THE SAD AND CONTINUING SAGA OF THE DOWNING STREET MEMO'S 'COVERAGE'
IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
By David Michael Green
Hey, here�s a question for you.
There�s a memo floating around out there, with loads of supporting evidence, suggesting
that George Bush wanted a war against Saddam Hussein real, real bad. So bad, in fact,
that he was willing to lie like a rug � nay, like a veritable Carpeteria warehouse � in order
to bring the rest of us along on his imperial superpower joyride. So bad, as well, that he
and Tony Poodle started shooting up Iraq before any of us even knew about it, hoping to
bait Saddam into a response which could then be used to justify the proper bang-up that
would follow regardless.
Given all that as the current context � and it is � my question is this: If evidence were to
emerge that, in addition to these games, Bush and Blair also conspired before the war to
actually BLOCK chemical weapons inspections out of fear that such efforts might turn up
zilch and thus destroy their WMD pretext for invasion, would you call that remotely
Not sure yet? Okay, let�s have some more fun, then. Suppose this story also implicated
a certain figure who has been, let us say, more than a just a bit newsworthy lately (no, no,
not Michael Jackson). Now, can we call this newsworthy?
Turns out it depends on who you ask. AP thinks so, and they produced a blistering
indictment of that unholy troika of Bush, Blair and Bolton in the form of a straightforward
news story which is hugely relevant to not one, but two highly significant and controversial
news streams of the moment.
On the other hand, here�s what the New York Times had to say: [ ]
It seems they just couldn�t find room anywhere between their covers to report that a certain
fellow by the name of John Bolton went careening around the globe in 2002 in order to
conduct his trademark wrecking-ball diplomacy, this time in pursuit of the scalp belonging
to one Jose Bustani, then the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Bustani�s crime? It appears that he was a bit too anxious to conduct chemical weapons
inspections in Iraq before the war. What � you say � wasn�t that what the US and UK
wanted too? Well, it turns out that there�s weapons inspections and then there�s weapons
inspections. In America, we go for the kind that can be controlled from the Oval Office, not
that other kind. Bustani apparently got an offer he couldn�t refuse, but refused it anyhow.
As a weapons inspector who might actually discover the lack of weapons Bush and Blair
were about to assure the world were actually in Iraq, Bustani became a very dangerous
fellow indeed. So they clobbered him bad. Even Bolton�s staff admits this now. I have
included the text of the full AP article below. It�s well worth the read.
Big Bad John was successful, of course. By threatening withdrawal of US financial support
to the OPCW, he coerced enough member-states in a rump session to hold their nose and
pull the trigger. This putsch was conducted only after Bolton tried on more than one
occasion to scare off Bustani through intimidation. And only before it was later ruled by
the UN to have been an illegal firing � but by then, who cares? They got their war based
on an arms proliferation casus belli, sans interference from actual arms proliferation
I don�t know what�s with me, but something about this tale just makes me mad. Something
about sending tens of thousands of people to their deaths for claimed purposes of
disarmament at the same time you are killing actual disarmament efforts just riles me. I
guess I�m just funny that way. But, in any case, our mission on these pages is less to tell
the story itself than to examine how America�s newspaper of record treats that story. Or
not. And that, in turn, makes me REALLY mad.
Somehow the Times didn�t find this particular story fit enough to print. That�s hard to
figure, though, I�d say. Just yesterday alone, and just on the front page alone, we got
stories on how the paparazzi makes the lives of celebrities really hellish, and on the Red
Sox� curse. And, y�know, I�m not even saying that stuff isn�t interesting and newsworthy
(well, actually, I would, but since nobody asked, I�m not...). I�m just thinking out loud here
that maybe we ought to consider this other whole war-and-peace thing once in a while,
such as when a story like this pops up.
But here�s the really weird thing. Open that same edition up to Page 16, and you can find
an article there about Atomic John�s attempts at doing to IAEA director Mohamed
ElBaradei precisely what he did to Bustani, which now appear to have failed. The
Bush/Blair/Bolton Axis of Evil was angry at ElBaradei for precisely the same reasons they
were with Bustani, namely, failure to play ball. What has apparently saved ElBaradei at
the moment is that Bolton�s absorption with trying to dupe enough senators into confirming
him as UN ambassador means he simply doesn�t have time for additional search and
All of which leads me to two questions, both for the editors of this esteemed Gray Lady.
