The Guardian 22 June, 2005

Iraq: Bush’s Watergate?

Susan Webb

The "Downing Street Memo" could be the last straw, or the spark that lights a fire, for an American public fed up with the Iraq war. As incriminating documents continue to be revealed showing the Bush administration lied to take the US to war, and as the US death toll in Iraq topped 1700, more than half a million Americans have signed a letter initiated by Democratic Representative John Conyers demanding that President Bush answer charges his administration "fixed" intelligence to sell the war.

"We’re now 540,000 and counting", Conyers said on June 13.

The secret memo, published on May 1 by the Times of London, reports minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting of top British officials including Prime Minister Tony Blair. According to the memo the head of Britain’s intelligence agency, just back from meetings in Washington, reported that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" to justify Bush’s determination to attack Iraq.

Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, said he would personally deliver the signatures to the White House on June 16, following a hearing by committee Democrats on the issue. Scheduled witnesses included former ambassador Joseph Wilson and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

In a Gallup Poll released on June 13, nearly 6 in 10 Americans said the US should withdraw some or all troops from Iraq, and, for the first time, a majority would be "upset" if Bush sends more troops.

Reflecting that sentiment, a 32-9 bipartisan vote in the House International Relations Committee on June 9 approved an amendment asking the administration for "a plan" that will "allow the US presence to be diminished". The measure was sponsored by Democrat Representative Joseph Crowley who had voted to authorise war in 2002.

On June 12 conservative Republican Congressman Walter Jones, representing eastern North Carolina, told American ABC’s This Week the US should set a date to withdraw from Iraq. He is part of a bipartisan group that is introducing legislation in the House setting a timetable for a pullout. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Democrat Russ Feingold.

Jones, who invented the term "freedom fries" to slam the French for opposing the Iraq war, voted for the war in 2002. He said he began changing his mind after attending the funeral of a US service member killed in Iraq.

Celeste Zappala, whose son Sherwood Baker was killed in Iraq on April 26, 2004, was one of a group of Gold Star Families for Peace who met with Jones on May 26. Jones appeared "sincerely stricken by the losses suffered, and by his part in it", Zappala told the People’s Weekly World.

The Downing Street Memo is "a terrible and sad confirmation of what I’ve believed all along", she said. "It puts an official stamp on what everyone knows: This war is a disaster. Not only is it not worth it, but it’s built on a fabric of lies."

Zappala sees a growing feeling on Capitol Hill that the war in Iraq is "a terrible, terrible situation and we need to get out of there". In her view, the memo "enables centrists — those who have a conscience — to say, ‘Wait a minute! I’ve been misled’."

Zappala was to join other Gold Star families on July 15 in Washington, lobbying both Democrats and Republicans.

"I believe in democracy", she said. "People can be called to conscience."

So far, more than 100 members of Congress have joined Conyers in asking Bush to answer questions about the Downing Street Memo.

On June 12, the Times of London published another secret British document, a July 21, 2002, Cabinet Office briefing paper for participants in the July 23 meeting. Acknowledging that "regime change per se is not a proper basis for military action under international law", the leaked paper advocated "creating the conditions necessary to justify government military actions".

Times reporter Michael Smith notes the briefing paper’s "damaging revelation" that Bush and Blair had agreed on military action for "regime change" as early as April 2002, contradicting Bush’s claims he was trying to avoid war.

A coalition of veterans, peace and political groups has begun a campaign to urge that Congress launch a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offences in connection with the Iraq war, focusing on evidence in the Downing Street Memo.

The broad-based activist coalition, , includes Gold Star Families for Peace, Veterans for Peace, Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink and Rainbow/PUSH.

Progressive Democrats say the memo "provides new and compelling evidence that the President of the United States has been actively engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and mislead the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war against Iraq. If true, such conduct constitutes a High Crime under Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution."

The Downing Street exposés come as revelation of the identity of Watergate’s "Deep Throat" brought renewed attention to the downfall of Richard Nixon soon after he won re-election.

Conyers told the Times of London that its role in bringing the Iraq-related documents to light "reminds me of Watergate, which started off as a tiny little incident reported in The Washington Post. I think that the interest of many citizens is picking up."

People’s Weekly World

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