As evidence exposing the dung heap of deception used by the Bush administration to mislead us into war continues to mount, no one in public life is doing more to seek accountability from the president than U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr.
"The truth is important," Conyers says. "And that’s what we’re looking for — the truth."
The Detroit Democrat wants answers from the president, and a growing number of people are joining Conyers in his quest. This Thursday, following a hearing on the issue, he plans to deliver to the White House a petition signed by more than 500,000 people demanding that Bush come clean on the secret plans that brought this country to war.
That letter is a direct result of the so-called Downing Street Memo, first exposed by London’s Sunday Times on May 1. Written seven months before the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, the memo reveals that the head of British intelligence warned Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 2002 that, with the Bush administration determined to seek a military solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein, "intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
Despite the memo’s explosive nature, the U.S. media virtually ignored it at first. As Salon’s Eric Boehlert recently reported, "ombudsmen for The New York Times, The Washington Post and National Public Radio have all gone on record admonishing their own news organizations for the slow-footed responses to the memo."
"In an age of instant communications," Boehlert wrote, "the American mainstream media has taken an exceedingly long time — as if news of the memo had traveled by vessel across the Atlantic Ocean — to report on the leaked document. Nor has it considered its grave implications — namely that President Bush lied to the American people and Congress during the run-up to the war with Iraq when he insisted over and over again that war was his administration’s last option."
The media may have been slug-like in its response, but Conyers pounced quickly. As the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, Conyers drafted a letter demanding that Bush respond to the information disclosed in the memo. More than 100 fellow Dems signed the letter, which was sent to the president on May 5. Bush still hasn’t responded.
In an attempt to amp up the pressure, Conyers called upon the public to join him in demanding answers. As of Monday, more than 500,000 people have gone online to add their names to the petition.
Thanks to the Internet and other media outside the mainstream, the issue has continued to gain traction. In that regard, traditional news organizations have been playing follower instead of leader.
It wasn’t until after a June 7 press conference in Washington, D.C., featuring Bush and Blair, that the issue got anything approaching serious attention from major print and TV news organizations in this country.
"After six weeks in the political wilderness, the Downing Street Memo yesterday burst into the White House — and into the headlines," Dan Froomkin of The Washington Post reported on June 8.
Responding to a question about the memo from Reuters during the press conference, Bush and Blair both denied engineering a deception. "The facts were not being fixed in any way, shape or form at all," Blair said. And Bush continued to maintain that war was "the last option."
"My conversations with the prime minister were how can we do this peacefully," Bush said. "We worked hard to figure out how we could do this peacefully."
But last week, The Sunday Times disclosed the contents of yet another damning document — a briefing paper for participants in the July 23, 2002, meeting of Blair’s top advisers. According to The Times’ story, the briefing paper reveals that Bush and Blair "agreed on regime change in April of 2002 and then looked for a way to justify it." Noting that such regime change was illegal, the briefing paper concluded that it was "necessary to create the conditions" that would make it legal, according to the newspaper report.
That Bush was fixated on invading Iraq long before making his intentions known to the public is not a new revelation. Early last year, Paul O’Neill, formerly Bush’s treasury secretary, revealed that the administration was hatching plans to invade Iraq just months after taking office in 2001.
O’Neill’s revelations were reported in The Price of Loyalty, written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. O’Neill, who was a member of the president’s National Security Council, is quoted as saying that no one in the administration’s top ranks was questioning such an invasion.
"It was all about finding a way to do it," O’Neill said. "That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘go find me a way to do this.’"
The Sept. 11 attacks provided the Bush administration with a convenient "justification" for war with Iraq. In his book Against All Enemies, former White House terrorism adviser Richard Clarke alleges that immediately after those attacks, the administration had its sights set on Iraq — even though there was never any evidence linking Saddam to the tragedy.
In an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes, Clarke recalled a conversation with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who reportedly told Clarke that "we needed to bomb Iraq."
Clarke said: "I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection, but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying we’ve looked at this issue for years. For years we’ve looked, and there’s just no connection." After another look, a new report arriving at the same conclusion was submitted.
But, Clarke said, "It got bounced and sent back saying, ‘Wrong answer. … Do it again.’"
Conyers points out that O’Neill, Clarke and others who tried to expose Bush’s duplicity were broadly attacked by the administration, which vehemently denied the allegations. With the latest disclosures, those denials ring more hollow than ever.
All of which leads to questions of impeachment. If the revelations in the Downing Street Memo are true, and the administration lied its way into war, would removal of Bush from office be justified?
"On its face, that question is laughable — because the answer is so obviously yes," wrote Georgetown University constitutional law professor Mark Tushnet in a recent piece for Salon. "If we could ask any of the leaders of the movement to get the Constitution adopted, ‘Could a president be impeached for lying to the American people in order to get their support for a foreign war?’ he would say, ‘Of course. That’s exactly what the impeachment provision is all about.’"
But, as Tushnet goes on to point out, legal justification and political reality are two very different things.
"Impeachment is a political process with some legal overtones, not a legal one with some political overtones," Tushnet wrote. With Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, the politics of the situation are not on the side of those calling for impeachment.
"And because it has no legs politically, it has no legs legally either."
Conyers, however, is undeterred by that political reality.
"The historical truth has to come out," he says. "We shouldn’t have to wait 15 or 20 years to come to these conclusions. We can’t let them continue to do this. They are eviscerating the Constitution."Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]