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June 20, 2005

Downing Street Memo: Accusations Fixed Around The Policy?

Well, it would seem that in the case of the Downing Street Memos, the facts may have been fixed around the policy. (via Ed Morrissey)

The eight memos — all labeled "secret" or "confidential" — were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

How convenient. So now, instead of thirdhand, uncorroborated hearsay regarding meetings with unnamed sources, quoting the speculation of other unamed sources about what George Bush may or may not have been planning (the memos themselves contradict each other on this point), we have:

...unverifiable thirdhand, uncorroborated hearsay regarding meetings with unnamed sources, quoting the [contradictory in places] speculation of other unamed sources about what George Bush may or may not have been planning, contained in retyped documents whose originals have been destroyed.

Yesirree. I'd say that's a scandal, all right. And the bombshell revelation contained in these retyped memos, whose originals have conveniently been destroyed making any verification of their original contents impossible (and this assumes there are originals, which most reasonable persons would agree is a fairly sizeable assumption that would not hold up in court):

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.

The "evidence" supposedly contained in the DSM breaks down to roughly four charges:

1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.

2. Bush had decided to "justify" the war "by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

3. Already "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

4. Many at the top of the administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going "the UN route").

5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war.

But as Tim Cavanaugh points out:

First of all, it doesn't establish those points at all. It presents hearsay evidence from a British politician. Outside of Tom Sneddon, it's hard to imagine the prosecutor who would consider this to be incontrovertible evidence. (Not that that's stopping believers from considering it exactly that.) In some of the less-frequently cited portions of the DSM, we find other UK officials qualifying these assertions ("It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind..." —my italics), hedging bets ("No decisions had been taken...") and seemingly contradicting the above paraphrase ("The Foreign Secretary thought the US would not go ahead with a military plan unless convinced it was a winning strategy").

A more detailed look at the charges shows them to be contradicted by facts easily available to anyone with access to Google:

1. By mid-July 2002, eight months before the war began, President Bush had decided to invade and occupy Iraq.

Believing this charge requires that one dismiss the public statements of Colin Powell, Tony Blair, and George Bush (all named sources actually present when these decisions were taken). And then there's this official cabinet memo:

A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made "no political decisions" to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced. The memo also said American planning, in the eyes of Mr. Blair's aides, was "virtually silent" on the problems of a postwar occupation.

Well one would hope military planning FOR THE POSSIBILITY would be advanced. If military action is even a remote possibility, advanced planning must be done well ahead of time. Or would the critics have preferred the administration to just "wing it"?

2. Bush had decided to "justify" the war "by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

But in his SOTU address Bush cited three reasons for going to war: stopping the torture and slaughter of Iraqis by Hussein, bringing freedom to Iraq, and the conjunction of WMDs. So it would seem the memo is contradicted by the incontrovertible record of what Bush actually said to justify the war to the American people.

The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages -- leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained -- by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning. (Applause.)

And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. (Applause.) And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.

And as we and our coalition partners are doing in Afghanistan, we will bring to the Iraqi people food and medicines and supplies -- and freedom.
The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq's ongoing defiance of the world.
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option
3. Already "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

This is the most insidious charge, but it also is contradicted by logic and facts, as well as the results of two official investigations conducted both in the UK and here at home. As this Slate piece notes, the US and UK are two nations separated by a common language:

It's worth noting that "fixed around" is not synonymous with "fixed." To say that Bush and his aides "fixed" intelligence—as some Web sites claim the memo shows—would mean that they distorted or falsified it. To say "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" means that they were viewing, sifting, and interpreting intelligence in a way that would strengthen the case for their policy, for going to war.

But was this sifting done improperly, as DSM enthusiasts claim? Not according to the results of two investigations. Such a conclusion demands the accuser willfully ignore the Butler Report, which:

"found no evidence of deliberate distortion or of culpable negligence."

It also concluded:

...on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa was well-founded.

And then there's the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, which concluded:

The Intelligence Community did not accurately or adequately explain to policymakers the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
In the cases in the NTE where the IC did express uncertainty about its assessments concerning Iraq's WMD capabilities, those explanations suggested, in some cases, that Iraq's capabilities were even greater than the NIE judged. For example, the key judgments of the NIE said "we judge that we are seeing only a portion of Iraq's WMD efforts, owing to Baghdad's vigorous denial and deception efforts. Revelations after the Gulf War starkly demonstrate the extensive efforts undertaken by Iraq to deny information.
The Committee found that none of the analysts or other people interviewed by the Committee said that they were pressured to change their conclusions related to Iraq's links to terrorism. After 9/11, however, analysts were under tremendous pressure to make correct assessments, to avoid missing a credible threat, and to avoid an intelligence failure on the scale of 9/11. As a result, the Intelligence Community's assessments were bold and assertive in pointing out potential terrorist links. For instance, the June 2002 Central Intelligence Agency assessment Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship was, according to its Scope Note, "purposefully aggressive" in drawing connections between Iraq and al-Qaida in an effort to inform policymakers of the potential that such a relationship existed.

