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The Downing Street Documents

 article about The Downing Street Documents

This article belongs to Behind the Bush column.

Rep. John Conyers and his congressional committee based their findings on the Bush administration, which were compiled into a report titled The Constitution in Crisis, on a number of documents, including the Downing Street Documents which consist of eight British government documents. Among the documents is the Downing Street Memo, a memo sent by Matthew Rycroft, a British foreign policy aide, to various British politicians. The most damning statements in the memo are the following:


Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.


It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.


Another Downing Street Document, the Iraq Options Paper, written by the British Overseas and Defense Secretary on March 8, 2002, states that containment of Iraq since 1991 "has been partially successful" and sanctions have "effectively frozen Iraq's nuclear program." It further stated Iraq was prevented from "rebuilding its conventional arsenal to pre-Gulf War levels," ballistic missile programs were severely restricted, and biological and chemical weapons were hindered. The Paper cited the following as proof that Hussein had been contained:


·         Sanctions have effectively frozen Iraq's nuclear programme;

·         Iraq has been prevented from rebuilding its conventional arsenal to pre-Gulf War levels;

·         Ballistic missile programmes have been severely restricted;

·         Biological weapons (BW) and Chemical Weapons (CW) programmes have been hindered;

·         No Fly Zones established over northern and southern Iraq have given some protection to the Kurds and the Shia. Although subject to continuing political pressure, the Kurds remain autonomous; and

·         Saddam has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbours.


Leaked notes dubbed the Cambone Memo, written by Stephen Cambone, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and then a senior policy official, concern Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defense, and his issuance of orders to his aides to look for any evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 hours after planes struck the Pentagon. The Memo says, "Hard to get good case. Need to move swiftly. Near term target needs - go massive - sweep it all up, things related and not." The Memo also indicates that Rumsfeld wanted to "hit Saddam Hussein at the same time, not only Bin Laden. Secretary Rumsfeld later explained that at the time he had been considering either one of them, or perhaps someone else, as the responsible party."


Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks confirmed the authenticity of the Memo, "His notes were fulfilling his role as a plans guy. He was responsible for crisis planning, and he was with the secretary in that role that afternoon."

The Cabinet Office Paper was produced by the British Cabinet Office on July 21, 2002. The Paper revealed that the Bush administration had drafted plans to invade Iraq, "Although no political decisions have been taken, US military planners have drafted options for the US Government to undertake an invasion of Iraq."


British Prime Minister Tony Blair's top foreign policy advisor wrote a memo about a meeting between Blair and Bush on January 31, 2003 titled the White House Memo. It was published by a British newspaper February 2006. The memo contains notes from Blair and Bush's conversation concerning Iraq. The Memo claim Bush said it would be "possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam's WMD."


The Legal Background Memo is a memo written by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Tony Blair about the legality of invading Iraq:


For the exercise of the right of self-defense there must be more than "a threat". There has to be an armed attack actual or imminent. The development of possession of nuclear weapons does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.


The David Manning Memo is a March 14, 2002 memo from the British Foreign Policy Advisor to Tony Blair, David Manning, that recounted his meeting with American counterpart Condoleeza Rice (then the National Security Advisor), and about his advice to Blair for his visit with Bush. "Condi's enthusiasm for regime change is undimmed."


The Christopher Meyer Letter is a memo from the British Ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer, to David Manning, British Foreign Policy Advisor, which recounted Meyer's meeting with Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense:


Wolfowitz said that it was absurd to deny the link between terrorism and Saddam. There might be doubt about the alleged meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker on 9/11, and Iraqi intelligence (did we, he asked, know anything more about this meeting?). But there were other substantiated cases of Saddam giving comfort to terrorists, including someone involved in the first attack on the World Trade Center (the latest New Yorker apparently has a story about links between Saddam and Al Qaeda operating in Kurdistan).


A March 22, 2002 memo from the British Political Director, Peter Ricketts, to the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw concerning Ricketts' advice to Tony Blair on Iraq, called the Ricketts Letter reveals intelligence could not confirm that Hussein had "stepped up" his weapons production:


The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September.


Even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts: the programmes are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know", been stepped up.


A March 25, 2002 memo was sent by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw to Blair preparing him for a visit with Bush, referred to as the Jack Straw Memo. The Memo stated that it was hard to "glean whether the threat from Iraq is so significantly differently from that of Iran and North Korea as to justify military action," and "no credible evidence" to link Ossama bin Laden with Iraq.


Inspector General Report Confirms Downing Street Memo


The Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General released a report confirming the Downing Street Memo in February. A large part of the report focused on the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, whose office sent false intelligence on Iraqi weapons program to the Bush administration and linked Saddam Hussein to terrorist organizations. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), then the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, requested the report fall 2005.


A February 9, 2007 Washington Post article titled, "Officials Key Report on Iraq is Faulted" appeared citing that Feith included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" which supported the senior administration's political views instead of the intelligence community's conclusions.

Feith's office was "predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to the report. Feith's activities are described as "an alternative intelligence assessment process." A summary of the report says the Inspector General concluded, "Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a ‘mature symbiotic relationship' was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers."

In a telephone interview with the Post Feith said, "This was not 'alternative intelligence assessment. It was from the start a criticism of the consensus of the intelligence community, and in presenting it I was not endorsing its substance." The summary also said Feith claimed his activities were not intelligence gathering and "even if they were, [they] would be appropriate given that they were responding to direction from the Deputy Secretary of Defense."

Next week: The war in Iraq is a preventive war which is illegal under the UN Charter.

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