Dems 'Demand the Truth' on Downing Street 'Memo'

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Congressional liberals and anti-war activists Thursday plan to "demand the truth" regarding the Downing Street "Memo," the British government document that the critics say proves the Bush administration's "efforts to cook the books on pre-war intelligence" from Iraq. However, defenders of the president point out several other documents or remarks that they say contradict the British memo.

The Downing Street "Memo" or "Minutes" are derived from a secret meeting held on July 23, 2002, by Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top British officials to discuss the situation in Iraq. The document was leaked to the Times of London, which published it on May 1 of this year, a few weeks before the British elections.

Most of the controversy deals with a paragraph discussing "recent talks in Washington" involving Richard Dearlove, who was then head of British foreign intelligence:

"There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," the memo stated.

The president's opponents say that by that time, Bush had already made up his mind to invade Iraq. Yet, United Nations Resolution 1441, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous resolutions, and threatening "serious consequences" if these were not met, was not approved by the U.N. Security Council until Nov. 8, 2002 -- three-and-a-half months after the secret meeting involving Dearlove.

Another secret meeting in Great Britain on July 21, 2002 -- two days before the more controversial meeting involving Dearlove -- produced a memo, which was recently leaked to the press. It too calls into question the claims of the Bush critics.

"Although no political decisions have been taken," the July 21, 2002, document states, "U.S. military planners have drafted options for the U.S. government to undertake an invasion of Iraq."

President Bush indicated publicly as late as March 6, 2003 -- two weeks before the invasion -- that he had not yet made up his mind about taking military action in Iraq. "Hopefully, this can be done peacefully," Bush said then. "Hopefully, that as a result of the pressure that we have placed -- and others have placed -- that Saddam will disarm and/or leave the country."

In a letter to Conyers dated May 23, 2005, John Bonifaz, co-founder of the website, wrote: "The recent release of the Downing Street Memo provides new and compelling evidence that the president of the United States has been actively engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war against Iraq."

James Robbins, senior fellow in national security affairs for the American Foreign Policy Council, told Cybercast News Service that people who think the Downing Street Minutes are part of a pro-war conspiracy "need to ramp down their enthusiasm.

"Planning was underway for the contingency of war if that were necessary," Robbins said. "In July of 2002, shortly before the memo came out, some of these war plans were leaked to the press, and there was a lot of buzz in Washington and elsewhere that 'we're going to war, we're going to war.'

"So members of the British government came over here and, in their discussions with unnamed people, got the impression that the decision had been made," Robbins said. "Then they relayed that in whatever meeting they had, and that impression was recorded in a memo. Now, tell me that that proves anything about George Bush."

When asked about the use of the phrase "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," Robbins noted that the document provided meeting minutes, not a precise meeting transcript.

"People who are placing their entire case on the word 'fixed,' a word that may not even have been spoken but was just the shorthand of the person who was documenting the meeting, need to clarify whether that word was actually used, what that word means and where the people who may have said this got that impression," he said.

Having previously staged faux congressional hearings on alleged presidential election fraud and charges of conservative media bias, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, will again use the Capitol as a backdrop Thursday, this time to unleash an assault on President Bush for his war planning.

For a time, it appeared that Conyers would have to hold his latest meeting at the nearby Democratic National Committee offices because the Republicans in charge of the House Judiciary Committee rejected his request for a congressional room. However, Conyers then decided to hold his get-together in a smaller room at the Capitol that is available for Democrats' use.

A rally is also planned later on Thursday in front of the White House, during which Conyers will deliver a letter to President Bush signed by more than 500,000 people online and at least 94 Democrats in Congress seeking "answers to questions raised by the Downing Street Minutes."

E-mail a news tip to Randy Hall.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.