After the Downing Street Memo: The Case for Impeachment Builds
Monday, June 6th, 2005
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The fallout from the revelation of a secret meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior national
security team appears to be growing. We take a look at the so-called "Downing Street Memo" which reveals how the former
director of the British intelligence agency, MI6, told Prime Minister Tony Blair that the U.S. had already made plans to
attack Iraq as early as July 2002.
It was marked "Secret and strictly personal - UK eyes only." That was the header of the Downing Street memo
that exposed a meeting in July 2002 between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior national security team.
The text to the minutes of the secret briefing was published by the Sunday Times of London
In the briefing Richard Dearlove, then-director of the British intelligence agency, MI 6 - told Blair that the U.S. had
already made plans to attack Iraq. According to the leaked minutes, Dearlove said the US attack would be "justified by
the conjunction of terrorism and WMD." He went on to say "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the
policy." Though the revelation of the so-called Downing Street memo initially saw very little attention from the
mainstream U.S media, calls for a full investigation, have gained momentum. 89 House members have called on President
Bush to answer questions surrounding the memo; Representative John Conyers is in the process of collecting 100,000
signatures demanding that the president address the accuracy of the document.
And Last week, former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry told the Massachusetts Standard Times newspaper that he
will be raising the issue of the memo when he returns to Washington this week. He went on to say, "I think it's a
stunning unbelievably simple and understandable statement of the truth and a profoundly important document that raises
stunning issues here at home. And it's amazing to me the way it escaped major media discussion. It's not being missed on
the Internet, I can tell you that."
Since the Downing Street memo revelations, more evidence has come out showing that the U.S and the Royal Air force
increased their air strikes on Iraq in the months preceding the invasion in order to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving
the allies an excuse for war.
Jeremy Scahill, Producer and Correspondent, Democracy Now.
Hans Von Sponeck, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. In the late 1990s, he was the coordinator
of the United Nations Humanitarian Mission in Iraq.
John Bonifaz, lawyer and author of the book "Warrior King: The Case For Impeaching George W. Bush." He is also
co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org
which is a coalition of various groups urging Congress to begin a formal investigation into whether President Bush has
committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war.
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard
of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent; John Bonifaz, author of Warrior King : The Case for
Impeaching George W. Bush; as well as Hans Von Sponeck, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, formerly.
Looking at this Times of London piece that came out last month John Bonifaz, I'd like you to respond to this secret
document from the heart of government, revealing that Tony Blair privately committed Britain to war with Iraq and then
set out to lure Saddam Hussein into providing the legal justification. This according to the Times of London, they write
the Downing Street minutes, headed “Secret and strictly personal -- U.K. eyes only,” detail one of the most important
meetings ahead of the invasion. It was chaired by the Prime Minister, attended by his inner circle. The document reveals
Blair backed regime change by force from the outset, despite warnings from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, that
such action could be illegal. The minutes that were published by the Sunday Times begin with the warning: "This record
is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. The paper should be shown only to those with a genuine need to
know." It records this meeting in July 2002, attended by military and intelligence chiefs of which Blair discussed
military options having already committed himself to supporting President George Bush's plans for ousting Saddam. Can
you talk about the significance of this for President George Bush?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Sure, Amy. I mean the reality here is that this evidence from this Downing Street memo reveals that the President may
have engaged in a conspiracy to mislead and deceive the United States Congress and the American people about the basis
for going to war against Iraq. And they have, in effect undermined and violated the War Powers Clause of the United
States Constitution, which makes it quite clear that Congress and only Congress has the power to declare war. Well, it's
not in his power to start a war long before even going to Congress in October 2002, even if that resolution in October
2002 was not a proper declaration of war. So, what we have started with AfterDowningStreet.org
is a campaign on behalf of a coalition of veterans groups, peace groups and organizations around this country calling
upon Congressman John Conyers, Jr., and other members of Congress to launch a resolution of inquiry formally
investigating whether the President's committed impeachable offenses in connection with this war. Is it a high crime to
lie to the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for going to war? That question must now be
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about AfterDowningStreet.org
and this whole movement that is now developing?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, we have launched this less than two weeks ago, we have already received over 100,000 hits to the website.
Thousands of people are weighing in in support of this campaign, and we believe that Congressman Conyers and others need
to stand up as they have in the past and urge that this administration be held accountable for its potential impeachable
offenses and the President himself must be held accountable. James Madison said when talking about the impeachment
clause of the Constitution, that a president is impeachable if he subverts the Constitution, and it is a clear
subversion of the Constitution to lie to the United States Congress and the American people about the basis for sending
the nation to war, sending young men and women off to their death based on a potential lie. This president needs to be
held accountable for that illegal action.
