June 18, 2005

LNS Articles of Impeachment, Part II -- SPECIAL -- The Conyers Hearing on the Downing St. Memo

LNS Articles of Impeachment, No. 1, Part II -- SPECIAL -- The Conyers Hearing on the Downing Street Memo

Robert Parry, Mocking the Downing Street Memo, www.consortiumnews.com, 6/18/05: If American progressives think they have enough media clout to make a real issue of George W. Bush’s possible impeachment over the Iraq War, they should read the account of Rep. John Conyers’s rump hearing on the Downing Street Memo that appeared in the Washington Post.
The story by political correspondent Dana Milbank drips with a sarcasm that would never be allowed for a report on, say, a conservative gathering or on a topic involving any part of the American political spectrum other than the Left.
“In the Capitol basement yesterday, long-suffering House Democrats took a trip to the land of make-believe,” Milbank wrote. “They pretended a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room, draping white linens over folding tables to make them look like witness tables and bringing in cardboard name tags and extra flags to make the whole think look official.”
And the insults – especially aimed at Rep. Conyers – just kept on coming…
Washington Post editors – having already dismissed the leaked British government documents about the Iraq War as boring, irrelevant news – are now turning to the tried-and-true tactic for silencing any remaining dissent, consigning those who won’t go along to the political loony bin.
Those of us who have covered Washington for years have seen the pattern before. A group without sufficient inside-the-Beltway clout tries to draw attention to a scandal that the Post and other prestigious news arbiters have missed or gotten wrong. After ignoring the grievances for a while – and sensing that the complainers have no real muscle – the news arbiters start heaping on the abuse…
Though there have been a few positive developments in liberal media – particularly the growth of AM progressive talk radio at Air America and Democracy Radio – Left funders still show few signs of understanding how valuable media could be to a liberal political renaissance.
The latest trend in liberal grant-giving has been for “media reform,” such as trying to “save PBS” even as it adds more and more conservative programs. But the Left funders still shy away from the construction of media outlets and the creation of independent journalistic content…
Certainly, any thoughts about impeaching Bush are little more than pipedreams given the reality of today’s national media. In that sense, the Post’s attacks on the Downing Street Memo hearing should serve as a splash of cold water in the face of the American Left.
While Web sites and progressive talk radio have helped puncture the image of Bush’s invulnerability, a much broader media infrastructure would be needed if issues, such as the Iraq deceptions, are to be forced consistently into the national debate.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), Congressman Conyers hammers the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. www.rawstory.com, 6/17/05: Dear Sirs, I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank's June 17 report, "Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War," which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post's only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.
In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that "only one" member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline "Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight". Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.
The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats "pretended" a small conference was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing…
By the way, the "Downing Street Memo" is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials - having just met with their American counterparts - describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.
The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn't make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.
John Conyers, Jr.

David Paul Kuhn, Just hearsay, or the new Watergate tapes?, Guardian, 6/17/05: Forced to the basement of the US Capitol and prevented from holding an official hearing, Michigan representative John Conyers defied Republicans and held a forum on Thursday calling for a congressional inquiry into the infamous British document known as the "Downing Street memo".
Three dozen Democratic representatives shuffled in and out of a small
room to join Mr Conyers in declaring that the Downing Street memo was
the first "primary source" document to report that prewar intelligence
was intentionally manipulated in order make a case for invading Iraq.
Not only did Republican leaders consign the Democrats to the basement,
but Democrats also claimed that the House scheduled 11 votes concurrent
with the forum to maximise the difficulty of attending it. Because the
forum wasn't an official hearing, it won't become a part of the
Congressional record - but members worked to make sure that the attending media and activists captured their words for posterity.
The Downing Street memo, so far disputed by Washington and London in
some of its details, but not its authenticity, reports on minutes of a meeting between the British prime minister, Tony Blair, and his national security team on July 23 2002.
First reported by the London Sunday Times on May 1 this year, the
internal memo states that, in the opinion of "C" (Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British secret intelligence service), "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the [Bush administration's] policy". The author of the memo added that it "seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action".
Since then, several other British government memos have become public
that also make the case that the White House was planning the war long before it admitted to doing so.
The Democratic representatives attending the forum said they believed
that if such information had got out prior to the war, neither the House nor the Senate would have supported the October 11 2002 congressional vote giving the president the power to order the invasion.
To the Democrats taking turns to speak at the forum on Thursday, the
memo was tantamount to the first word of tapes in the Nixon White House during the Watergate scandal. Impeachment was on these representatives' minds as four long-time critics of the war in Iraq, including the former ambassador Joe Wilson, repeatedly urged Congress to hold an official inquiry into the validity and origins of the Downing Street memo.
"We sent our troops to war under dubious pretences," asserted Mr
Wilson, who travelled, at the government's behest, to Niger in February 2002.
There, he discovered President Bush's claim that Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium in Africa was false. The White House later retracted the accusation.
Speaking on the question of impeachment, representative Charles B
Rangel, D-NY, asked, point blank: "Has the president misled, or deliberately misled, the Congress?"
The answer is at the heart of Mr Conyers' push for further
investigation. Misleading Congress is an impeachable offence, and Mr Conyers' petition for an inquiry into the memo seemed a first step in that direction - though no one made that call outright.
"Many of us find it unacceptable to put our brave men and women in
harm's way, based on false information," Mr Conyers said.
Though most of those at the forum voted against the war in Iraq, Mr
Conyers, who is the ranking Democrat on the House judiciary committee, insisted the forum was not partisan politicking, but a function of their oversight duty.
As members of Congress crammed into the small room, no bigger than 30ft by 50ft, Democratic representatives spoke and then scurried out to make scheduled votes. After being denied a hearing, then forced to the basement, which representative Jim McDermott, D-Wash, called unprecedented, the Democrats believed Republicans had purposely scheduled 11 votes to interrupt the forum.
"Absolutely, it was absolutely timed," Mr McDermott said in an
interview after the forum. "There was no need to do it then. And they were having a major appropriations hearing at the same time. That was also to keep people away, because appropriations are your chance to get money for your district that you've been working all year on."
McDermott spoke as representative Maxine Waters, D-Calif, delayed her
aide and sprinted down the hall in her high heels to do an interview
with Pacifica Radio. Covered mostly by liberal media outlets, the forum got some mainstream news attention, from the AP to the Baltimore Sun to CNN.
Democrats who dropped by included representatives Barney Frank, of
Massachusetts, Charles Rangel, of New York, Virginia's Jim Moran, and
Barbara Lee of Oakland, California.
Following the forum, Mr Conyers led Democratic representatives and
activists on a march to the White House, hoping to deliver a letter with more than 550,000 signatures of the public and more than 120 members of Congress, mostly - but not all - Democrats. The White House spokesman Scott McClellan told the Associated Press that Conyers was "simply trying to rehash old debates".
As he left, the mild but indefatigable Mr Conyers was a little angry
that the forum was denied a proper room in the Capitol.
"They tried to shut us out," he said after the hearing. "They tried to cut us off. They put us in a tiny room. The significance shouldn't be lost on anybody."
• David Paul Kuhn is Salon's Washington correspondent
This article has been provided by Salon through a special arrangement
with Guardian Newspapers Limited. © Salon.com 2004 Visit the Salon site at salon.com
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

