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"Downing Street memo" on Iraq met mostly with silence
Bush officials mum despite calls for answers on Brit report
By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER, San Mateo County Times
It's been more than a month since The Times of London published a secret British government memo from mid-2002 describing the Bush administration's resolve to invade Iraq whether it posed a threat or not.
It's been about a month since 89 House Democrats � including six from the Bay Area � asked the president to explain himself in light of this memo.
And it's been almost three weeks since the White House press secretary said that isn't going to happen.
So now what?
The blogosphere still burns with items about what's often called the "Downing Street memo," named for the site of the British prime minister's home and office.
And House Judiciary Committee ranking Democrat John Conyers, D-Mich., who authored the House Democrats' letter, has put a version of that letter on his campaign Web site, www.johnconyers.com, so the public can add their "signatures" for submittal to the White House; about 89,000had signed by Wednesday.
Otherwise, there's nothing doing.
Apparently authored by a foreign-policy aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Downing Street memo contains minutes from a July 23, 2002, meeting of high-ranking officials. Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British secret intelligence service MI6, had recently met with CIA officials in Washington and was quoted as saying, "(m)ilitary action was now seen as inevitable."
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," the memo says. "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC (National Security Council) had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
The memo also said Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated he would discuss the issue with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell later that week. "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
Blair's office told The Times the memo contained "nothing new." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan more than two weeks later said claims that intelligence was fixed to justify the war are "flat-out wrong," adding he hadn't seen the "specific memo" but only reports of its content.
The lawmakers' May 5 letter to President Bush asked him to publicly state, among other things, whether his administration tried to manipulate intelligence and create an ultimatum to justify the war. Among those signing the letter were Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; George Miller, D-Martinez; Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; Lynn Woolsey, D-San Rafael; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.
McClellan said on May 17 that the White House saw "no need" to respond to the Conyers letter. Stark said Thursday he's not surprised.
"If the President won't respond to the deaths of more than 1,600 U.S. troops and more than 20,000 Iraqi civilians, why would I expect him to respond to a memo?" he said. "America doesn't trust the president or his administration on Iraq, and when further evidence of their lies become public, it's just as expected as the discovery of another shady relationship between a lobbyist and (House Majority Leader) Tom DeLay."
Lee said Friday the memo "is strong evidence that the Bush administration not only manipulated intelligence data to justify the invasion of Iraq, but deliberately misled Congress and the American people about it while telling the truth to the British government.
"Given the gravity of the questions this memo raises, I think the Bush administration's silence speaks volumes. Our nation deserves answers."
Among those who didn't sign the Conyers letter were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, the House International Relations Committee's ranking Democrat.
Pelosi always has said the war lacked adequate justification, spokesman Brendan Daly said Thursday. "This (memo) basically told us what we already knew, it verified what we already knew."
As for the letter, Pelosi often supports efforts like this without actually signing on to them, Daly added. "She felt her position was already clear, so she didn't feel a need to sign it."
Lantos spokesman Lynne Weil said Friday that "the Conyers letter escaped notice (in Lantos' office) until after the deadline to sign it had gone by." She didn't comment on what Lantos � who supports the war in Iraq but has criticized President Bush's handling of it � thought of the Downing Street memo.
Critics complain U.S. news media have been mostly silent on the memo. Cursory searches this week turned up four stories about the memo at CNN.com, and one each on the Web sites of Fox News, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
"I think that the media is afraid to follow up on the very grave implications of this story because they have grown accustomed to being bullied by the Bush administration, and because the story implicates the media for giving the Bush administration a free ride in deliberately misleading the American people into an unnecessary and increasingly disastrous war," Lee said. "Sadly, the type of courageous, independent journalism that uncovered the Watergate scandal is nowhere to be found today."
See the entire Downing Street memo at http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-1593607,00.html
See the Congressional letter to President Bush at http://www.house.gov/judiciary_democrats/ letters/bushsecretmemoltr5505.pdf.
Contact Josh Richman at email@example.com.