After Downing Street
By William Rivers Pitt
As to US assertions that Iraq possessed bombs, rockets and shells for poison agents, unmanned aerial vehicles for delivering biological and chemical weapons, nuclear weapon materials, sarin, tabun, mustard agent, precursor chemicals, VX nerve agent, anthrax, aflotoxins, ricin and surface-to-surface Al Hussein missiles, not one has so far been found. One vial of Strain B Botulinum toxin is found in the domestic refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist. It is ten years old. Hans Blix comments, “They wanted to come to the conclusion that there were weapons. Like the former days of the witch hunt, they are convinced that they exist. And if you see a black cat, well, that’s evidence of the witch.”
—From David Hare’s new play, Stuff Happens
Intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. Bush had already made the decision to invade. That’s what the leaked secret British intelligence document now known as the Downing Street Minutes tells us from back in time to July of 2002, before discussion of an Iraq invasion had made its way anywhere near public discussion. The decision to invade Iraq had already been made in the summer of 2002, and in order to make that decision a reality, intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of invasion.
It is interesting. The occupation of Iraq has lasted more than 800 days, and debate over the invasion has been going on for more than a thousand days. In that time, revelation after revelation has been put forth exposing the lies and manipulation used by the Bush administration to make this war happen. The first accusations of Bush administration mendacity on this issue were revealed six months before the invasion took place, in an October 8, 2002, article by Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay titled “Some Administration Officials Expressing Misgivings on Iraq.”
“While President Bush marshals congressional and international support for invading Iraq,” reads the article, “a growing number of military officers, intelligence professionals and diplomats in his own government privately have deep misgivings about the administration’s double-time march toward war. These officials charge that administration hawks have exaggerated evidence of the threat that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein poses - including distorting his links to the al-Qaida terrorist network - have overstated the amount of international support for attacking Iraq and have downplayed the potential repercussions of a new war in the Middle East.”
“They charge that the administration squelches dissenting views,” continues the article, “and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Saddam poses such an immediate threat to the United States that pre-emptive military action is necessary. ‘Analysts at the working level in the intelligence community are feeling very strong pressure from the Pentagon to cook the intelligence books,’ said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. A dozen other officials echoed his views in interviews. No one who was interviewed disagreed. None of the dissenting officials, who work in a number of different agencies, would agree to speak publicly, out of fear of retribution. But many of them have long experience in the Middle East and South Asia, and all spoke in similar terms about their unease with the way US political leaders are dealing with Iraq.”
Since the publication of that article, we have learned about the Project for the New American Century, about its powerful advocates in Washington - Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Bolton among them - and about their plans from 2000 that centered around an invasion and occupation of Iraq, based upon whatever pretext was available, to establish a permanent military presence in the Mideast and to gain ultimate control of petroleum management in the region.
We have learned about the secretive Office of Special Plans and its deliberate manipulation of Iraq weapons intelligence, about deliberate pressure put on analysts in the CIA by powerful men like Dick Cheney to manufacture reports of an Iraqi threat that did not match the facts, we have heard the details of this deliberate manipulation from government insiders like Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke, Tom Maertens, Roger Cressey, Donald Kerrick, Greg Thielmann, Karen Kwiatkowski, Rand Beers and Joseph Wilson, whose wife’s CIA career was shattered by the White House through the very breed of retribution those anonymous sources from the October 2002 article were worried about.
We have watched our government use the attacks of September 11 to terrorize the American people into supporting the invasion of Iraq, we wrapped ourselves in plastic sheeting and duct tape while handling our mail with oven mitts so as not to be infected with the anthrax we were told was in the hands of Saddam Hussein, we were told that they knew the weapons were there, that they knew where the weapons were, we were told by Bush himself his January 2003 State of the Union address that the 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, one million pounds of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program were waiting in Iraq to be given to terrorists for use against us, and that this was the main reason, the central reason, the absolute fact which required immediate action.