F.A.I.R., Justifying the Silence on Downing Street Memos, www.fair.org, 6/17/05: One of the features of the newfound media interest in the Downing Street Memo is a profound defensiveness, as reporters scramble to explain why it received so little attention in the U.S. press. But the most familiar line--the memo wasn't news because it contained no "new" information--only raises troubling questions about what journalists were doing when they should have been reporting on the gulf between official White House pronouncements and actual White House intentions.
There are two important points in the Downing Street Memo, and media apologists have marshaled slightly different--though equally unconvincing--arguments as to why each did not deserve coverage. The first point is that the White House was intent on going to war long before it announced the decision to invade Iraq; "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action," the memo states, citing British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The Washington Post editorialized (6/15/05): "The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration's prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002." The New York Times reported (6/14/05) that "the documents are not quite so shocking. Three years ago, the near-unanimous conventional wisdom in Washington held that Mr. Bush was determined to topple Saddam Hussein by any means necessary." NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell similarly remarked on June 14 (Media Matters, 6/15/05) that you had to be "brain dead not to know" what the White House was doing.
But if everyone knew it was a lie when Bush and the White House repeatedly denied that they had decided to go to war (as with Bush's March 6, 2003 statement, "I have not made up our mind about military action"), why were reporters not exposing this bad faith at every turn?
…The second issue raised by the Downing Street Memo regards the fixing of intelligence. On this question, media responses differ somewhat: The memo is inconclusive, some say, or investigations into intelligence tampering have shown that such claims are without merit. The June 15 Washington Post editorial claimed that "the memos provide no information that would alter the conclusions of multiple independent investigations on both sides of the Atlantic, which were that U.S. and British intelligence agencies genuinely believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and that they were not led to that judgment by the Bush administration."
The investigations the Post is alluding to are irrelevant, since they did not specifically address the question of how the White House handled intelligence reports on Iraq…
More important, however, is the fact that the Downing Street Memo does suggest that the British government did not believe the evidence of Iraq's WMD programs was strong. As the memo states, "the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
The case for the politicization of intelligence is not difficult to make--it merely involves citing evidence the media ignored at the time. In its March 3, 2003 issue, Newsweek reported what should have been a bombshell: The star defector who supplied some of the most significant information about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction had told investigators that those weapons no longer existed.
Iraq defector Hussein Kamel--Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, who ran Iraq's unconventional weapons programs--was debriefed in 1995 about the status of those programs. Some of what Kamel said to the weapons inspectors would become very familiar: 30,000 liters of anthrax had been produced by the Iraqi regime, for example, and four tons of the VX nerve agent. These specific quantities were cited repeatedly by White House officials to make the case for war, and were staples of media coverage in the run-up to war.
But Kamel told the inspectors something else: that Iraq had destroyed these stockpiles soon after the Gulf War. "All weapons-- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear-- were destroyed," Kamel told the inspectors…
At the time, FAIR pointed out (2/27/03) that White House officials were misleading the public by selectively citing the Kamel interview: "Their repeated citations of his testimony--without revealing that he also said the weapons no longer exist--suggests that the administration might be withholding critical evidence."
Despite their obvious importance, the Kamel revelations were barely mentioned in the mainstream media. This fact is worth remembering when journalists claim that pre-war media coverage was remarkably prescient about the White House's intentions. The truth is that the Downing Street Memo is a reminder of how poorly the media served the public before the war-- which might explain their reluctance to take it seriously.