First, hey guys, what exactly is your �fit to print� algorithm, anyhow, cause I can�t figure it
out!? And, second, WHAT SORT OF TWO-BY-FOUR UPSIDE THE HEAD DOES IT
TAKE BEFORE YOU CONNECT THE DOTS AND TELL YOUR READERS A STORY???
These guys went to war on a bogus WDM pretext, and now there�s highly credible
evidence they set out to decapitate anybody who might prove them wrong by doing actual
the anti-proliferation work they claimed to be all about, and that ain�t news?
Those are my questions, but I think they are questions we all should be asking. In fact,
I cordially invite all readers of this rant to make your feelings on this topic known. I
suggest that the following folks at the Times might like to know of your disappointment �
as well as the disappointment of everyone you know � about the absence of reporting on
the Bolton/Bustani story, not to mention the near-complete failure to report the Downing
Street Memo outrage:
Tell �em I sent you.
Meanwhile, here�s something you might find interesting:
Number of Google hits for �Downing Street Memo�, 6/5/05: 267,000
Number of Google hits for �Downing Street Memo�, 6/9/05: 575,000
Till the next outrage...
�Bolton Engineered 'Unlawful' Ouster with Iraq in Mind, Says Ex-aide�
By Charles J. Hanley, AP Special Correspondent
June 4, 2005
John R. Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency
and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a
U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved.
A former Bolton deputy says the U.S. undersecretary of state felt Jose Bustani "had to go,"
particularly because the Brazilian was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to
Baghdad. That might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and
undermined a U.S. rationale for war.
Bustani, who says he got a "menacing" phone call from Bolton at one point, was removed
by a vote of just one-third of member nations at an unusual special session of the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at which the United States
cited alleged mismanagement in calling for his ouster.
The United Nations' highest administrative tribunal later condemned the action as an
"unacceptable violation" of principles protecting international civil servants. The OPCW
session's Swiss chairman now calls it an "unfortunate precedent" and Bustani a "man with
"Many believed the U.S. delegation didn't want meddling from outside in the Iraq
business," said the retired Swiss diplomat, Heinrich Reimann. "That could be the case."
Bolton's handling of the multilateral showdown takes on added significance now as he
looks for U.S. Senate confirmation as early as this week as U.N. ambassador, a key role
on the international stage, and as more details have emerged in Associated Press
interviews about what happened in 2002.
A spokeswoman told AP Bolton, keeping a low profile during his confirmation process,
would have no comment for this article.
Bolton has been criticized for supposed bullying of junior U.S. officials and for efforts to
get them fired. Bustani, a senior official under the U.N. umbrella, says Bolton used a
threatening tone with him and "tried to order me around."
The Iraq connection to the OPCW affair comes as fresh evidence surfaces that the Bush
administration was intent from early on to pursue military and not diplomatic action against
Saddam Hussein's regime.
An official British document, disclosed last month, said Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed
in April 2002 to join in an eventual U.S. attack on Iraq. Two weeks later, Bustani was
ousted, with British help.
In 1997, the Brazilian arms-control specialist became founding director-general of the
OPCW, whose inspectors oversee destruction of U.S., Russian and other chemical
weapons under a 168-nation treaty banning such arms. The agency, based in The Hague,
Netherlands, also inspects chemical plants worldwide to ensure they're not put to military
In May 2000, one year ahead of time and with strong U.S. support, Bustani was
unanimously re-elected OPCW chief for a 2001-2005 term. Colin Powell, the new
secretary of state, praised his leadership qualities in a personal letter in 2001.
But Ralph Earle, a veteran U.S. arms negotiator, told AP that he and others in Bolton's
arms-control bureau grew unhappy with what they considered Bustani's mismanagement.
The agency chief also "had a big ego. He did things on his own," and wasn't responsive
to U.S. and other countries' positions, said Earle, now retired.
