By Byron Williams, CONTRIBUTOR
Inside Bay Area
FOR those keeping score, today's column marks the seventh time I have written about the infamous 2002 "Downing Street memo."
The memo in question is the clearest evidence to date that the administration "fixed" the intelligence to justify a pre-emptive war.
I have received a number of e-mails that raise the question, "Why is the memo important now?" Does our presence in Iraq render the memo irrelevant?
In addition to the Downing Street memo, the Los Angeles Times recently reported that according to newly released British memos, the Bush administration had begun to publicly raise the possibility of confronting Iraq in March 2002 — a year before the actual conflict.
The memo adds that the administration had not come up with answers to the following:
-How to persuade international opinion that military action against Iraq was necessary and justified.
-What value was put on the exiled Iraqi opposition.
-How to coordinate a U.S./allied military campaign with internal opposition (assuming there was any).
-What happens the morning after?
It is misguided and extremely dangerous to our own democracy to hide behind the notion that our current status in Iraq renders any past indiscretion immaterial.
Those who dismiss the memo as belonging to the past ignore the fact that the past is what gives the story its strength.
At the time the memo was written, it was simply an innocuous account of a meeting that reported the Bush administration's position on a possible war with Iraq. It was the subsequent case for war, Congress' approval and the more than
1,700 U.S. soldiers who have paid the ultimate price that now makes the three-year-old memo important.
If the Downing Street memo is accurate, it throws out one of the favorite arguments of this administration: that it was operating with the same information as the rest of the world relating to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program.
It would further prove how tragically farcical the Colin Powell presentation was to the United Nations in February 2003.
Diminishing the importance of the Downing Street memo magnifies the already senseless torture conducted at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, which has served only to make the country less secure.
When one also factors in the portion of the most recent British intelligence memo that concludes the administration was unclear about a postwar plan, incompetence must be added to this potentially mendacious concoction.
If ultimately the occupation of Iraq, along with the war on terror, is a battle of ideas, how can we claim superiority if our war campaign — which has led to more loss of life than 9/11 — began in deceit?
I recognize the divisive nature that has become the recent hallmark of American politics makes any search for the truth increasingly difficult. Moreover, it places a greater burden on the individuals that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently described as those who "think their job is to just applaud whatever the Bush team does."
The Downing Street memo cannot simply be the cause of the anti-war left aided by a smattering of libertarians for purposes of decoration. It must lead to a bipartisan effort if we are to know the truth.
As difficult as it may be, a search for the truth is our only choice if America is to remain a democracy beyond word association.
The bipartisan effort that gave the administration the authority to go to war must now take a leadership position by asking tough and uncomfortable questions, even if it means rethinking one's original support.
But I have my doubts.
Fifteen senators last week refused to sign on as co-sponsors for a resolution apologizing for their predecessors' past failures to pass anti-lynching laws. How can that body be expected to look honestly at its own possible failures?
To do so, however, is what separates democratic societies from the rest; to do nothing is to align us closer to those we have identified as the enemy.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org  or leave a message at (510) 208-6417.