British Memo Reopens War Claim By Stephen J. Hedges and Mark Silva
The Chicago Tribune
Leaked briefing says US intelligence facts `fixed’ around policy.
Washington – A British official’s report that the Bush administration appeared intent on invading Iraq long before it acknowledged as much or sought Congress’ approval—and that it “fixed” intelligence to fit its intention—has caused a stir in Britain.
But the potentially explosive revelation has proven to be something of a dud in the United States. The White House has denied the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war.
All of this has contributed to something less than a robust discussion of a memo that would seem to bolster the strongest assertions of the war’s critics.
Frustrated at the lack of attention to the memo, Democrats and war critics are working to make sure it gets a wider hearing, doing everything from writing letters to the White House to launching online petitions.
The memo was written by British national security aide Matthew Rycroft, based on notes he took during a July 2002 meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisers, including Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service who had recently met with Bush administration officials.
Since being leaked to a British newspaper, the memo has raised questions anew about whether the Bush administration misrepresented prewar intelligence about suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
”Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” the memo said. “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening hi-bility was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”
Blair’s office has not disputed the authenticity of the memo, but the White House categorically denies the assertions in it. And on Capitol Hill, where investigations already have denounced prewar intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as “deeply flawed,” there appears to be little appetite for reopening the question of why the U.S. went to war.
”I suppose it hasn’t played there because, basically, didn’t everyone know that Bush decided early on to get rid of Saddam?” asked Philip Stephens, a Blair biographer and associate editor of the Financial Times of London.
Stephens argues that there was a basic difference in the argument over the invasion of Iraq in Britain and the U.S.
”The contexts of the debates have always been different,” Stephens said. “There was never really a question [in the U.S.] about whether it was justified or not to go for regime change. This was the administration’s objective. People either agreed with it or disagreed with it. There really wasn’t a disagreement about the legal basis for it.”
Dubbed “the Downing Street Memo,” the report of the July 23, 2002, meeting of Blair and his aides purported to recount the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq at that point. The memo asserted that Bush had decided to remove Hussein nearly eight months before U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq.
Summarizing the view of intelligence chief Dearlove after consulting with U.S. officials, the memo said: “Military action was now seen as inevitable.”
Public Told Another Story
The memo was divulged earlier this month by the Sunday Times of London, four days before Blair’s re-election. It caused a stir in Britain, where the war in Iraq has been deeply unpopular.
In the U.S., however, the account has drawn only passing attention, even in Washington, where the debate over prewar intelligence on Iraq once dogged the White House. No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and Iraqi scientists have told U.S. inspectors that any weapons Iraq did possess were destroyed years ago.
Opponents of the war and administration have launched e-mail campaigns to elevate the issue. One Web site, DowningStreetMemo.com, encourages visitors to sign a petition and “take action.” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) wrote a letter earlier this month to the White House, signed by 89 House Democrats, that expressed concern about the memo’s revelations.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked Monday about the memo’s implication that intelligence was being “fixed” on Iraq, said, “The suggestion is just flat-out wrong.
White House’s Response
However, a commission appointed by the president to investigate intelligence gathering that led to the invasion concluded that all of the intelligence community’s information about the existence of biological or any other weapons of mass destruction was “deeply flawed.”
”The intelligence community was absolutely uniform, and uniformly wrong, about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. And they pushed that position,” said Judge Laurence Silberman, co-chairman of the commission.
Critics of the Bush administration have long argued that Bush appeared intent on invading Iraq long before Congress voted to authorize military action in October 2002 if Hussein didn’t abandon his alleged illegal weapons programs.
Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who was chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee when Democrats ruled, has written in his book, “Intelligence Matters,” about his visit to MacDill Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Central Command, on Feb. 19, 2002. He was going for a status report on Afghanistan, Graham wrote, but CENTCOM’S Gen. Tommy Franks called him aside to tell him, “Senator, we are not engaged in a war in Afghanistan.”
”Excuse me?”’ Graham replied.
”Military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq,” Graham quoted Franks as saying.
Graham wrote: “I was stunned. This was the first time I had been informed that the decision to go to war with Iraq had not only been made but was being implemented, to the substantial disadvantage of the war in Afghanistan.”