War memo angers Democrats British file shows data manipulated, they say; aides defend Bush
Dallas Morning News
BYLINE: DAVID JACKSON, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Armed with newly disclosed British documents, a group of congressional Democrats conducted an "unofficial hearing" Thursday accusing the Bush administration of "fixing" intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who called the hearing, said the so-called Downing Street memos "establish a prima facie case of going to war under false pretenses."
White House officials noted that all the Democrats who attended the hearing opposed the war and that the administration had good reason to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed a significant threat.
"This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
The current debate revolves around a leaked British government memo published by the London Times on May 1, in the final days of Prime Minister Tony Blair's re-election campaign.
The memo - the minutes of Mr. Blair's meeting July 23, 2002, about eight months before the Iraq invasion - referenced recent talks in Washington, where "military action was now seen as inevitable."
"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," the minutes said, "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The minutes also said: "There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."
In the weeks since publication, some Bush critics from bloggers to members of Congress have pushed the minutes as a "smoking gun." Other war critics disagree, noting that minutes and other leaked documents show that American and British officials sincerely believed Mr. Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The Democrats who gathered Thursday say they would hold future hearings, though they lack subpoena power because they are in the minority. They conducted the first session in a Capitol basement room.
The Democratic hearing featured former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose 2003 complaint about alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium based on forged documents forced a White House retraction; a former CIA official who accused the administration of exaggerating Iraqi intelligence; the mother of a serviceman killed in Iraq; and an attorney who said the full Congress should investigate the memos for possible impeachment charges.
Mr. Conyers and some of his colleagues later delivered what they estimated were more than 550,000 petitions to the White House, asking questions about the memo.
In the run-up to the invasion of March 2003, administration officials stressed that Mr. Hussein had previously used chemical weapons and that he had also defied U.N. demands that he demonstrate what happened to WMD programs he was known to have developed.
No such weapons have been found since the toppling of the Hussein regime, forcing a re-evaluation of U.S. intelligence gathering.
In recent weeks, administration officials cited other parts of the various Downing Street memos: that British officials also believed Mr. Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction, posed a threat to the Middle East and might have to be removed by force.
Bush aides also disputed the notion that the memos proved they planned to invade at least eight months before the invasion. Aides said that in seeking a settlement through the U.N., they had to have a battle plan ready; otherwise the threat of force had no meaning.
Asked about the Downing Street memos earlier this month, Mr. Bush said he and Mr. Blair worked to handle the matter short of force, but Mr. Hussein failed to comply.
"He made the decision," Mr. Bush said of the former Iraqi leader. "And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power."
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