Greg Palast, Palast for Conyers: The Other ' Memos' from Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, www.commondreams.org, 6/16/05: It's official: The Downing Street memos, a snooty New York Times "News Analysis" informs us, "are not the Dead Sea Scrolls." You are warned, Congressman, to ignore the clear evidence of official mendacity and bald-faced fibbing by our two nations' leaders because the cry for investigation came from the dark and dangerous world of "blogs" and "opponents" of Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush…
Here is a small timeline of confidential skullduggery dug up and broadcast by my own team for BBC Television and Harper's on the secret plans to seize Iraq's assets and oil.
February 2001 - Only one month after the first Bush-Cheney inauguration, the State Department's Pam Quanrud organizes a secret confab in California to make plans for the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam. US oil industry advisor Falah Aljibury and others are asked to interview would-be replacements for a new US-installed dictator.
On BBC Television's Newsnight, Aljibury himself explained,
"It is an invasion, but it will act like a coup. The original plan was to liberate Iraq from the Saddamists and from the regime."
March 2001 - Vice-President Dick Cheney meets with oil company executives and reviews oil field maps of Iraq. Cheney refuses to release the names of those attending or their purpose. Harper's has since learned their plan and purpose -- see below.
October/November 2001 - An easy military victory in Afghanistan emboldens then-Dep. Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to convince the Administration to junk the State Department "coup" plan in favor of an invasion and occupation that could remake the economy of Iraq. And elaborate plan, ultimately summarized in a 101-page document, scopes out the "sale of all state enterprises" -- that is, most of the nation's assets, "… especially in the oil and supporting industries."
2002 - Grover Norquist and other corporate lobbyists meet secretly with Defense, State and Treasury officials to ensure the invasion plans for Iraq include plans for protecting "property rights." The result was a pre-invasion scheme to sell off Iraq's oil fields, banks, electric systems, and even change the country's copyright laws to the benefit of the lobbyists' clients. Occupation chief Paul Bremer would later order these giveaways into Iraq law.
Fall 2002 - Philip Carroll, former CEO of Shell Oil USA, is brought in by the Pentagon to plan the management of Iraq's oil fields. He works directly with Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. "There were plans," says Carroll, "maybe even too many plans" -- but none disclosed to the public nor even the US Congress.
January 2003 - Robert Ebel, former CIA oil analyst, is sent, BBC learns, to London to meet with Fadhil Chalabi to plan terms for taking over Iraq's oil.
March 2003 - What White House spokesman Ari Fleisher calls "Operations Iraqi Liberation" (OIL) begins. (Invasion is re-christened "OIF" -- Operation Iraqi Freedom.)
March 2003 - Defense Department is told in confidence by US Energy Information Administrator Guy Caruso that Iraq's fields are incapable of a massive increase in output. Despite this intelligence, Dep. Secretary Wolfowitz testifies to Congress that invasion will be a free ride. He swears, "There's a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money. …We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon," a deliberate fabrication promoted by the Administration, an insider told BBC, as "part of the sales pitch" for war.
May 2003 - General Jay Garner, appointed by Bush as viceroy over Iraq, is fired by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The general revealed in an interview for BBC that he resisted White House plans to sell off Iraq's oil and national assets.
"That's just one fight you don't want to take on," Garner told me. But apparently, the White House wanted that fight.
The general also disclosed that these invade-and-grab plans were developed long before the US asserted that Saddam still held WDM:
"All I can tell you is the plans were pretty elaborate; they didn't start them in 2002, they were started in 2001."
November/December 2003 - Secrecy and misinformation continues even after the invasion. The oil industry objects to the State Department plans for Iraq's oil fields and drafts for the Administration a 323-page plan, "Options for [the] Iraqi Oil Industry." Per the industry plan, the US forces Iraq to create an OPEC-friendly state oil company that supports the OPEC cartel's extortionate price for petroleum.
The Stone Wall
Harper's and BBC obtained the plans despite official denial of their existence, then footdragging when confronted with the evidence of the reports' existence.
Still today, the State and Defense Departments and White House continue to stonewall our demands for the notes of the meetings between lobbyists, oil industry consultants and key Administration officials that would reveal the hidden economic motives for the war.
What are the secret interests behind this occupation? Who benefits? Who met with whom? Why won't this Administration release these documents of the economic blueprint for the war?
To date, the State and Defense Department responses to our reports are risible, and their answers to our requests for documents run from evasive to downright misleading…
View the BBC television reports and the Harper's and related reports at www.GregPalast.com

Posted by richard at June 18, 2005 11:02 AM