Just before Britain’s parliamentary elections, the Sunday Times of London published a leaked British government memo that laid out the Bush administration plan for an invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, justified on intelligence fixed around the policy. The memo, dated July 23, 2002, summarizes a meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair with his security advisers and indicates that President Bush had already made a decision to attack Iraq in the summer of 2002.
The memo, front page news in Britain and Europe, specifically says, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” in a reference to the rationale for war — namely weapons of mass destruction — which have never been found. The revelation made just before the British people went to the polls may have played a role in significantly weakening Tony Blair’s Labor Party May 5th election victory.
Although the U.S. press has paid little attention to the implications of the memo, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., joined by 88 members of Congress, has asked the White House to explain the memo’s explosive assertions. Between The Lines, Scott Harris spoke with investigative reporter and author Greg Palast, who examines the political significance of the leaked British memo.
GREG PALAST: You have to understand Scott, this is Page 1 news in Britain. It’s what sank Tony Blair. I mean, the guy only got by the way, 36 percent of the vote, or I should say, his Labor party — 36 percent of the vote in Britain. This was the nail in the coffin.
It was a memorandum from inside his government saying that Blair had met with our president, Mr. Bush, at the Crawford ranch in Washington. This is eight months before the war, before we were told there was going to be a war. Bush had decided we’re going in, the memo said that Bush was going in, no matter what. This had nothing to do with weapons inspectors because Tony Blair said, Well, we better come up with a story like “Tell Saddam he’s got to bring in the weapons inspectors.” This is where they came up with this idea. The excuse that Bush laid out was going to be weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s games with terrorism, and of course, Blair pointed out — and it was pointed out that Bush himself recognized that — and this is a quote, “The intelligence and facts were being fixed to match the policy.” Again, intelligence and facts were being fixed and this is about our president. This is Page 1 news in Britain. You couldn’t get a breath of this in the United States, and yet this is about our president fixing the intelligence to get us into war.
This is what nailed Nixon in the end, not just Watergate, but it was fixing the intelligence. In the case of Watergate, Nixon finally went down because he tried to blame the CIA and in our case, George Bush himself successfully did this. A month ago, we had a report out saying that the intelligence was not monkeyed with, rather the Rob Silverman report said that the CIA simply had the wrong information. Not so, the facts were being fixed, according to this internal memo.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Greg Palast, tell us about the veracity of this memo and the consequences in the U.S. Congress, if any.
GREG PALAST: The veracity is 100 percent, because Prime Minister Blair — I should say the outgoing Prime Minister given what’s happened — did not deny the authenticity of the memo. In fact, David Frost put it right in front of his nose and said, “Explain this,” and (Blair) said, “Well, you have to understand what it means.” In other words, he didn’t deny its authenticity, he just tried to explain it away. Pretty hard to do when it says basically, he’s going along with a knowing lie, a fabrication about weapons of mass destruction, about terrorism and the connection to Saddam Hussein. It’s a shocking piece, in fact, you can read it on my website. It includes that the preparation for the war was going to be timed around U.S. congressional elections to fix the elections for Bush, another little sickening note. That they’re going to need 250,000 troops, by the way, when in fact they only sent in half that many, confirming the fact that if we were going off on this fake adventure, that we needed more troops to protect each other and we didn’t get it. It also said in this memorandum that Blair brought up the fact that Saddam Hussein was not threatening his neighbors, he didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction, and regime change, no matter how much it may be desirable, it was a violation of international law and unless there’s a threat to the attacking nation. Blair and Bush knowingly together came up with a cockamamie scheme to sell the planet on weapons of mass destruction anyway.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Michigan Rep. John Conyers, joined by 88 members of Congress has asked the president for answers about this particular memo and the implications that the American people, the British population were lied to about the reasons for this war. What are the prospects he’ll get any answers?
GREG PALAST: Well, I can tell you that John Conyers and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have previously taken reports of mine from Britain, from BBC and The Guardian and tried to get a rise out of this government, our government and tried to get some attention in the U.S. press and it doesn’t happen. And they’ve tried this in the case of the fix of the vote in 2000; the fix of the vote in 2004; the Bush-bin Laden connection. Bless John Conyers for not just throwing in the towel and saying, “I give up, I’m going to try one more time.” But, it’s as if, if the report airs on BBC, well, “that’s just you know, they’re just some crazy pirate radio station out there and it can be ignored.” And as long as the New York Times, our “Izvestia,” and The Washington “Pravda” Post, carry roughly the administration line or factions of the administration, then it’s case closed, no more discussion.
BETWEEN THE LINES: It’s interesting that now it’s President Bush’s second and last term in office, but it seems that the Teflon still holds around him, and protects him from the scrutiny that you would think the press — at least some quarters of the press — would exhibit. As you mentioned at the outset, the British and European press is covering this story, but here in the United States, nothing much is going on. Have you had any discussions with press people here about why that’s the case?
GREG PALAST: Press people here won’t have discussions with me. (Laughs.) So, you know that ends that. You have to remember that, after all, I think one of the most important stories was brought out by Seymour Hersh, about the Abu Ghraib prison and yet that story went around to every major news outlet in the United States and no one would touch it until he did, and of course, he doesn’t work for an American newspaper. He was hired by a British editor to the New Yorker magazine after being fired by the New York Times.
We do have a problem in the U.S. — it’s that we’ve just been completely blindsided because our press has decided to go to sleep. And any news journalist who suddenly wakes up from the hypnosis like Dan Rather did, soon finds themselves unemployed.
Greg Palast is a former columnist with Britain’s Guardian newspapers and is the author of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” Visit his website at http://www.gregpalast.com
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 35 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org . This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending May 20, 2005. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.