We have seen all this and more, we have seen torture, we have seen murder, we have seen the grinding of a civilian population in Iraq that was no threat to us or anyone else, we have seen hundreds of billions of dollars funneled into the bank accounts of administration cronies under the camouflage of this “War on Terror,” we have seen one thousand six hundred and eighty-four American soldiers die and be returned home in transfer tubes, we have seen ten times that number wounded grievously, and we have seen more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed in their homes and on their streets, the uncounted dead whose innocent blood stains us all.
And now, after all that, it comes down to these Downing Street Minutes, to this small document released at the beginning of May by a British official looking to throw sand in Tony Blair’s election hopes. After a roomful of Deep Throats and a dozen different kinds of Pentagon Papers were exposed before withering on the media vine, the Minutes now stand as irrefutable proof that the road to war in Iraq was paved, with absolute intent, with lies and deceit and misdirection and fraud.
For a time, it seemed as though these Minutes would join the rest of the Iraq revelations, discarded in the media gutter, run off the road by earth-shattering stories about Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton and Robert Blake and Martha Stewart and American Idol. Lately, and with a concerted push by activists and a number of members of the House of Representatives, the Downing Street Minutes are beginning to garner deserved and focused attention.
Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post wrote on June 8th that “After six weeks in the political wilderness, the Downing Street Memo yesterday finally burst into the White House - and into the headlines.” USA Today reported on the same day that, “A simmering controversy over whether American media have ignored a secret British memo about how President Bush built his case for war with Iraq bubbled over into the White House on Tuesday.”
Descriptions and condemnations of the Minutes have begun appearing in most of the major newspapers, and the document has become contentious fodder for debate on the cable and network news stations. White House apologists are out in force, and the spinners are spinning, but the simple facts of the matter dwarf the flaccid excuses and explanations petering out of the administration.
The Minutes were thrown into the faces of Bush and Blair during a joint press conference on June 7th. The two leaders were asked, “On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? Could both of you respond?”
Bush replied, “Well, I - you know, I read kind of the characterizations of the memo, particularly when they dropped it out in the middle of his race. I’m not sure who ‘they dropped it out’ is, but - I’m not suggesting that you all dropped it out there. And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. There’s nothing farther from the truth.” The rest of his answer was a lame rehash of the old lies, that the decision wasn’t made before the facts were in, that the facts weren’t manipulated, that war was the last option. Bush was visibly angered by the question, and not long after, brought the press conference to an abrupt end.
The record is clear, the evidence piled before us, treachery after stacked treachery. Plenty of powerful people would like this document to go away, not excepting the folks in the news media, because the document provides a capstone exposure of just how flawed, biased, shabby and ultimately deadly their coverage of this issue has been. Don’t doubt for a second that the scions of our journalistic realm would like the Minutes to fade, because as long as the document stands in the light, their complicity in this catastrophe is all too clear.
It isn’t going away. A massive coalition of activist groups have come together to form the After Downing Street Coalition, which seeks coverage of this issue in the media and accountability on this issue from Congress and the administration. Rep. John Conyers and 88 other House members have delivered a letter to Bush demanding answers, and nearly 200,000 Americans have signed their support for this letter. The number of signatures grows by the day.
This moment is described as the tipping point. Large majorities of Americans, in every poll, believe the Iraq invasion was unnecessary and the casualties thus far inflicted to be unacceptable. For the first time, the poll numbers show that a clear majority of the American people no longer believe that George W. Bush is keeping them safe. Bi-partisan coalitions are forming in Congress to demand that the US withdraw from Iraq and give that nation back to the people who live there, and those coalitions are edging towards majority-sized numbers. Legislation has been presented demanding withdrawal, and more is in the offing.
And now, the Minutes. Tomorrow, the Minutes. Every day, the Minutes, until there is a reckoning.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.
Originally published on Truthout.org at http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/060905X.shtml and reprinted in TAM with permission of the author.