New York Times
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON, June 16 - Opponents of the war in Iraq held an unofficial hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday to draw attention to a leaked British government document that they say proves their case that President Bush misled the public about his war plans in 2002 and distorted intelligence to support his policy.
In a jammed room in the basement of the Capitol, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, presided as witnesses asserted that the "Downing Street memo" - minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top security officials - vindicated their view that Mr. Bush made the decision to topple Saddam Hussein long before he has admitted.
"Thanks to the Downing Street minutes, we now know the truth," said Ray McGovern, a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years who helped organize a group of other retired intelligence officers to oppose the war.
The memo said Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, had said in the meeting that Mr. Bush had already decided on war, "but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Cindy Sheehan, mother of a 24-year-old soldier killed in Iraq last year, said the memo "confirms what I already suspected: the leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence."
The White House has maintained that Mr. Bush decided to invade Iraq only after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the administration's case in a lengthy presentation to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. His argument focused on intelligence demonstrating that Iraq had illicit weapons. No weapons, however, have been found.
Asked about the memo last week, President Bush said: "Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option." He added, "We worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully."
After the hearing, Mr. Conyers and a dozen Congressional colleagues delivered to the White House bundles that they said contained the names of more than 560,000 Americans gathered on the Internet who had endorsed his letter to the president demanding answers to questions raised by the British memo. Some 122 members of Congress also signed the letter.
Asked about Mr. Conyers's letter and the British memo, Scott McClellan, the president's chief spokesman, described the congressman as "an individual who voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed."
"And our focus is not on the past," Mr. McClellan said. "It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq."
The hearing and other events Thursday reflected antiwar sentiment re-energized both by publication of the British memo and by evidence that Congressional and public opinion has shifted significantly against the president's conduct of the war.
A bipartisan group of House members introduced a resolution calling on the administration to announce by the end of the year a plan for the withdrawal of American forces, and more than 40 legislators announced the formation of an "Out of Iraq" Congressional caucus led by Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat.
Also, a New York Times/CBS News poll being published Friday found that 37 percent of Americans questioned approve of how Mr. Bush is dealing with Iraq, down from 45 percent in February.
At an antiwar rally across the street from the White House after Mr. Conyers's hearing, speakers roused a crowd of several hundred people with calls to bring the troops home and to impeach Mr. Bush. The protesters, organized by a group called After Downing Street, called the British memo the "smoking gun" proving their case against the administration.
The Downing Street memo, so named because the meeting was at the prime minister's London residence, was published in The Sunday Times of London on May 1.
It is one of seven prewar documents leaked since September to Michael Smith, a reporter for The Daily Telegraph before he began working for The Sunday Times. One, written in preparation for the July 23 meeting and published Sunday by The Sunday Times, warned that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise" in which "Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."
Activists have accused mainstream news organizations of playing down the document's significance, even as antiwar bloggers have seized upon it as evidence.
David Swanson, a Democratic activist and one of the founders of After Downing Street, criticized those defenders of President Bush and journalists who have called the memo "old news" because the president's war preparations were widely reported by mid-2002.
"It's not old news to most Americans," Mr. Swanson said.
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