House Democrats opposed to the Iraq war came together Thursday to draw more public attention to the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” the British government document that advised Prime Minister Tony Blair that President Bush was determined to invade Iraq nearly a year before the war was launched.
On the Senate side of the Capitol, Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cited the memo Thursday in further holding up Bush’s nominee for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Reid and Senate Democrats have demanded a full accounting of whether Bolton exaggerated assessments of several countries’ weapons programs.
“Concerns about this administration hyping intelligence and Great Britain hyping intelligence cannot be dismissed lightly,” Reid said, adding that it “is no small matter for us to learn whether Mr. Bolton was a party to other efforts to hype intelligence.”
At a forum in a room made available to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about two dozen Democrats said that the memo was proof that Bush intentionally misstated intelligence in claiming that that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat to the United States and its allies.
The House Democrats accused Bush and his top aides of deliberately deceiving the public about his intent to go to war. They said the British memo contradicted the president’s statement that he did not decide to invade Iraq until shortly before the March 2003 launch of hostilities.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, organized Thursday’s meeting at the Capitol. He billed it as a congressional hearing, though it did not have the endorsement of any committee chairman, all Republicans.
The Democrats and a small audience heard statements critical of the war from former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, Boston lawyer John Bonifaz, a co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org., and Cindy Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., the mother of Casey Sheehan, who was killed in action in Iraq in April 2004.
Conyers and other House members then attended an anti-war rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House and delivered to the White House gate a letter from about 100 House Democrats asking Bush to say when he and Blair decided to invade Iraq. Conyers also presented a petition he said was signed by more than half a million U.S. citizens.
The rallying point for the Democrats was a memo, drafted after a July 23, 2002 meeting in London of Blair and his top aides. The memo, written by Richard Dearlove, then head of British intelligence, said that Bush had “fixed” the intelligence on Iraq and that war was inevitable.
The memo asserted that “Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” The memo noted that “there was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
Conyers said that if the memos are accurate, “they establish a prima facie case of going to war under false pretenses.”
“This means that more than 1,600 brave Americans and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis would have lost their lives for a lie,” said Conyers.
Six weeks after the London newspaper disclosed the memo, and after the British election that kept Blair in power, Bush and Blair met at the White House on June 7 and afterward addressed the memo during a news conference.
As for allegations that he had decided to go to war against Iraq by the summer of 2002, Bush declared, “There’s nothing further from the truth.” He said he and Blair talked about “how can we do this peacefully. . . . Both of us didn’t want to use our military.”
Blair also insisted that he and Bush tried to end the dispute with Saddam without armed conflict. “The facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all,” Blair said.
Bush said the memo was reviewed by Blair before the United States went to the United Nations and asked for its support in putting pressure on Saddam to meet his past commitments on weapons disarmament and inspection.