On June 14, Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent, gave her take on mainstream media (MSM) coverage of the Downing Street Memo (DSM). She said, “There have been anti-war groups and anti-Bush groups who’ve tried to generate this [coverage] on the Internet, but . . . there’s no smoking gun here,” because “if you go back to Bush’s own comments [in 2002], you had to be brain-dead not to know what he was up to.” On June 15, The Washington Post took the same position, even more emphatically: “The memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s prewar deliberations.” 
This might come as a surprise to George Bush and Tony Blair, who were claiming as recently as last week that war with Iraq was, as they claimed in July, 2002, a last resort undertaken only after all other options were exhausted. In their joint press conference on June 7, George Bush answered his first question about the DSM saying, “And somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam. Nothing could be farther from the truth. . . . Look, both of us didn’t want to use our military. Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It’s the last option.” 
While I completely agree with Ms. Mitchell and the editorialists of The Washington Post that some of the information in the DSM and Mr. Conyers’ hearings is not new, it is extremely disingenuous for them, in particular, to insist that the story has been covered -- at least by the MSM. Both NBC -- whose parent company, GE, is one of the world’s top manufacturers of munitions -- and The Washington Post were enthusiastic supporters of the war, routinely relegating adversarial views, if they were mentioned at all, to the status of footnotes to administration briefings. These obvious conflicts of interest make their remarks, like those of many others in the MSM, seem mere justifications for their own defalcations.
John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, put the matter in its proper, constitutional context yesterday during hearings televised from a Capitol Hill conference room little bigger than a broom closet. The shabbiness of the accommodations and the absence of any Republican members, far from damaging the solemnity and import of Conyers’ “meeting,” underscored the Bush government’s assault on the traditional checks and balances required by our form of government.
The deep issue, Conyers told us, in his slow, methodical, deceptively mild-mannered voice, is who has the constitutional right to order this nation into war.
Conyers contends that, had Congress known that the President had a pre-determined fixation on war, and was looking on intelligence and facts as mere window dressing for a decision that had already been set in stone, it is highly unlikely that there would have been a congressional resolution allowing the invasion of Iraq. Conyers’ point is born out by the recent defection of formerly staunch supporters of the war, including Republican Walter Jones, who came up with the term “freedom fries.” 
Given the press’s hostility to the subject, I believe the DSM would have been spun to death by now, if it weren’t for the fact that we have a very determined British leak. Not content with exposing the original DSM, he (or she) has gone on to give us six other documents, which have stirred up controversy in areas other than the cherry-picking of intelligence. In addition to showing that the Bush government was completely uninterested in planning for a post-war Iraq, we now have a fresh slant on US and British bombing runs over Iraq in 2002. At the time, an increase in air activity was mentioned—barely—in the MSM, but when both governments described it as protecting Iraqi air space, the matter was dropped. Tommy Franks has since admitted that those raids were intended to “degrade” Iraqi infrastructure preparatory to a ground invasion that had not yet been raised with, let alone authorized, by Congress. 
The Associated Press, whose slowness in picking up the DSM has been cited by other organizations as a factor in their own delays, ran with the story when it finally broke, and took it further, connecting it to John Bolton. “Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a UN tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved,” wrote Charles Hanley, a special correspondent for the AP. 
The official was Jose Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who was dangerous to the Bush admininstration’s case for war because he wanted to send chemical weapons inspectors to Iraq. Hanley concluded, “The Iraq connection to the OPCW affair comes as fresh evidence surfaces that the Bush administration was intent from early on to pursue military and not diplomatic action against Saddam Hussein’s regime.” 
Ray McGovern also mentioned John Bolton during his testimony at the Conyers’ hearings yesterday. McGovern had a 27-year career as an analyst with the CIA. During the Reagan administration, he was the senior intelligence briefer of then Vice President George H. W. Bush. He is the co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. McGovern described in some detail the troubling changes in the way intelligence has been collected and assessed since the Bush administration took power.
Under questioning by Maxine Waters, he said that Vice President Dick Cheney’s working trips to CIA headquarters “were not unusual -- they were unprecedented.” Even the senior Bush, who had been head of the CIA, never came to CIA headquarters when he was vice president, McGovern said. During the past four years, McGovern said, the agency has lost all independence, primarily because independent analysts are leaving or being purged by an administration that insists on fixing the intelligence and facts around their policies. If John Bolton goes to the UN, McGovern warned, the remaining independent analysts will go -- leaving the country blind.
Which brings us to the most troubling aspect of the memos: international law. DSM II  instructs the ministers reading it that since Tony Blair had already agreed to join George Bush in attacking Iraq, “it is necessary to create the conditions in which we could legally support military action.” The document says that the US and UK have no grounds for war and then goes on to offer strategies for luring Saddam into an actionable casus belli.
This throws a whole new light on the Bush administration’s willingness to sink so much political capital into the nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the UN, as well as the Republican Party’s relentless efforts to undermine the UN, and, if possible, remove Kofi Annan. After all, the UN is the institution that has declared the war with Iraq to be illegal.
The Memos show that British Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of the defense staff, demanded a written opinion from their attorney general stating that the war would be lawful, because Boyce refused to put British soldiers at risk of being tried for war crimes. Attorney General Goldsmith was openly dubious but finally gave a terse pronouncement that the war would be legal. But with the release of DSM VII, an eight-page legal options memorandum, it is now clear that, in fact, all the legal justifications for war were found to be lacking. 
As a result, Admiral Boyce told the London Observer that if British troops are brought to trial by the International Criminal Court, the ministers who were privy to these documents should be tried, too. When asked if he thought Blair and Goldsmith should be included, Boyce shot back “Too bloody right.” 
We have a legal document from within the Bush administration that shows a similar concern with prosecution for war crimes: in his infamous Torture Memo of January 25, 2002, Alberto Gonzales advises President Bush not to apply the Geneva Conventions because it “substantially reduces the threat of domestic prosecution under the War Crimes Act.” Sending John Bolton to the UN would be another way of protecting top administration officials, in this case from international prosecution for war crimes.
And that explains it. Our overtly, proudly patriotic MSM -- whose economic interests just happen to coincide with those of the pro-corporate Bush administration -- could not even conceive of a line of inquiry that might lead to the revelation that our leaders have committed, not just impeachable offenses against our constitution, but war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Patricia Goldsmith is a member of Long Island Media Watch, a grassroots free media and democracy watchdog group. She is also a frequent contributor to MandateTHIS.org.
Other Articles by Patricia Goldsmith