The information provided by the Central Intelligence Agency for the terrorism portion of Secretary Powell's speech was carefully vetted by both terrorism and regional analysts.


None of the portrayals of the intelligence reporting included in Secretary Powell's speech differed in any significant way from earlier assessments published by the Central Intelligence Agency.

4. Many at the top of the administration did not want to seek approval from the United Nations (going "the UN route").

What they wanted or did not want is irrelevant. The fact is that we DID go to the UN, presenting information that two official investigations have concluded we now know was flawed, but was reasonable given the intelligence presented to the White House at the time.

5. Few in Washington seemed much interested in the aftermath of the war

This, also, has already been investigated - by our own government.

And finally, let's take a look at the credibility of the accusations themselves, as contained in the memo:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington.

C, we are led to believe, is Richard Dearlove, head of British intel. He relays his impressions of talks with persons unknown in Washington. Who are these persons, and what evidence is there that they (in turn) had any evidence to back up the opinions Dearlove passes on at this meeting? Why, oh why are we reminded of Joseph Wilson traveling to the sun-drenched Africa to drink mint tea with persons unknown? As we recall, that ended badly:

Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report. The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

And the authenticity and accuracy of the Downing Street Memos themselves cannot be checked, because the originals were conveniently destroyed:

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals

So, on the one hand we have third-hand hearsay from unnamed sources contained in a document no one can check because it was retyped and the originals destroyed.

On the other hand, we have:

- the results of the Butler Report and the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, which both concluded the intelligence was NOT, in fact, "fixed"

- the fact that language in the DSM itself shows both governments believed the threat of WMDs was real. If not, why would they discuss what they would do IF SADDAM USED HIS WMDs?

- the fact that, whatever the memo may say about whether we "wanted to go to the UN", WE DID, IN FACT, GO TO THE UN and that furthermore, the evidence presented to the UN was not fixed by the President. The Senate report specifically faulted the CIA for NOT briefing the administration on doubts about the intel and for presenting the most pessimistic case regarding WMDs. The latter strikes me as remarkably prudent policy in the aftermath of 9/11.

- the fact that, contrary to the memo, the President in his SOTU address presented not one, but three rationales for going to war. Furthermore, he did not say the threat was imminent, but stated we were uncertain and could not wait for the threat to BECOME imminent.

- the fact that the question of post-war planning has already been investigated by DoD.

There is, indeed, nothing in the Downing Street Memos. Nothing that is, except unverifiable hearsay that is contradicted by the subsequent actions of the President and the results of three official investigations that have already examined the charges.

Now where is that John Conyers fellow?

Perhaps we should demand an official investigation into why a United States Congressman is making unfounded charges against the President during wartime. I'd like to know why he didn't check his charges against the public record before recklessly going public with this ludicrous excuse for a conspiracy?

Now that is a question the American people might find extremely interesting, because from where I sit, it looks like an excuse to cut and run, something leaders on both sides of the aisle (both Hillary and former President Clinton among them) agree is irresponsible.

Posted by Cassandra at June 20, 2005 04:38 AM

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Tracked on June 20, 2005 03:01 PM

Comments

Great article, Cass. This whole issue shouldn't even be one. Just another case of "loons gone wild."

I caught a couple of the lefty blogs pushing the "thought" that if this was so inconsequential and the documents were BS, the right wing blogs wouldn't be covering it. Also, they are saying that the burden to prove them false is on Bush and the Right.

It is very intersting watching a segment of the population slowly travel the road from wacko to insane.

Posted by: William Teach [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 20, 2005 08:37 AM

What transparent rubbish.

If we weren't examining the charges in detail, the Left would claim we were "ignoring and whitewashing the evidence".

But apparently if we DO bother to examine the evidence, that proves it is right or of some consequence?

The charges would indeed be of some consequence...if there were any evidence in the DSM that they were grounded in fact.

There is none.

And you examine charges and evidence to evaluate them. The examination does not prove the charges (unless, like the Left, you have already reached a foregone conclusion and the examination is a mere formality).

I have not seen a SINGLE well-documented post on this from the Left side of the b-sphere. They can shout "conspiracy" with no proof, but in every court of law I know of, THE BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON THE ACCUSER.

Morons...

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 20, 2005 02:24 PM

Here's some deep thinking for you, from The Liberal Avenger:

The memos are important because they have become an easily understood symbol to rally around. As part of the big picture, the authenticity of the memos is largely irrelevant (although I think that anyone who doesn't believe what they are saying is being disingenuous)... What matters is where we are today in Iraq vis-a-vis the wholly verifiable on-the-record statements and intentions of the Bush Administration.

No, moron. Nothing in those memos is "verifiable", wholly or partially. And there are no "on the record" statements from the principals - the sources aren't even named!

What an asshat - if this is what passes for critical thinking on the Left, I worry about this nation. Give me an opponent I can respect.

Posted by: Bush Ate My Soul... [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 20, 2005 02:26 PM

While I do believe we were deceived into an early war... this "memo" surely does not provide evidence of any such wrong doings! Must be slow in the news for anyone to stand on that for a soap box.

Posted by: Jim [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 20, 2005 08:35 PM

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