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Answers needed on Downing Street memo


Detroit Free Press
June 17, 2005 Friday 1 EDITION
LENGTH: 442 words
HEADLINE: WAR, RIGHTS AND SECURITY: Answers needed on Downing Street memo

BODY:
The White House is surely hoping that U.S. Rep. John Conyers will just go away. But he shouldn't, not while Americans are dying in Iraq.

The country deserves better answers than President George W. Bush has provided to date about his justification for the Iraq war, and Conyers is at least trying to get them.

As a member of the minority party from a state Bush didn't carry, he's not likely to succeed on his own. But the Detroit Democrat can raise public awareness of the so-called "Downing Street memo" to a point where more of the president's fellow Republicans, some of whom already are trying to distance themselves from the war, can join the chorus calling for answers. Perhaps former Secretary of State Colin Powell will add his voice, too, since he was the one who took the president's case for war to the United Nations, making quite a show of evidence that turned out to be false about Saddam Hussein as an imminent threat.

The Downing Street memo, named for the residence of the British prime minister, surfaced in May. It summarizes a meeting eight months before the war in which British officials just back from Washington said Bush already had decided to invade Iraq and that intelligence and facts were being "fixed" to justify the move.

American officials and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have denied that assertion, although it is attributed in the memo to the chief of British intelligence.

The Sunday Times of London also has reported on an eight-page briefing paper prepared for Blair that concludes the U.S. military gave "little thought" to the aftermath of a war in Iraq. The briefing paper of July 21, 2002, says that a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise and that "as already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point."

That memo appears prescient, given the unfolding of events since the toppling of the Hussein regime and the continuing casualties among U.S. forces and Iraqis.

While the Iraq war cannot be undone, it also is being held up as a manifestation of Bush administration policy that calls for preemptive action against imminent threats. Before that policy is invoked again, it's not unreasonable for members of Congress -- and the families of America's armed forces -- to ask for a more thorough accounting of the assessment of Iraq as a threat.

The war has proven that assessment wrong. No weapons of mass destruction were found. Conyers is asking how the United States could have been so wrong about something so important. The Downing Street memo offers an answer. Does the White House have a better one?

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