BY RUBY L. BAILEY AND ELY PORTILLO
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - (KRT) - A hearing Thursday on a secret British intelligence memo that said President Bush was committed to waging war on Iraq months before he said so publicly ended with a request for Congress to open an inquiry into whether Bush should be impeached for misleading the nation.
"All we're asking is to know the truth," said John Bonifaz, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet,org. "Some of his supporters want to say it's a question of failed intelligence. If that's all it was, so be it."
But if not, said Bonifaz, "then the American people and the U.S. Congress deserve to know."
The hearing focused on the now-famous Downing Street memo, named after the Downing Street office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The memo was written on July 23, 2002, by a top Blair adviser.
The memo reports that Bush appeared determined in summer 2002 to proceed with war and had "fixed" intelligence to boost his case before the country and the world. The war began March 19, 2003.
The Sunday Times of London published the secret memo May 1, 2005.
At one point the memo says: "It seemed clear that Bush has 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 neighbours, and WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
Bush and Blair have denied twisting intelligence or intentionally misleading the public.
Thursday's hearing on the memo was organized by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
It was held in a cramped Capitol basement room and was attended by about 20 House Democrats and some anti-war activists. Republicans, who control Congress, refused to hold an official hearing or to participate, so Conyers termed it a "forum."
Witnesses including former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Africa, said the memo offers new proof that Bush took advantage of a nation and Congress traumatized by the Sept. 11 terror attacks and that he manipulated intelligence to suggest that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said, "The evidence that appears to be building up points to a direction of whether the president deliberately misled Congress. I want so badly to believe that no president would ever sacrifice human life."
"Now we're at $300 billion, countless lives and there's no end in sight," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
The official cost of the war so far is $208 billion and the lives of 1,704 U.S. troops, according to the Congressional Research Service and the Department of Defense.
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., on Thursday announced the formation of the "Out of Iraq" caucus in Congress to press to bring home the 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
Conyers delivered petitions signed by 105 members of Congress and some 540,000 signatures sent via e-mail to a security gate at the White House early Thursday evening. The petitions urged Bush to thoroughly answer questions about the memo. MoveOn Pac helped Conyers collect the signatures.
Several hundred supporters of a full investigation into the memo gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House late Thursday afternoon. It was organized by Code Pink and Progressive Democrats of America.
Protesters held signs reading "Bush Lied, Innocents Died," "We Impeached Clinton For Lying" and "Impeach for Peace."
One protestor, Werner Lange, 58, from Ohio, came dressed as Uncle Sam. He carried a sign saying "Impeach Him."
"Because of this lie, hundreds of thousands have died," Lange said. Bush "should be charged with war crimes."
Allison Yorra, 44, of Washington, D.C., said, "I want the truth to come out about this war. It's all been lies. It certainly breaks my heart every time I see or hear about a soldier being killed."
Yorra said of Bush: "How do you sleep at night, knowing you did this for your own benefit?"
Six members of the D.C. chapter of Freerepublic.com held a small counter-protest in support of Bush's policies. They brought an Iraqi expatriate, Nofel al Jazairi, who stood solemnly and held a sign reading "Saddam Lied, Millions Died."
Organizer Kristin Taylor said the Downing Street memo is "much ado about nothing."
"I think President Bush stands on the side of freedom and democracy, and I think he did the right thing for the Iraqi people and the American people and the world by taking the fight to the terrorists in Iraq," Taylor said.
(Bailey reports for The Detroit Free Press. Portillo works in the Knight Ridder Washington bureau.)