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Downing Street and Beyond: Hearing Builds Momentum for Full Investigation

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More than thirty members of Congress convened at a public hearing in Washington Thursday to investigate the so-called “Downing Street memo.” We play excerpts of the hearing chaired by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) that featured former ambassador Joe Wilson, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, attorney John Bonifaz and Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004. [includes rush transcript]

More than thirty members of Congress convened at a public hearing in Washington yesterday to investigate the so-called “Downing Street memo.” The meeting was called by Congressmember John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Downing Street memo–first published by the Sunday Times of London on May 1st–revealed the minutes of a July 2002 meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisors that indicate the United States was already committed to attacking Iraq almost a year before the war officially began. The memo also says that the Bush White House “fixed” intelligence data to justify the invasion. Subsequent documents, published by the Times reveal that British ministers were told that they had no choice but to find a way to make the war in Iraq legal.

Yesterda’s public hearing was held in a cramped room in the basement of the Capitol. The Republican-led House scheduled 11 votes to be held that same afternoon–more votes than House members cast all week in any 2-hour period. Ohio Congressmember Marcy Kaptur called it “very interesting timing.”

Testifying at the hearing was former ambassador Joe Wilson, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, attorney John Bonifaz and Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004.

After the hearing, Conyers and other lawmakers went to Lafayette Park across from the White House for a rally organized by the coalition AfterDowningStreet.org. Conyers and half a dozen other lawmakers were stopped at the gates of the White House to hand-deliver the signatures of over 120 congressional Democrats and more than half a million citizens on petitions demanding a detailed response from the Bush administration to the Downing Street memo. Eventually, White House aides retrieved the petitions at the gate and took them into the West Wing.

Thursday’s hearing began with the four witnesses reading their opening statements. Attorney John Bonifaz is the cofounder of an organization called AfterDowningStreet.org. He said that if the documents were proven to be true, the president may have violated a federal law against misleading Congress, and his actions would be grounds for impeachment.

Former US Ambassador Joseph Wilson was among the witnesses invited to testify yesterday. Wilson was asked by the CIA in 2002 to travel to Niger to investigate the alleged sale of processed uranium ore from the country to Iraq. Even though Wilson found the claim to be false, President Bush included the allegation in his 2003 State of the Union address. Wilson later published an article in The New York Times criticizing Bush’s use of the claim. Also testifying yesterday was Ray McGovern, a 27-year career analyst with the CIA. After the witnesses read their opening statements, Congressmember Conyers questioned them about the Downing Street memo.

  • Rep. John Conyers questions Joseph Wilson & Ray McGovern, June 16, 2005.

Congressmember Maxine Waters was one of the 30 (thirty) lawmakers who attended the meeting. She questioned McGovern about the administration’s politicizing of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion and his visits to CIA headquarters.

  • Rep. Maxine Waters question Ray McGovern, June 16, 2005.

Cindy Sheehan was among the witnesses called yesterday. Her son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004. She is the co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. This is what she had to say in her opening statement.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney John Bonifaz is the co-founder of the organization, AfterDowningStreet.org. He said if the documents were proven to be true, the President may have violated a federal law against misleading Congress and that his actions would be grounds for impeachment.

JOHN BONIFAZ: The Downing Street minutes shed new and important light on a document the President himself submitted to the United States Congress within 48 hours after having launched the invasion of Iraq. This is the document, and I have distributed it to all of you, and I ask that it be put into the record of these proceedings.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Without objection.

JOHN BONIFAZ: In the letter, dated March 18, 2003, the President makes a formal determination as required by the joint resolution on Iraq passed by the United States Congress in October, 2002, that military action against Iraq was necessary to, (quote), “protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” He also states in this letter to Congress that military action was consistent with the United States and other countries’ continuing to take the necessary actions against international terrorists and terrorist organizations, including those nations, organizations or persons who planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

If the evidence revealed by the Downing Street minutes is true, then the President’s submission of his March 18, 2003 letter to the United States Congress would violate federal criminal law, including the Federal Anti-Conspiracy Statute which makes it a felony, (quote), “to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose,” and the False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, which makes it a felony to issue knowingly and willfully false statements to the United States Congress.

The United States House of Representatives has a constitutional duty to investigate fully and comprehensively the evidence revealed by the Downing Street minutes and other related evidence and to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to impeach George W. Bush, the President of the United States. A resolution of inquiry is the appropriate first step in launching this investigation.

The Iraq war has led to the deaths of more than 1,700 United States soldiers, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Thousands more have been permanently and severely injured on both sides. More than two years after the invasion, Iraq remains unstable and its future unclear. The war has already cost the American people tens of billions of taxpayer dollars at the expense of basic human needs here at home. More than 135,000 United States soldiers remain in Iraq without any stated exit plan. If the President has committed high crimes in connection with this war, he must be held accountable. The United States Constitution demands no less.

