By David Swanson
Remarks prepared for July 4, 2005, anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll last week found 52 percent of Americans believe the Bush administration "deliberately misled the public before the war," and 57 percent say the Bush administration "intentionally exaggerated its evidence that pre-war Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
A Zogby poll last week found 42 percent of Americans say that "if it is found that President Bush did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq, Congress should hold him accountable through impeachment."
That 42 percent is significantly higher than the 27 percent of Americans who favored impeachment of President Clinton before impeachment proceedings began in 1998.
And there is something that can push these numbers higher still: a two-and-a-half page document called the Downing Street Minutes. How many of you have read it?
It's not a 500-page bill in Congress that you can only decipher by hiring the lobbyists who wrote it to interpret it for you. The Downing Street Minutes, and seven related documents that have been leaked in England, are short and to the point. They're remarkably frank, and they're shocking if you haven't seen them or if you get your news from the US corporate media.
The Downing Street Minutes are the official minutes of a meeting on July 23, 2002, between Prime Minister Tony Blair, his chief of intelligence, his defence secretary, his foreign secretary, and a few others.
The Downing Street Minutes and related documents (all available online at After Downing Street Dot Org) provide new and compelling evidence that President Bush, by the summer of 2002:
1. secretly decided to go to war;
2. decided to deceive and mislead the Congress and the American people with false claims about both weapons of mass destruction and ties between Saddam Hussein and 9-11;
3. secretly diverted $700 million from the War in Afghanistan and started bombing Iraq to provoke a war;
4. agreed to go to the UN only to "legalize" an illegal invasion - and then walked out of the U.N. when inspections worked.
Items 2 and 3 are both impeachable offenses. It is a felony to knowingly make false statements to Congress. And the U.S. Constitution requires that Congress authorize any war.
Why does this matter? The important thing is to end the war, right? Why should we waste time dredging up old stories about how the war was started – stories that those of us in the know already knew about? Isn't it a bit silly and naïve to think anyone will care about this now? Isn't impeachment hopeless in a Republican Congress anyway?
My reply to these sorts of questions begins with this: Even more important than ending this war is preventing the next dozen wars. And that is the opportunity that has been laid at our feet. Not only did some people know already that Bush lied, but some people knew already that many wars over the decades and centuries have been begun on false pretenses. Yet, when have we ever had a body of evidence this early and this authoritative? This opportunity is unique, and it is our responsibility to seize it.
The evidence accumulated at After Downing Street Dot Org includes statements from the President and top officials, books by former cabinet members and advisors, reports from generals and soldiers. The evidence all points in the same direction. What's new about the Downing Street Minutes is their value as an official document that we were never meant to see.
Now is not the moment to lie back smugly and remark that we knew this all before. Democracy is not a spectator sport. The point now is to get the word out to those of our fellow citizens who did not know this all before. Doing so will move Congress in the direction of an investigation, the Democratic Party in the direction of becoming a true opposition party and a true people's party, and the country in the direction of ending the war.
Because, if Americans no longer believe the official reasons for starting the war (WMDs and ties to 9-11), they are much less likely to believe the official reasons for continuing the war (democracy building and ties to 9-11). And if Americans learn to be suspicious about the stated reasons for beginning wars, the next war will be much harder to pull off.
The Vietnam Syndrome is the name given to Americans' reluctance to tolerate a long war with lots of American deaths. The opportunity we have before us is to make the Iraq Syndrome the name we give to Americans' reluctance to believe a war is truly being launched in order to preempt a threat.
If Presidents who contemplate lying the nation into war know that they could face an investigation and impeachment, wars will virtually come to an end. We might just see less of our tax dollars spent on them. We might just see General Electric (NBC) investing a little less in weapons – and perhaps a little more in journalism.
It's not just snobby liberals who dismiss the Downing Street Minutes as old news. The primary promoters of that idea are media gatekeepers. But, think about what that means. If it's old news that the President deceived the Congress and the American people about the reasons for war, and if it's old news that he launched a secret war, and if we are supposed to sit back and yawn, then what kind of a society are we living in? Is it one with any meaningful checks and balances still in place upon the executive branch? Is it the society that the revolutionaries of 1776 gave their lives for?
The fact is that this is not old news at all. A strong majority of Bush voters last November told exit pollsters that they actually believed that Iraq had WMDs and ties to 9-11. Bush was given 30 primetime commercial-free minutes by the Disney Corporation (ABC) to make the same false claims again last week. He is still saying that the war was a response to 9-11, that it was necessitated by a threat from Iraq, that it is part of a global war on those behind 9-11.
We have a lot of work ahead of us in pressuring both Congress and the media to fulfill their responsibilities. Some Congress Members, including John Conyers and Barbara Lee, are moving this issue ahead, but we have a long way to go. We may get a boost from the latest revelations of Karl Rove's machinations.
But this fight is not about how much we dislike Karl Rove or George W. Bush. This is a fight to create a democracy, to ensure that public accountability has a place in our government.
I encourage everyone to visit After Downing Street Dot Org, and to help organize events on July 23rd, the three-year anniversary of the Downing Street meeting.