SINCE ITS publication May 1 by The Sunday Times of London, the so-called Downing Street memo has dominated the media in Britain and on the Internet in the United States. The memo is the official minutes from a secret meeting about Iraq held by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his inner circle July 23, 2002.
The significance of the memo - and additional leaked British documents now surfacing in public view - can hardly be overstated. They conceivably could lead to impeachment proceedings against President Bush.
The Bush administration consistently has made two claims regarding its decision to invade Iraq:
Mr. Bush chose war only as a last resort.
Mr. Bush dealt honestly with intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and alleged Iraqi ties to al-Qaida.
The Downing Street memo contradicts these claims.
Here are some of the key words in the memo, written three months before Mr. Bush received congressional authorization for war, four months before U.N. Resolution 1441 held Iraq in "material breach" of disarmament obligations and eight months before the invasion in March 2003:
"[British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove] reported on his recent talks in Washington. ... Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam [Hussein], through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. ... 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."
Other internal British memos from March 2002 and July 2002 reveal British officials discussing Mr. Blair's agreement with Mr. Bush to support an invasion of Iraq and Mr. Blair's insistence that Mr. Bush make a public show of going to the United Nations in order to - as the British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, put it - "wrongfoot Saddam on inspectors" to create a pretext for war.
The British privately scoffed at the frightening claims made by the Bush administration. In a memo to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in March 2002, Peter Ricketts, the political director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: "US scrambling to establish a link" between Iraq and al-Qaida "is so far frankly unconvincing."
Anyone who follows the news will not be surprised. A long list of whistleblowers, including former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill and former National Security Council official Richard Clarke, have reported that the Bush administration was obsessed with regime change in Iraq from Day One and regarded 9/11 as an opportunity to put its plans into action. Removing Mr. Hussein was in the 2000 Republican Party platform. Bush administration misuse of intelligence has been well documented.
But the Downing Street minutes and other recently leaked documents illustrate that the intelligence was wrong by design. The documents show officials at the apex of the government of our closest ally confirming among themselves what were the darkest suspicions about the Iraq war among ordinary Americans.
The evidence suggests that Mr. Bush has lied to Congress and to the American people about the justifications for war. It includes a formal letter and report that he submitted to Congress within 48 hours of launching the invasion in which he explained the need for the war in terms that appear to have been intentionally falsified, not mistaken.
Lying to Congress is a felony. Either lying to Congress about the need to go to war is a high crime, or nothing is.
AfterDowningStreet.org, a coalition of veterans groups, peace groups and other activist organizations, is urging Congress to introduce a Resolution of Inquiry that would require the House Judiciary Committee to hold formal investigations with the power of subpoena. The result would be a determination as to whether the president has committed impeachable offenses.
Democratic Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey of New York, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Monday, "I think a Resolution of Inquiry is completely appropriate at this stage. It's something that should be done."
Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has not expressed support for a Resolution of Inquiry. But he has asked Mr. Bush in a letter to respond to questions raised by the Downing Street memo. At least 90 members of Congress and about 500,000 U.S. citizens have signed the letter. Mr. Conyers plans to deliver it to the White House tomorrow.
He also plans to hold hearings about the memo tomorrow and participate in a rally in front of the White House.
David Swanson is co-founder of AfterDowning- Street.org, and Jonathan Schwarz is a consultant for the group.