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Black Congressional Leadership Drives Demand for Downing Street Minutes Investigation
By David Swanson
When nine white men met and plotted at #10 Downing Street in London, England, on July 23, 2002, they probably did not anticipate that three years later a small group of U.S. Congress Members, led by black men and women, would make that meeting a focus of public attention. But when Congress Members John Conyers, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Charles Rangel, Sheila Jackson Lee, and others hold town hall forums all over this country on the three-year anniversary of the meeting recorded in the Downing Street Minutes, they will be demanding an investigation supported by a majority of Americans. Indeed, the outcome of their campaign could be more than the erosion of support for the war in Iraq; it could be the erosion of American credulity for the next several wars that presidents try to sell us on false pretenses.
Number 10 Downing Street is, of course, the residence of the Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair. He met there three years ago with his Foreign Secretary, Defense Secretary, Attorney General, Chief of Secret Intelligence, Joint Intelligence Committee Chief, the head of Britain's armed forces, and a foreign policy advisor who has since become Ambassador to the United States. Also present was a foreign policy aide who took the minutes. These weren't just any white guys. These were the men who controlled the United Kingdom and, against the will of its people, made it the chief ally of the United States in its attack on Iraq. Britain's Chief of Secret Intelligence (the head of MI6) reported at this meeting on discussions he had just held in the United States with the head of the CIA, George Tenet, and – it appears very likely – with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
The Downing Street Minutes and related documents (all available at www.afterdowningstreet.org) provide new and compelling evidence that President Bush, by the summer of 2002
--had secretly decided to go to war,
--had agreed to go to the United Nations only as a (failed) attempt to legalize a predetermined invasion,
--and had decided to deceive and mislead the Congress and the American people with false claims about both weapons of mass destruction and ties between Saddam Hussein and 9-11.
The Bush Administration's conspiracy to deceive Congress culminated in a fraudulent letter to Congress on March 18, 2003, claiming continued U.N. inspections would endanger the national security of the United States.
This fraud violated the federal anti-conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371, which makes it a felony "to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose..."; and The False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, 18 U.S.C.§ 1001, which makes it a felony to issue knowingly and willfully false statements to the United States Congress.
This criminal action constitutes a High Crime under Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, which says: "The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Congress Members are not yet using the I-word, but they are moving the issue forward, and the public is drawing the appropriate conclusion on its own.
A June 23-26, 2005, ABC/Washington Post poll found 52 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration "deliberately misled the public before the war," a nine-point increase in three months. And 57 percent say the Bush administration "intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
A June 27-29, 2005, Zogby poll found 42 percent of Americans say that "if it is found that President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should hold him accountable through impeachment." According to Zogby, in Eastern and Western states supporters of impeachment outnumber opponents.
The 42 percent above is significantly higher than the 27 percent of Americans who favored impeachment of President Clinton before impeachment proceedings began in 1998.
Despite this popularity for questioning Bush's pre-war claims and for considering the possibility of impeachment, most Congress Members are predictably hesitant. A majority of them are members of a political party that operates like a dictatorship. And many of those in the nominally opposition party aren't quite sure they want to oppose anything. As the Black Commentator has skillfully documented, this includes some corporatist members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Nonetheless, the Congress Members whom activists have learned to turn to are disproportionately black, although the Congress is disproportionately white. Let's look at some numbers.
Eight percent of the members of both houses of Congress (43 of 535) are black, one percent of senators (1 of 100), and 10 percent of House members (42 of 435).
But 44 percent (27 of 62) of the members of the newly formed Out of Iraq Caucus are black, including five of the eight co-founders, and the chair, Maxine Waters. The numbers for the Progressive Caucus, out of which this caucus formed, are similar.
When Congressman Conyers held a hearing on the Downing Street Minutes on June 16, nearly half of the 35 Congress Members who squeezed into the small room in the basement of the Capitol - the only room the Republicans had allowed - were black. As were five of the seven members who then delivered a letter to the White House and spoke at a rally in Lafayette Square Park organized by the After Downing Street coalition. The letter, written by Conyers, asked Bush five simple questions about the Downing Street Minutes, and had by that point been signed by over 560,000 Americans and 123 Congress Members.
Of the 123 Congress Members who signed Conyers' letter, 30 percent (37) are black. Of the 52 who signed a more recent, and yet to be answered, Freedom of Information Act request (also initiated by Conyers) demanding information from the White House, State Department, and Defense Department related to the Downing Street Minutes, 27 percent (14) are black.
And black leadership extends to other steps taken to question or oppose the war. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey is white, but 41 percent (14 of 34) of the cosponsors of her resolution calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq are black. Woolsey and Lee are co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus.
While only 34 congress members have co-sponsored that resolution, 128 voted for an amendment Woolsey proposed on the floor of the House, which would have required the White House to formulate an exit strategy and a strategy for rebuilding Iraq. Those 128 were, again, disproportionately black.
In the last congress, 50 percent (13 of 26) of those backing a resolution by Congresswoman Lee to disavow the doctrine of preemption were black, as were 39 percent (18 of 46) of those backing a Lee resolution to create an independent commission or select House committee to investigate U.S. intelligence relating to the war.
We all recall that only Congresswoman Lee dared to vote against the war on Afghanistan. Only Congressman Rangel has dared to introduce legislation to" remove all restrictions from the public, the press, and military families in mourning that would prohibit their presence at the arrival at military installations in the United States or overseas of the remains of the Nation's fallen heroes, the members of the Armed Forces who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan."
And only Congressman Conyers has made dragging the truth of the Downing Street Minutes into the light of day a major mission. In fact, he's tentatively planning an investigative trip to London next month focused on finding out more about U.S. pre-war planning, something the people of our democracy seem best able to learn of via British sources.
Meanwhile, Lee is planning to introduce a Resolution of Inquiry, which will likely be referred to the International Relations Committee, seeking information from our government contemporaneous to the meeting at #10 Downing Street.
Promoting that Resolution of Inquiry will be part of the agenda of nationwide forums, study circles, and house parties on Saturday, July 23, a week from next Saturday. (To find, or create, an event in your area, see: www.afterdowningstreet.org).
Meanwhile, in the Senate, things are quieter. The Senate Intelligence Committee had committed to investigating pre-war intelligence, but put it off until after the election of last November, and then declared it not worth looking into. On June 22, ten senators sent a letter to the committee asking for the investigation to be done. The Senate's one black member did not sign the letter and has not been heard from on the question of the Downing Street Minutes. And the Senate's 99 white members are a lot harder for activists to work with than are those members of the House, mostly black, who seem to better understand popular movements.
Last Saturday night another leak came out of England, this one suggesting that the US and UK are secretly planning major reductions of forces in Iraq, timed to precede the 2006 US elections. While this would be tremendously good news, if true, there is a danger that it could cause us to ease the pressure both for an investigation of what caused this war and for the complete liberation of Iraq from U.S. occupation. At this point, it becomes critical that we demand a real exit strategy and a guarantee that the Iraqi people maintain control of their oil.
While eight major US military bases are being built in Iraq, together with the world's largest embassy and huge new US prisons for Iraqis, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has introduced a "Bill to Prevent Permanent Bases in Iraq."
"We need to make it perfectly clear," Lee said in a press release, "that there will be no permanent US military presence in Iraq. An open-ended military presence in Iraq will only fuel the insurgency and make our troops more vulnerable."
On April 13, 2004, President Bush said: "As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America."
On February 17, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said "We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq."
Lee said of her new legislation: "the aim of this bill is to simply codify the sentiments expressed by the President and the Secretary of Defense that we will not have a permanent military presence in Iraq."
David Swanson is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997.