AMY GOODMAN: John Bonifaz, I wanted to ask you about what appears later in the Sunday Times of London piece, it says, "The July
meeting was later mentioned by Lord Butler in his report on the use of intelligence on W.M.D. as a key stage in the road
to war, but its details have never been revealed until now. The minutes show that Goldsmith warned Blair eight months
before war started -- that was March 19, 2003 -- that finding legal justification would be difficult. The Attorney
General only ruled unambiguously war was lawful a few days before the war started, after Admiral Sir Michael Boyce,
Chief of the Defense Staff, demanded unequivocal written confirmation. Boyce was never shown Goldsmith’s more equivocal
advice to Blair and says today ministers failed to give him protection from prosecution at the International Criminal
Court. He said, ‘I have always been troubled by the I.C.C.,’ adding that if British service men are put on trial,
ministers should be brought into the frame, as well. Asked if that should include Blair and Goldsmith, the Attorney
General, he told the Observer newspaper, ‘Too bloody right.’” Can you talk about liability here and what he means?
JOHN BONIFAZ: Clearly, there's liability for British officials, including Tony Blair under the International Criminal Court since
Britain is a signatory to the treaty that created that court. The United States decided not to sign that treaty in part
because it did not want to have its officials held liable for any of these kinds of potential war crimes and other
crimes under international law. However, it's important to note that the United States forces used U.K. bases out of
Diego Garcia and Cyprus, which if in fact there were war crimes or violations of international law that have occurred,
the United States could also be implicated by having used those British airbases. So, I think that we have to look at
all of the questions here both in terms of violations of international law, as well as our United States Constitution,
and we as a people have a recourse under the U.S. Constitution and that's the impeachment clause to remove any president
for violations of the Constitution, for violations of federal law, and this President needs to be held accountable if he
committed high crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill?
JEREMY SCAHILL: To look at the politics of this, it's very interesting that John Kerry, Senator John Kerry, raised this
issue last week and said that he's going to be raising the Downing Street minutes publicly, and there's been a firestorm
of controversy. In fact, the far right-wing publications, Newsmax, all of these Ann Coulter clique of people have made a
big deal about this. John Kerry is going to bring articles of impeachment against President Bush. But I think we need to
step back and look at something here. If an honest assessment was done, what we’re looking at is George Bush picking up
from where Clinton left off and just taking it a step further. Bill Clinton systematically attacked Iraq throughout his
entire presidency. He oversaw the largest sustained bombing campaign since Vietnam. What a Congressional committee with
subpoena power should really do is go back and subpoena every military official who’s ever had anything to do with these
so-called no-fly zones, bring them in front of Congress, swear them in and ask them, “What were your orders, both given
and received?” And what you’ll see is a systematic violation of international law and the U.S. Constitution that was
supported openly by Democrats.
And so John Conyers who’s been consistently against these things is the perfect person to raise these kinds of charges
because his voting record shows that he has been consistently opposed to it. Many of the Democrats in the Senate and the
House have big problems because they supported the Iraq Liberation Act, they supported the pummeling of Iraq, the
punishment of Iraqi civilians through these bombings. And I have met people whose children have been killed in these
bombings. And that’s what we have to remember. There was a human price here that was very heavy. And we have reported on
that on Democracy Now! This is a case of -- the media need to follow these events in real time. This was a bombing that
was happening very publicly, and it was documentable in real time. And it's great that now it's getting attention, but
one of the problems that the Democrats are going to run into on Capitol Hill is you need to go back and look at their
policies, their positions, their votes. And it’s going to be damning of them.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Hans Von Sponeck here, the former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations. You were in
office during some of the time that Jeremy is now just talking about. Can you talk about you being on the ground in Iraq
and what you understood was happening?
HANS VON SPONECK: Well, let me first say, in addition to my role as the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Oil for Food Program, I was also
the designated official for security of United Nations staff in Iraq, and in that context, of course, we paid attention
to what was happening in the no-fly zones. And what was quite noticeable is that after Operation Desert Fox of December
1998, there was a very distinct increase in the number of incidents perpetrated by the U.S. and U.K. air forces
involving civilian property, involving civilians, and we ascribed that at the time as a result of instructions given by
the two governments in Washington and London to allow pilots to operate under what is known as “enlarged rules of
engagement,” giving pilots more freedom to decide whether to attack an installation or whether to engage in other
destabilization attempts in the two no-fly zones, and, by the way, at times also straying over into the fly zone. The
fly zone was not entirely without incidents during the time since Operation Desert Fox in 1998.
And as a result of this development, we in Baghdad decided very quickly that we would begin to record these incidents,
not as they affected the military -- that wasn't our business -- but as they affected the security of United Nations
staff, and, of course, the civilian population in Iraq. And that meant that we started to issue air strike reports where
we every three months issued such a report for the consumption of the U.N. Security Council, for the Office of the
Secretary General and other officials at the U.N. in New York, and we made sure at the time to be discreet about this,
not to give it to the press, but to give it to those who had something to do with these incidents. I, myself, would,
when I visited New York, see the U.S. Ambassador, see the British Ambassador and hand to them these copies. And I
remember on one occasion, I told both of them that, when I gave them a report with pictures, I said, your pilots see it
from up there, 10,000 meters above, and this is how we see it on the ground, and it was striking to see the reaction,
which was extremely angry and negative. I was told by a British official that all we were doing, we’re putting the
imprint of legality, of legitimization on Iraqi propaganda, which was not at all the case.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you were giving this directly to the British Ambassador to the U.N. and to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.?