Both Earle and career diplomat Avis Bohlen, who retired in June 2002 as a top Bolton
deputy, said the idea to remove Bustani did not originate with the undersecretary. But
Bolton "leaped on it enthusiastically," Bohlen recalled. "He was very much in charge of the
whole campaign," she said, and Bustani's initiative on Iraq seemed the "coup de grace."
"It was that that made Bolton decide he had to go," Bohlen said.
After U.N. arms inspectors had withdrawn from Iraq in 1998 in a dispute with the Baghdad
government, Bustani stepped up his initiative, seeking to bring Iraq - and other Arab states
- into the chemical weapons treaty.
Bustani's inspectors would have found nothing, because Iraq's chemical weapons were
destroyed in the early 1990s. That would have undercut the U.S. rationale for war because
the Bush administration by early 2002 was claiming, without hard evidence, that Baghdad
still had such an arms program.
In a March 2002 "white paper," Bolton's office said Bustani was seeking an "inappropriate
role" in Iraq, and the matter should be left to the U.N. Security Council - where Washington
has a veto.
Bolton said in a 2003 AP interview that Iraq was "completely irrelevant" to Bustani's
responsibilities. Earle and Bohlen disagree. Enlisting new treaty members was part of the
OPCW chief's job, they said, although they thought he should have consulted with
Former Bustani aide Bob Rigg, a New Zealander, sees a clear U.S. motivation: "Why did
they not want OPCW involved in Iraq? They felt they couldn't rely on OPCW to come up
with the findings the U.S. wanted."
Bustani and his aides believe friction with Washington over OPCW inspections of U.S.
chemical-industry sites also contributed to the showdown, which went on for months.
In June 2001, Bolton "telephoned me to try to interfere, in a menacing tone, in decisions
that are the exclusive responsibility of the director-general," Bustani wrote in 2002 in a
Brazilian academic journal.
He elaborated in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde in mid-2002, saying
Bolton "tried to order me around," and sought to have some U.S. inspection results
overlooked and certain Americans hired to OPCW positions. The agency head said he
Bustani, now in a sensitive position as Brazil's London ambassador, indicated to the AP
through an intermediary that he would have no additional comment.
The United States went public with the campaign in March 2002, moving to terminate
Bustani's tenure. On the eve of an OPCW Executive Council meeting to consider the U.S.
no-confidence motion, Bolton met Bustani in The Hague to seek his resignation, U.S. and
OPCW officials said.
When Bustani refused, "Bolton said something like, 'Now we'll do it the other way,' and
walked out," Rigg recounted.
In the Executive Council, the Americans failed to win majority support among the 41
nations. A month later, on April 21, at U.S. insistence, an unprecedented special session
of the full treaty conference was called.
Addressing the delegates, Bustani said the conference must decide whether genuine
multilateralism "will be replaced by unilateralism in a multilateral disguise."
Only 113 nations were represented, 15 without voting rights because their dues were far
in arrears. The U.S. delegation had suggested it would withhold U.S. dues - 22 percent of
the budget - if Bustani stayed in office, stirring fears of an OPCW collapse.
This time the Americans, with British help, got the required two-thirds vote of those present
and voting. But that amounted to only 48 in favor of removing Bustani - and seven opposed
and 43 abstaining - in an organization then with 145 member states.
Bustani appealed the decision to the Administrative Tribunal of the International Labor
Organization in Geneva, a judicial body to which agencies in the U.N. family submit
personnel cases. The OPCW, meanwhile, named a new director-general, Rogelio Pfirter
In a stern rebuke issued in July 2003, the three-member U.N. tribunal said the U.S.
allegations were "extremely vague" and the dismissal "unlawful." It said international civil
servants must not be made "vulnerable to pressures and to political change."
Noting that Bustani did not seek reinstatement, it awarded him unpaid salary and 50,000
euros, or $61,500, in damages. He said he would donate the damages to an OPCW
technical aid fund for poorer countries.
Reimann, the former OPCW conference chairman, says he looks back with sadness at
what was done.
"I think there's no doubt Bustani wanted to serve the organization, to get wider
membership and all these things," the Swiss diplomat said. "He was fighting very bravely
to make it work."