.-led military action against Iraq was ''now seen as inevitable.''
Bush ''wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and (weapons of mass destruction),'' Dearlove said. ''But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.''
Conyers, a 41-year veteran of Congress, said those notes from the British Cabinet meeting mean that more than 1,700 American GIs and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis ''have lost their lives for a lie.''
Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, withheld their formal approval of the Conyers' forum, which was attended by nearly two dozen House Democrats.
The event was the first sign of political momentum for a grass-roots effort by some Democrats and antiwar organizations to pressure the Republican-controlled House to open preliminary impeachment proceedings against the president.
Conyers later delivered to the White House a letter from 122 House Democrats to Bush and petitions signed by some 540,000 people asking the commander- in-chief to respond to a list of questions based on the minutes of the British cabinet meeting.
Critics of Bush and opponents of the war rallied across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park.
One protester, the Rev. Werner Lange of Newton Falls, Ohio, came dressed as Uncle Sam. He carried a sign saying ''Impeach Him.''
''Because of this lie, hundreds of thousands have died,'' said Lange, one of Northeast Ohio's most outspoken critics of the administration. He said Bush ''should be charged with war crimes.''
Conyers' mock congressional hearing packed roughly three dozen lawmakers, congressional staffers, soldiers' relatives, television crews and reporters into a Capitol hideaway conference room under the control of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House Democratic leader.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had rejected Conyers' request to use a more spacious committee hearing room for the unauthorized hearing.
The emotional high point of the forum came when Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., mother of slain Army Spc. Casey Austin Sheehan, 24, called for Congress to launch a ''full investigation into the veracity'' of the British memo.
Sheehan, who held up a photograph of her son as a 7-month-old sucking his fingers, said the memo left her ''even more convinced that this aggression in Iraq was based on a lie of historic proportions and was blatantly unnecessary.''
Sheehan added: ''Anyone who lied to us about this invasion should be brought to justice.''
Knight Ridder contributed to this report.