TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)
June 09, 2005 Thursday, ALL EDITIONS
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A1
By Richard Nangle; Telegram & Gazette Staff
Referring to the so-called Downing Street memo - minutes of a high-level British meeting in July 2002 - U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., yesterday accused the Bush administration of "dishonesty, lack of candor, and lack of planning" in launching war on Iraq.
Mr. Kennedy's statement comes a month after 90 members of Congress, including six from Massachusetts, signed a letter that asks President Bush to address questions raised by the secret British memo, which claims the president had decided by the summer of 2002 to invade Iraq regardless of evidence of weapons of mass destruction there.
"The Downing Street Minutes demonstrate that the administration knew their case for war was paper thin, and that in order to go into war with the support of our allies, we had to demonstrate some willingness to go along with the UN inspection process," Mr. Kennedy said. "But the administration continued to misuse its intelligence, distort the facts and pay only lip-service to the UN's role in disarming Iraq."
Mr. Kennedy, a leading critic of the president's handling of the war since its inception, said the administration distorted and misrepresented intelligence in trying to link Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"In addition, the Downing Street Minutes also confirm what has long been obvious - that the timing of the war was linked to the 2002 congressional elections, and that the administration's planning for post-war Iraq was incompetent in all its aspects," Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Bush addressed questions about the matter for the first time Tuesday at a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both said the July 23, 2002, memo, a description of a meeting of top British intelligence and military officials with Mr. Blair, was inaccurate. Mr. Bush said his intention was to use military force as "our last option."
Mr. Kennedy put his statement on his Web site, tedkennedy.com, and called on his supporters to speak out on the issue.
April Boyd, a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., said, "This memo raises stunning issues here at home. Sen. Kerry raised this issue in New Bedford last week and believes it has serious implications not only for the intelligence our country has used in the past but also the intelligence we are currently relying on to protect our troops in Iraq and keep us safe here at home."
Three U.S. congressmen who represent Central Massachusetts - James P. McGovern of Worcester, Martin T. Meehan of Lowell and John W. Olver of Amherst - all Democrats, signed the congressional letter authored by U.S. Rep. John
Conyers Jr., D-Mich., a ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Conyers referred to a May 1, Sunday London Times story that broke the news about the memo, which he said apparently confirmed that the United States and Great Britain secretly agreed to attack Iraq before Mr. Bush sought congressional authority.
The letter states in part, "If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own administration."
Mr. McGovern, who recently visited Iraq with a congressional delegation, said he was disappointed with the lack of coverage the matter has received in the American media. He said the growing death toll of American service members of more than 1,600 is justification for Congress to demand answers about the contents of the memo. Mr. Meehan, also a recent visitor to Iraq, has put out a paper that calls for complete U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the middle of next year.
The Conyers letter noted that U.S. officials who have made similar charges about administration policy, including former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former National Security Council official Richard Clarke, have been summarily dismissed.
The Conyers letter stated that the British document revealed:
Mr. Blair had already committed himself to supporting Mr. Bush's plans for invading Iraq.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "was not threatening his neighbors and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
A separate secret briefing for the meeting said Britain and America had to "create" conditions to justify a war.
A British official "reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
"The (British) Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun 'spikes of activity' to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections."
Mr. Kennedy accused the Bush administration of pursuing a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy, leading to an unjustified war and no concept of how to win the war.
"All anyone can see is 'Mission Mis-accomplished' and the continuing losses of American lives, the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqis, the torture scandal, and the ominous decline in our nation's moral authority in the world community," Mr. Kennedy said.
Richard Nangle can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com 
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GRAPHIC: PHOTO; Mr. Kennedy