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Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 17, 2005 Friday Home Edition
SECTION: News; Pg. 3A;
LENGTH: 658 words
HEADLINE: War critics target Bush;
Democrats want probe of memo
BYLINE: BOB DEANS

BODY:
Washington --- House Democrats demanded Thursday that Congress hold formal hearings into accusations in a leaked British government memo that the Bush administration intentionally manipulated intelligence to justify war against Iraq.

Rep. John Conyers of Michigan told two dozen fellow Democrats that the so-called Downing Street memo raised the possibility that fallen U.S. soldiers in Iraq "have lost their lives for a lie."

After an impassioned three-hour inquiry in a cramped room in the Capitol basement, Conyers led several hundred demonstrators in a rally across the street from the White House. Conyers hand-delivered to the White House a letter signed by 122 Democratic House members --- and an accompanying petition signed by 560,000 citizens --- demanding answers to questions raised by the memo.

"Many of us find it unacceptable for any administration --- be it Democratic or Republican --- to put our brave men and women in harm's way based on false information," he said.

The White House dismissed Conyers' letter as a political shot by Democrats who have long opposed the war.

"This is an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. He said the White House had not responded to a similar letter Conyers and dozens of other Democrats sent to Bush on May 5.

The Downing Street memo is a top-secret summary of a meeting involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior aides in July 2002, eight months before the Iraq invasion.

The memo, written by a senior British intelligence official and leaked to the British press this spring, asserts Bush was already determined to go to war against Iraq and "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" to inflate the threat posed by Iraqi chemical and biological weapons. No such weapons have been found.

Bush and Blair have denied rushing to war.

"There's nothing farther from the truth," Bush said at a news conference with Blair last week when asked about the memo. "We worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully."

Both leaders also have denied manipulating intelligence.

"The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all," Blair said.

Witnesses at Thursday's hearing, however, said the memo provided evidence that the administration was bent on war.

Former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, a longtime critic of the administration's handling of pre-war intelligence, said the case for war was put together by a "cabal of ideologues" who relied on information "thrown into the debate, not because it is true, but because it supports a political decision that has already been made."

Participants also heard impassioned testimony by Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Casey Sheehan, was among the more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq.

"If the Downing Street memo proves to be true, Casey and thousand of people should still be alive," she said. The memo, she said, "only confirms what I already suspected: the leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence. Iraq was not threat to the United States of America."

Some Democrats have been angered that the White House hasn't responded to Conyer's request for additional information concerning questions raised by the memo.

"A crack in the door has now been opened by the British," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.). By refusing to respond to Democrats' questions about the memo, Inslee said, the administration is "sticking their finger in the eye of the American people, and we don't intend to let that rest."

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has sought formal hearings for weeks but has been thwarted by the leadership in the House, where Republicans hold the numerical advantage.

GRAPHIC: PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / Associated Press U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) hand a White House aide petitions for a hearing on a British memo on Iraq. The White House called it a partisan stunt.

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