warned in July 2002 that Britain was committed to taking part in an
American-led invasion of Iraq and they had no choice but to find a
way of making it legal.
The warning, in a
leaked Cabinet Office briefing paper, said Tony Blair had already
agreed to back military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein at a
summit at the Texas ranch of President George W Bush three months
The briefing paper, for
participants at a meeting of Blair’s inner circle on July 23, 2002,
said that since regime change was illegal it was “necessary
to create the conditions” which would
make it legal.
This was required
because, even if ministers decided Britain should not take part in
an invasion, the American military would be using British bases.
This would automatically make Britain complicit in any illegal US
“US plans assume,
as a minimum, the use of British bases in Cyprus and Diego Garcia,”
the briefing paper warned. This meant that issues of legality “would
arise virtually whatever option ministers choose with regard to UK
The paper was
circulated to those present at the meeting, among whom were Blair,
Geoff Hoon, then defence secretary, Jack Straw, the foreign
secretary, and Sir Richard Dearlove, then chief of MI6. The full
minutes of the meeting were published last month in The Sunday
The document said
the only way the allies could justify military action was to place
Saddam Hussein in a position where he ignored or rejected a United
Nations ultimatum ordering him to co-operate with the weapons
inspectors. But it warned this would be difficult.
“It is just
possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would
reject,” the document says. But if he accepted it and did not attack
the allies, they would be “most unlikely” to obtain the legal
justification they needed.
that the allies use the UN to justify war contradicts claims by
Blair and Bush, repeated during their Washington summit last week,
that they turned to the UN in order to avoid having to go to war.
The attack on Iraq finally began in March 2003.
The briefing paper
is certain to add to the pressure, particularly on the American
president, because of the damaging revelation that Bush and Blair
agreed on regime change in April 2002 and then looked for a way to
There has been a
growing storm of protest in America, created by last month’s
publication of the minutes in The Sunday Times. A host of citizens,
including many internet bloggers, have demanded to know why the
Downing Street memo (often shortened to “the DSM” on websites) has
been largely ignored by the US mainstream media.
The White House has
declined to respond to a letter from 89 Democratic congressmen
asking if it was true — as Dearlove told the July meeting — that
“the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” in
The Downing Street
memo burst into the mainstream American media only last week after
it was raised at a joint Bush-Blair press conference, forcing the
prime minister to insist that “the facts were not fixed in any shape
or form at all”.
John Conyers, the
Democratic congressman who drafted the letter to Bush, has now
written to Dearlove asking him to say whether or not it was accurate
that he believed the intelligence was being “fixed” around the
policy. He also asked the former MI6 chief precisely when Bush and
Blair had agreed to invade Iraq and whether it is true they agreed
to “manufacture” the UN ultimatum in order to justify the war.
He and other
Democratic congressmen plan to hold their own inquiry this Thursday
with witnesses including Joe Wilson, the American former ambassador
who went to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was seeking to buy
uranium ore for its nuclear weapons programme.
Frustrated at the
refusal by the White House to respond to their letter, the
congressmen have set up a website — www.downingstreetmemo.com — to
collect signatures on a petition demanding the same answers.
Conyers promised to
deliver it to Bush once it reached 250,000 signatures. By Friday
morning it already had more than 500,000 with as many as 1m expected
to have been obtained when he delivers it to the White House on
AfterDowningStreet.org, another website set up as a
result of the memo, is calling for a congressional committee to
consider whether Bush’s actions as depicted in the memo constitute
grounds for impeachment.
It has been flooded
with visits from people angry at what they see as media
self-censorship in ignoring the memo. It claims to have attracted
more than 1m hits a day.
another website, even offered $1,000 (about £550) to any journalist
who quizzed Bush about the memo’s contents, although the Reuters
reporter who asked the question last Tuesday was not aware of the
reward and has no intention of claiming it.
The complaints of
media self-censorship have been backed up by the ombudsmen of The
Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio, who
have questioned the lack of attention the minutes have received from