AMY GOODMAN: Attorney John Bonifaz, testifying at Thursday’s hearing on the Downing Street memo. Former U.S. Ambassador, Joseph Wilson, was among the witnesses who also testified. Wilson was asked by the Bush administration in 2002 to travel to Niger to investigate the alleged sale of processed uranium ore from the country to Iraq. Even though Wilson found the claim to be false, President Bush included the allegation in his 2003 State of the Union Address. Wilson later published an article in The New York Times, criticizing Bush’s use of the claim. Also testifying was Ray McGovern, a 27-year career analyst with the C.I.A. After the witnesses read their opening statements, Congress Member Conyers questioned first Wilson, then McGovern, about the Downing Street memo.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: The Downing Street minutes outline this administration’s deliberate intention to manipulate intelligence in order to justify a predetermined policy of war against Iraq. Some in the media have suggested these revelations are nothing new. What do the Downing Street minutes tell us that we did not know before they were revealed? If you have a view about that, please come forward. Mr. Ambassador?

JOSEPH WILSON: Well, let me begin if I may, Congressman, thank you. A year after the Downing Street memo appeared, I asked the question in my New York Times article: “Was the U.S. fixing the intelligence?” essentially. It’s very clear to me that in July 2002, at the very highest levels of the British government, they had concluded that that was the case, that war was inevitable and the facts were being fixed around the policy.

Now, there have been a number of articles that suggest that nothing was new, that we knew all of that at the time. Indeed yesterday there was an opinion piece in The Washington Post that suggested all of that. I would submit, sir, that I don’t think that Jim Baker would have written his piece, which was written after July of 2002, nor would Brent Scowcroft have written his piece. Both were senior advisers to President George Herbert Walker Bush. I may not have written the piece that I wrote in October of that year had I believed that, in fact, the cards had already been dealt. General Anthony Zinni, who was the Commander-in-Chief of CENTCOM, which has that particular part of the world in its region, may well not have participated in the debate until December had he known. Indeed, he told me, and I have put it in my book, that he left the debate in December, in December, six months after the Downing Street memos, because in his judgment at that time the decisions had all been made.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: You remind me that many members of Congress said if they had known this before we voted to give the President additional military authority in Iraq, he might not have gotten any votes, or certainly very few had this knowledge been available to us then.

JOSEPH WILSON: Of course, Paul Wolfowitz, then the Deputy Secretary of Defense was quoted in Vanity Fair as having said, “We settled on weapons of mass destruction because that was something that we could sell.”

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Right. Mr. McGovern.

RAY McGOVERN: Apropos your remark about Congressmen and Senators feeling misled, I would point out that even Senator Pat Roberts, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, no liberal he, has admitted that had he known some of the things that came out since, he has strong doubts as to whether there would have been a vote for war.

Let me just add an element to what Ambassador Wilson has said here, and that is that these documents, not only the first document, but the others, they show a panic, a veritable panic among British lawyers, and I think perhaps you can all identify with this. They were befuddled. The decision had been made for war. Their Prime Minister had opted onto this scheme, and they were trying to figure out a way how it could be legally justified. And not once, but several times, Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General in London, felt it necessary to point out to various and sundry, including the Prime Minister, that regime change is not a legal basis for war. Okay?

And so, the other documents show the lawyers scurrying around for other ways to justify this, and the best they could come up with is, “Let’s propose to Saddam Hussein the kind of intrusive inspection regime that he is sure to reject, and then we’ll have a causus belli, then we can do what we want.” He outfoxed them. He accepted it. He invited in the most intrusive, in modern history, inspection regime, and when they found something, namely the Al-Samoud missile, which exceeded in range the allowed limits, I remember thinking: “What is Saddam Hussein going to do?” Does anyone remember what happened?

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Destroyed them.

RAY McGOVERN: They destroyed them. They cut them all up. There were about ninety of them. So it was working. So I could just see the British lawyers sort of saying, foiled again, what is our fallback position now? So it’s really ludicrous if you look at these documents. The British were in because of the promises made by their Prime Minister, but they could not justify it legally, and they had their Chief of Staff saying, “Look, I am not going to send my men and women into war unless you sign on the dotted line saying this is legal.” Because the British, unlike us, are members of the International Court of Justice, and the admiral heading up their armed services was not about to put his men and women at that kind of risk. And so, what happened in the event was Peter Goldsmith, their Attorney General, was persuaded by a phalanx of lawyers from the N.S.C. here, to change his mind and three days before the invasion, he signed a little one pager saying, “Yeah, I suppose it’s okay, after all.”

AMY GOODMAN: Former C.I.A. analyst, Ray McGovern and former ambassador, Joe Wilson, testifying at the hearing called by Congress Member Conyers to investigate the Downing Street minutes in Washington. Los Angeles Congress Member Maxine Waters was one of the 30 lawmakers who attended the meeting. She questioned McGovern about the administration’s politicizing of intelligence in the run up to the invasion and about Dick Cheney’s repeated visits to the C.I.A. in the lead up to the war.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Now, today you have implied that with these visits something was going on. We all believe — many of us believe that there’s been a manipulation of intelligence information, that they had to make the intelligence fit the conclusion that they were indeed going to invade Iraq. Would you elaborate further on these visits, and could you shed any light on any actions or words or anything that he may have done that you or others know about that would help us to understand that, in fact, he was responsible for helping to manipulate intelligence information?

