In my last post, I wondered why there wasn't more attention being paid to the Downing Street Memo (pdf), why "some folks are so comfortable dismissing this evidence that the war in Iraq isn't a last resort but was instead an early and secret decision by the President and his confidantes."
I should be clear here. I've been reading tons on this memo and it's not a smoking gun - it's not evidence per se. It's documentation of a secret meeting between Tony Blair and his top national security and intelligence officials.The meeting included the head of MI6 (the British version of the CIA), who had just returned from meetings in the US.
The documented meeting was held in July2002. That's eight months before we went into Iraq.
The memo has been dismissed by many as "second-hand" information. But it's the official record of the British government - a briefing memo that serves as minutes of a meeting of high-level officials. The information about the US is second hand only in that it's being reported back to the British government by the head of their intelligence service. Calling it "second-hand" is the equivalent of saying that the reports by Condi Rice on her meetings in Russia are second-hand. Dismissing this memo outright suggests that the reports of senior officials on their meetings with officials from other countries constitute unreliable sources of information. That's not a reasonable position for anyone to take.
Certainly, British officials haven't denied the veracity of the memo. It's an accurate record of their understanding of the American position on war in Iraq. So the question is this - did they get it wrong? Did they have a serious and fundamental misunderstanding of the US position on war? I don't think so.
Eighty-nine members of Congress, under the leadership of Rep. John
Conyers (ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee), sent a
letter to Bush asking whether the memo accurately portrayed the
administration's thinking at the time.
It also asks whether there was a coordinated effort to "fix" intelligence to justify an invasion. The administration has said that there is "no need" to respond to the request from Congress.
The bottom line here is that the Downing Street Memo alone isn't enough for us to determine with no reservation that the Bush team decided to go to war without Congressional approval and then proceeded to lie to the American people, Congress, and the world. Neither does it prove that intelligence was manipulated to support the intentions of the administration. But it's extremely suggestive - it tells us that the British government believed that to be the case. And when taken with the increased bombing of Iraq in the late spring and summer of 2002, and the reports from Richard Clarke (NSC) and Paul O'Neill (former Secretary of the Treasury) that Bush was focused on attacking Iraq, it's enough to warrant further investigation.
The Republican controlled Congress has no stomach for this kind of investigation, but it's their Constitutional duty to conduct oversight of the executive branch. They don't want to to fill that responsibility here. It's our job to poke and prod them into doing their job. The only way we can do that is by making our voices heard and bringing the public's attention to this memo, a memo that the MSM is just starting to pay attention to.
You can add your voice to the clamor by signing Rep. Conyer's citizen's letter to the President here. And if you want a solid overview of the Downing Street Memo, I strongly recommend this Seattle Times article and this much longer and detailed coverage in the New York Review of Books.