San Francisco Chronicle | June 15 2005
New 'Downing Street Memo' says Bush, Blair agreed on 'regime change' in 2002
Is it a second Downing Street Memo -- or something even more damning for both the Bush administration and the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair?
On May 1, Britain's Sunday Times broke the story of the now-infamous Downing Street Memo; that document, the minutes of a meeting of Blair's top advisers, showed that the prime minister had known, some eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, that a war not authorized by the United Nations would be illegal for British troops to take part in. Now The Times has scooped its rivals again with the news -- and the text of -- a leaked, extremely secret British Cabinet Office briefing paper dated July 23, 2002.
Prepared for Blair and his closest advisers, this newly discovered document clearly states that "since regime change was illegal, it was 'necessary to create the conditions' which would make it legal."
The Times' news story, written by defense reporter Michael Smith, about the newly discovered, secret briefing paper noted that it had confirmed that Blair "had already agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a summit at the Texas ranch of President George W. Bush three months earlier." In his news article, Smith explained that fabricating conditions for going to war "was required because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in an invasion, the American military would be using British bases. This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal U.S. action."
The British Cabinet Office briefing paper also stated that "U.S. views of international law vary from that of the U.K. and the international community. Regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law." It further stated that the British government "would regard the use of force against Iraq, or any other state, as lawful if exercised in the right of individual or collective self-defense, if carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe or if authorized by the U.N. Security Council." As it turned out, the U.S.-led attack on Iraq met none of those criteria.
Although mainstream American news media were very slow or apparently even reluctant to publish news of the Downing Street Memo until as late as the middle of May, this time, in the United States, the Times' revelation of the Cabinet Office briefing paper made the front page of The Washington Post.
Smith noted that many U.S. citizens, as they have learned about the Downing Street Memo and have become "angry at what they see as media self-censorship in ignoring [it]," have been flooding Web sites that have been set up to focus on the controversial British document. Many Americans, Smith noted, have "demanded to know why [it] has been largely ignored by the U.S. mainstream media" and have expressed their support for a letter that U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Ill.) and 88 other Democratic members of Congress have sent to President Bush. That missive asked Bush to confirm or deny that, as the Downing Street Memo asserted, in the run-up to the war, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" that led to the U.S.-led invasion. (Times)
Smith also noted that, because Bush has so far refused to answer the U.S. lawmakers, the members of Congress have set up a Web site named Downingstreetmemo.com to collect signatures on a petition that urges the president to respond to their question. Another new site set up since the Downing Street Memo became known, AfterDowningStreet.org, "is calling for a congressional committee to consider whether Bush's actions as depicted in the memo constitute grounds for impeachment."
In Sunday's Times, Smith predicted that Blair's just-uncovered, July 2002 Cabinet Office briefing paper "is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it."
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In other countries, some commentators have offered highly critical, bluntly worded assessments of just what they believe the Downing Street Memo represents.
In Canada, for example, Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis, writing just before news broke of the just-revealed Cabinet Office briefing paper, has authored one of the strongest. Language like his has yet to be seen jumping off the pages or screens of most mainstream U.S. news media outlets.
Of Bush and Blair's rush to war, Margolis writes, "And so it went. Lie after lie. Scare upon scare. Fakery after fakery, trumpeted by the tame [American] media that came to resemble the lickspittle press of the old Soviet Union. Ironically, in the end, horrid Saddam Hussein turned out to be telling the truth all along [about not having weapons of mass destruction], while Bush and Blair were not."
Margolis offers a conclusion that, so far, no major news sources in the United States has dared utter. The Downing Street Memo, he notes, "would have forced any of Europe's democratic governments to resign in disgrace. But not Bush and Blair. Far from it." He also chastises American news corporations for failing -- or refusing -- to investigate what appeared to news watchers in other countries to be a vitally important story linked to the war.
Instead, he observes, the U.S. mass media "amply confirmed charges of bias and politicization leveled against them by first ignoring the [Downing Street Memo] story, then grudgingly devoting a few low-key stories to the dramatic revelation. ... But don't just blame Bush and Blair. [Vice President Dick] Cheney, CIA boss George Tenet (a.k.a. 'Dr. Yes'), Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and other senior administration officials who promoted falsehoods over Iraq and war fever were just as guilty of deceiving and misleading the American people and Congress."
By contrast, he adds, "Kudos go to Blair's former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who refused to be party to the lies and resigned. No senior U.S. official had the guts or ethics to follow Cook's admirable example." (Toronto Sun)
Informant: Neo Mulder