RAY McGOVERN: Thank you, Congresswoman Waters. With respect to the visits to headquarters, people ask me, “Is this unusual that a Vice President would be coming to C.I.A. headquarters?” And I say, “No, it’s not unusual. It’s unprecedented.” I was there for 27 years. Not once — not even George Herbert Walker Bush, who had been Director of the C.I.A., not once did a Vice President, sitting Vice President, come on a working visit to C.I.A. headquarters. Now, we know that Cheney came eight or nine times. Apparently the C.I.A. officials can’t get their act together because they give a range. It’s between eight and twelve, I think they say, which opens the possibility that he may have gone there without so much as reference, making reference to the people in charge. No, it’s incredibly — it’s incredible that that should be happening.

Now, put yourself in the position of a young analyst. You’re trying to do the —- you’re trying to find out the truth, right? And you’re analyzing this, and you have Cheney come in. He would like a briefing, and right over his shoulder is George Tenet, who everyone knew was cooking things to what he thought the President wanted. Now, if you -—

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Excuse me, you are telling me that he would ask for briefings, he would visit —


REP. MAXINE WATERS: — with analysts? He would be given information, and Tenet would be present?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, that’s the normal procedure. Now, I wasn’t there, but the Director would normally be there or the Deputy Director for Intelligence. And none of these folks protected their people from this. Now, this is the real outrage. A head of an agency needs to protect his people from this kind of outside pressure, at least in the intelligence business, and he did not do that. Tenet didn’t do it, and Jamie Miscik, the head of the Intelligence Directorate, she also didn’t do it.

So these people, these young people who are trying to make a career, were subjected to that kind of pressure, and not only that, but George Tenet decided that he would like to see the President every morning, and so he hitched a ride with the morning briefer. Now, my experience in briefing people downtown, Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State and Defense and so forth, was it’s a one-on-one deal. Okay? You go down there. You’re trusted. You have been around for a while. You can answer questions. You know enough not to answer questions if you don’t know the answer. And so you carry out this duty.

Now, here’s your director standing behind you over your shoulder, and if this doesn’t a have an inhibiting effect on your candor when you know your director is saying “slam-dunk” and things like that, then nothing will. So, the bottom line here seems to be, and I regret very much to have to say this, but that the management of the Central Intelligence Agency has been so corrupted, has been so politicized, that there’s real question in my mind as to whether they can come up with an objective view on anything, given the fact that the administration makes it very clear the answers that they want to hear.

You asked about a couple of other things. Just very briefly, energy — it’s very interesting. Cheney was head of that Energy Task Force, of course. He had come out of that Halliburton experience, okay? He had been C.E.O., of course. Now, after Gulf War I, he was asked in Seattle in early 1991, “Why didn’t you just go in there and take Saddam out, you know? Why didn’t you do that?” You know what he said? He said, “We asked ourselves what that would lead to, and we asked ourselves, well, how many American soldiers are worth taking Saddam out, and we decided, well, not very many.” Okay? Now, ten years later, he’s Vice President. What changed? Two things changed. He was head of Halliburton. He knows all about oil, number one. And the second is that our country, for the first time in its history, is importing more than half of the oil it needs.

AMY GOODMAN: Former C.I.A. analyst Ray McGovern, speaking at Thursday’s Downing Street memo hearing. We’ll be back with more of the hearing in a moment, and we’ll be joined by a British father whose son was killed in Iraq. He ran against Tony Blair in the recent British elections. Reg will join us in the studio in Washington, D.C. And we’ll also hear from Cindy Sheehan, an American citizen who lost her son in Iraq. She testified before the hearing yesterday in a cramped basement hearing room, people packed in to ask questions about the Bush administration’s knowledge before the election, fixing the facts and intelligence to fit the policy.


AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, as we go back to the hearing on the Downing Street minutes. Cindy Sheehan, among the witnesses called yesterday. Her son, Casey, killed in Iraq in April 2004. She is co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace. This is what she had to say in her opening statement.

CINDY SHEEHAN: I believe that the reasons that we citizens of the United States of America were given for the invasion of Iraq have unequivocally been proven to be false. I also believe that Casey and his buddies have been killed to line the pockets of already wealthy people and to feed the insatiable war machine that has always devoured our young. Casey died saving his buddies, and I know so many of our brave young soldiers died doing the same thing. But he and his fellow members of the military should never have been sent to Iraq.

I know the family of Sergeant Sherwood Baker, who was killed guarding a team that was looking for the mythic WMDs in Baghdad, the same WMDs that were the justification for invading Iraq, as outlined in the Downing Street memo. Sherwood’s brother, Dante Zappala, and his dad, Al Zappala, are here with us today.

I believe the Downing Street memo proves that our leaders betrayed too many innocents into an early grave. The lives of the ones left behind are shattered almost beyond repair. I also believe an investigation into the Downing Street memo is completely warranted, and the necessary first step into righting the wrong that is Iraq and holding someone accountable for the needless, senseless and avoidable deaths of many thousands. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter if one is a democrat or republican, a full investigation into the veracity of the Downing Street memo must be initiated immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Sheehan, speaking at Thursday’s hearing in Washington. She lost her son in Iraq.

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