BY INDIA AUTRY
June 23, 2005
WASHINGTON - An online movement of bloggers and political activist groups is trying to keep the Downing Street memos in the public eye and stoking support for a congressional investigation.
The memos, sent among top British foreign intelligence officials, state that President George W. Bush was predisposed to going to war with Iraq and "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
The After Downing Street movement wants Congress to examine whether Bush's path to war is grounds for impeachment.
The movement began three weeks ago, about one month after the first of eight memos was leaked to the British press. Within the first three days, the AfterDowningStreet.org site received a million hits from 10,000 different people.
"I've never been involved with anything that was this easy, that took off this fast," said co-founder David Swanson, who served as press secretary for Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) during his presidential campaign. "We are simply tapping into something that a huge percentage of Americans want action on and they haven't been seeing elsewhere."
Another co-founder, attorney John Bonifaz, helped plan the hearing Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) held on the memos last Thursday and helped gather about 560,000 signatures for the letter Conyers gave to Bush afterward.
The letter, questioning the accuracy of the memos and the decision to go to war, had the support of 123 members of Congress.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has agreed to draft a call for an investigation that doesn't mention impeachment.
Neither Bush nor Blair has disputed the authenticity of the memos. But critics of the movement say the memos can't be trusted because they aren't transcripts of discussions but merely British officials' impressions of those talks.
The memos are being politicized, said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Besides lacking objectivity, he said, they were sent between British officials and have nothing to do with U.S. policy. "I think it's being seized upon by opponents of war as a sort of political football," he said.
Swanson and other co-founders lean left, but say they are not connected to the Democratic Party and they say their movement is bipartisan. Many military families and veterans groups involved are Republican, Swanson said.
The movement's other co-founders are Steve Cobble, a progressive political strategist; Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com, which employs Swanson; and Tim Carpenter, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.
Public support for the war has been waning. It is now at 39 percent of Americans, according to a weekend Gallup poll. But the impact of the Downing Street memos is unclear, said Gallup pollster Frank Newport.
About 60 percent of Americans are opposed to the war, most because they think the rationale was unfounded. Many others cite poor planning.
No poll has been done to test whether opinion would drop further if people believed the rationale and planning were faulty on purpose, as the memo suggests, Newport said.
The members of the movement think it would, and they encourage citizen activism to get the word out - including local events, donations, volunteer work and messages to politicians and media outlets.
One hope of the movement is that the mainstream media covers the memos so well that people no longer need alternative sources like AfterDowningStreet.org, Swanson said. The media might be reluctant to cover the memos because they are embarrassed they didn't dig up the information before the war, he said.