By David Swanson
Testimony for International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, Riverside Church, New York, Jan 20-22, 2006. Thanks to Jonathan Schwarz and Bob Fertik for assistance.
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Were I to list all the pieces of evidence that Bush took us to war with lies, we’d have lost tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars before I finished. So, I’ll give you a short version. But we’re killing people every day and churning through tens of thousands of dollars a second, so even this isn’t going to be cheap.
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Congressman John Conyers has produced a 273-page report that focuses on this topic. Congressman Henry Waxman has put online a searchable database of lies. You can find these and numerous other collections of evidence at www.afterdowningstreet.org Some of the best sources of this material are books. Much has been reported in books, as well as on the internet and the radio that has never made it into newspapers or television. Larry Everest’s book is one of the best at making this case, and it was written prior to the surfacing of the strongest piece of evidence, the one I’m going to talk about, the Downing Street Minutes.
While Bush’s war plans (as well as – according to recent reporting by Jason Leopold on truthout.org – his illegal spying on Americans) predate Sept. 11, 2001, that date is pivotal. The crimes of that day were used to justify another crime.
On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” The resolution also said “Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.” That Nixon-era resolution restricts the president’s ability to take the nation to war without Congressional approval.
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On Sept. 25, 2001, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo wrote a memo stating, “The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.” The memo says that the president’s powers are “unreviewable.”
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The Downing Street Minutes that were leaked to the media this past spring were accompanied by seven other secret documents, one a background paper circulated in preparation for the meeting that the minutes recorded on July 23, 2002. The other six were memos exchanged by top British officials in March, 2002.
The March memos make clear that Bush had determined to go to war and was building a case around WMDs and ties to 9-11, a case that the British found unconvincing. They also make clear that Blair had agreed to go along with the war but was seeking to persuade Bush to invest more effort in winning over public opinion and in “the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors.” That is: to give an ultimatum to Hussein that he would refuse – a refusal that could be used to argue that the war was legal.
By July, 2002, Blair still had concerns. We have known since last May that on July 23, 2002, as recorded in the Downing Street Minutes, Blair was briefed by Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, about talks he had recently had with members of the Bush administration.
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But it was only this month, with the publication of James Risen’s book “State of War” that we learned that Dearlove was in part reporting on a CIA-MI6 summit he had attended with other top MI6 officials at CIA headquarters on Saturday, July 20, 2002, and that, according to “a former senior CIA officer,” the meeting was held “at the urgent request of the British.” CIA officials believe “Blair had ordered Dearlove to go to Washington to find out what the Bush administration was really thinking about Iraq.” During the day-long summit, Dearlove met privately with CIA head George Tenet for an hour and a half.
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Risen is a New York Times reporter. It was this same book that compelled the New York Times to publish the story of unauthorized NSA spying. No U.S. corporate media outlet has yet published the story of the CIA-MI6 meeting. It is unclear for how many months the New York Times refused to publish that story prior to the release of Risen’s book, but it clearly intends to maintain its silence.
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Three days after that meeting, and months before Bush went to Congress or the UN or the public for approval of a war, Blair and Dearlove met at #10 Downing Street, and the minutes of that meeting are recorded as the Downing Street Minutes or Downing Street Memo. Also taking part in the meeting were:
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
Attorney General Lord Goldsmith
Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of Defence Staff, head of Britain’s armed forces
Sir David Manning, a foreign policy advisor
and Matthew Rycroft, a Downing Street foreign policy aide who took the minutes
The Downing Street Minutes are short, to the point, and shocking. They make clear that
1. Bush had already decided to go to war long before approaching Congress or the public or the UN about it, and had already started the attack with increased bombings;
2. Bush had already decided to lie about weapons of mass destruction and ties to 9-11;
3. The Brits were concerned by the illegality of an aggressive war, but the Bush Administration was not;
4. Going to the UN was an attempt to justify the war, and the hope was to craft an ultimatum that Saddam Hussein would reject;
5. The focus of the Bush and Blair administrations was on selling the war to the public, and not at all on trying to avoid it;
6. The Bush and Blair administrations were aware that Iraq was no threat, and were willing to attack Iraq precisely because it posed no serious threat of fighting back.
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When the Downing Street Minutes were first published by the Sunday London Times, shortly before the 2005 British election, the Blair Administration chose not to deny their authenticity. Shortly after the Minutes were released, sources within both the Bush and Blair Administrations confirmed their accuracy to the press. A former senior US official told Knight Ridder that the Downing Street Minutes were “an absolutely accurate description of what transpired.” Two senior British officials, who asked not to be further identified, told Newsweek in separate interviews that they had no reason to question the authenticity of the Downing Street Minutes.
The minutes begin with the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee John Scarlett reporting on plans for regime change in Iraq. While publicly the Bush-Blair administrations were saying they wanted to avoid war and were only concerned by Iraq’s alleged WMDs, privately they were focused on regime change and saw war as the only way to effect it.
