Sat, Jun 18, 2005 - Page 7 News List

`Downing Street memo' gets Capitol Hill airing

WHAT CAME FIRST?The July 2002 document said that George W. Bush had decided on war in Iraq, `but that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy'

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

Opponents of the war in Iraq on Thursday held an unofficial hearing on Capitol Hill to draw attention to a leaked British government document that they say proves their case that US President George W. Bush misled the public about his war plans in 2002 and distorted intelligence to support his policy.

In a jammed room in the basement of the Capitol, Representative John Conyers Jr., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, presided as witnesses asserted that the "Downing Street memo" -- minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top British security officials -- vindicated their view that Bush made the decision to topple former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein long before he has admitted.

"Thanks to the Downing Street minutes, we now know the truth," said Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years who helped organize a group of other retired intelligence officers to oppose the war.

The memo said that Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, had said in the meeting that Bush had already decided on war, "but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Cindy Sheehan, mother of a 24-year-old soldier killed in Iraq last year, said the Downing Street memo "confirms what I already suspected: the leadership of this country rushed us into an illegal invasion of another sovereign country on prefabricated and cherry-picked intelligence."

The White House maintains that Bush decided to invade Iraq only after Secretary of State Colin Powell made the administration's case in a lengthy presentation to the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003. His argument focused on intelligence demonstrating that Iraq had illicit weapons. No weapons, however, have been found.

Asked about the memo last week, Bush said, "Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option."

He added, "We worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully."

After the hearing, Conyers and a dozen congressional colleagues delivered to the White House bundles they said contained the names of more than 560,000 Americans gathered on the Internet who had endorsed his letter to Bush demanding answers to questions raised by the British memo. Some 122 members of Congress also signed the letter.

Asked about Conyers' letter and the British memo, Scott McClellan, the president's chief spokesman, described the congressman as "an individual who had voted against the war in the first place and is simply trying to rehash old debates that have already been addressed."

"And our focus is not on the past," McClellan said. "It's on the future and working to make sure we succeed in Iraq."

A bipartisan group of House members introduced a resolution calling on the administration to announce by the end of the year a plan for the withdrawal of US forces, and more than 40 legislators announced the formation of an "Out of Iraq" Congressional caucus led by Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat.

Also, a New York Times/CBS News poll published yesterday showed that 37 percent of Americans questioned approve of how Bush is dealing with Iraq, down from 45 percent in February.

At a rally across from the White House, speakers roused a crowd of several hundred people with calls to recall the troops and to impeach Bush. The protesters, organized by the group AfterDowningStreet.org, said the memo was a "smoking gun" that proving their case against the administration.

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