HANS VON SPONECK: Indeed. When I went there, I handed copies to Ambassador Burley at the time. He will remember, and I also gave the
reports to the British mission, to Ambassador Eldon, who was the number two ambassador to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who was
particularly agitated over the fact that I was instrumental in having these documents prepared by my security office in
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Greenstock was particularly agitated?
HANS VON SPONECK: No, his deputy, who had been Deputy Manager, which he would always tell you with great pride, of the 1991 Gulf War
arrangements, so it led to, in fact, a request to the Secretary General that I be removed because of -- one of the main
reasons because I was issuing these reports, which the United Nations found quite useful, and I was encouraged to
continue to write them.
AMY GOODMAN: So they were pressuring for you to be removed for reporting the effects of the bombing on the ground in Iraq?
HANS VON SPONECK: Well, that, Amy, that I'm afraid is correct. It's one -- it's not the only, but it was one of the reasons why the two
governments felt that I was unsuitable for that position in Iraq. And all I was doing as a civil servant was to relay
the cold-blooded facts that arose as a result of these incursions, these illegal incursions, after all, and well, I
continued with the full support of the U.N. Secretariat.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about another U.N. official who was forced out. The Associated Press reporting John Bolton helped
force out a top official at the U.N. ahead of the Iraq invasion because he feared the official could interfere with the
Bush administration’s war plans. According to the Associated Press, “Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to personally demand
that Jose Bustani resign his post as head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. At the time,
Bustani was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Iraq. If the inspectors had been sent then, they would have
uncovered that there were no chemical weapons, a discovery that would undermine the Bush administration’s rationale for
war.” Did you know about this at the time?
HANS VON SPONECK: Actually, Mr. Bustani is heading, or headed an organization that's not part of the U.N. system. That is, it's totally
outside the gamut of the United Nations. But I think what agitated the U.S. and maybe John Bolton was the fact that he
tried at the time to bring Iraq into signing the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Act. And I think that increased -- that
led to the wrath of Washington and maybe contributed to the decision to remove this senior official of an important
AMY GOODMAN: Hans Von Sponeck, from your position as former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, your response to the
Downing Street memo and the documents that have come out since? The significance of the meeting both for Blair and for
HANS VON SPONECK: I would say, Amy, that this document is simply formal evidence of what was not a secret since -- in fact, since
mid-2002. In October 2004, during a meeting with Robin Cook, former foreign secretary of the U.K. in Brighton, I was
told by him that in mid-2002, meaning at the time when this memo, these minutes were written, they knew already in
London that Prime Minister Blair had agreed with Mr. Bush to join him in going to war against Iraq, and what we see in
the ensuing period, in retrospect, now this is – now one can say it -- then it was more difficult to discover -- but one
can say that there was a gradual planned buildup, and it was not a question of a policy decision any longer. It was a
P.R. exercise. How do we sell this to the public? How do we get through this to the objective, which we have decided to
have, which is to implement the Clinton October 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which the U.S. Congress passed, which called
for regime change? But at that time it was more a regime change from within, using Iraqi opposition, but this of course,
all changed on January 2001, when the Bush administration came in and translated into a very clear decision, and that is
to go to war against that country. And apparently in mid-2002, the British came on board and this memo that these
minutes that are now available to the public simply formalized what was already decided.
AMY GOODMAN: The last 30 seconds, Jeremy Scahill.
JEREMY SCAHILL: I think clearly what's needed right now is a congressional investigation. This is extremely important. This should be a
mainstream issue in this country, that President Bush began the invasion of Iraq, the air war against Iraq a year before
he actually officially began it. Months before he went to the Congress, months before he went to the United Nations, and
the problem right now is that the Republicans are not going to allow the Democrats to hold a hearing with subpoena
power. And that's the primary issue. But the last point I want to make is that this is yet another case of seeing that,
actually Baghdad Bob, Chemical Ali, these guys were telling the truth. And they were saying the Bush administration is
trying to provoke another Gulf of Tonkin here, by coming in and escalating these bombings. That's what Amir Al-Saadi,
Senior Advisor to Saddam Hussein said to me the last time I talked to him. Tariq Aziz, the last time I talked to him,
said the same thing. They're sending U-2 spy planes. They want to us shoot it down. They're looking for a reason to go
to war. That’s clear right now, and there are so many pieces of evidence that one can turn to to prove this. This is one
of the most rock solid, and it should be exploited by the Congress right now to prove that Bush lied to the American
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, correspondent for Democracy Now!, was in Iraq almost a year leading up to the invasion of Iraq. John
Bonifaz, co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org
, and Hans Von Sponeck, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, formerly. Thanks all for joining us.
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