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The Minutes then move to Dearlove’s report on his meeting with Tenet and the CIA. Dearlove is referred to as “C.”
“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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.”
Dearlove’s conclusions are corroborated by other sources. We know from independent reporting that Bush had a war with Iraq in mind even prior to his first term in office, as did the Project for a New American Century. Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says Bush was planning war and regime change in January 2001. In March of 2002, Bush was reported as saying “F— Saddam, we’re taking him out.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was reported as planning an attack on Iraq just hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, airplanes hit. National security official Richard Clarke says Bush told him on Sept. 12th to find reasons to attack Iraq. Republican Senator Trent Lott says the Bush Administration was focused on regime change in Iraq shortly after 9-11. On September 19 and 20th, the Defense Policy Board met at the Pentagon and discussed ousting Hussein. On September 20th, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, wrote a memo advocating attacking Iraq, which he referred to as “deliberately selecting a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq.” Also, on September 20th, it is reported that Blair told Bush he should not get distracted from the war on terror. Bush replied, “I agree with you Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.”
In February 2002, Senator Bob Graham told the Council on Foreign Relations that a military commander had said to him: “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.”
That Bush had decided to “justify” the war “by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD” is borne out by the entire “marketing campaign,” which fixated on these twin justifications. The Bush Administration formed the White House Iraq Group (WHIG) in August 2002 to market the war. The Administration waited to introduce the WHIG’s product to the public until September 2002, because, as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told The New York Times,”[y]ou don’t introduce new products in August.”
That “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” is confirmed by the multi-layered effort by the Administration to pressure officials within the Administration to find links between Saddam and September 11 and to manipulate intelligence officials and agencies into overstating WMD threats. Further evidence includes the forgery of documents purporting to show that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium, and the retribution exacted against those who questioned that lie (including Ambassador Joseph Wilson and IAEA Director General and now Nobel Peace Laureate Mohammed El Baradei). Just this week, the New York Times reported on a newly released State Department memo that, in early 2002, had debunked the claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium in Niger.
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The Downing Street Minutes go on to record that Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of Defence Staff (referred to as CDS), reported that military planners would brief CENTCOM, Rumsfeld, and Bush in early August. After detailing military options for the attack on Iraq, according to the Minutes,
“The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun ‘spikes of activity’ to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.”
That the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to pressure Iraq has been subsequently confirmed by numerous accounts. As reported in the Sunday London Times, in May 2002, with a conditional agreement in place with Britain for war, the US and UK began to conduct a bombing campaign in Iraq. This was 10 months before the Bush Administration supposedly determined that all diplomatic means had been exhausted and six months before Congressional authorization for the use of force. According to a document found by RawStory.com, Lieutenant-General T Michael Moseley said that the “spikes of activity” were part of a covert air war that “laid the foundation” for the war.
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The Minutes continue:
“The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. 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 neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”
The Minutes go on to relate that the Attorney General explained that regime change is not a legal basis for military action, but Blair said that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.”
As planned here, the US and the UK did in fact ask for UN authorization to demand the reintroduction of weapons inspectors, which they received on November 8, 2002. But they were unable to “wrongfoot Saddam” or legalize the war, because he accepted the terms eight days later, and inspections resumed on November 27th. On March 18, 2003, the inspectors left Iraq on the advice of the United States. On July 14, 2003, Bush – pretending that the wrongfooting of Saddam had actually worked – lied in response to a question from a Washington Post reporter by saying: “The fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power…”
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When Bush and Blair were asked about the Downing Street Minutes last summer, their main response was that after the meeting recorded in the Minutes, they had gone to the United Nations in an effort to avoid war. But the evidence is clear that going to the UN was an attempt to legalize a war that they had already decided upon. When this failed, when an avenue to avoid war opened up in the form of new inspections, and when the UN refused to authorize the war, Bush and Blair launched the war anyway.
Finally, the Minutes state that the Chief of Defence Staff said
“The military were continuing to ask lots of questions. For instance, what were the consequences, if Saddam used WMD on day one, or if Baghdad did not collapse and urban warfighting began? [Manning] said that Saddam could also use his WMD on Kuwait. Or on Israel, added the Defence Secretary.”
This section suggests that at least some in the room believed Hussein might actually have some sort of WMDs, although – as already stated – they did not believe he was threatening anyone, and they believed that whatever WMDs he had, they were less than those of Libya, North Korea, and Iran.
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Here’s another date: March 18, 2003
This is not just the date on which inspectors left Iraq. It is also the date on which Bush sent Congress a formal determination, as required by the Joint Resolution on Iraq passed by Congress in October 2002, that military action against Iraq was necessary to “protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” Bush sent Congress a one-page letter and a nine-page report.
The report claimed that Iraq possessed biological and chemical weapons, as well as proscribed missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles with which to deliver them, and that Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program.
It further claimed that members of al Qaeda were in Iraq, that Iraq was aiding and harboring other international terrorist organizations, and that Iraq had provided training to al Qaeda.
It is a felony to lie to Congress.
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More on the Commission: