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Ray McGovern talks with Paul Jay about the paper trail on the Iraq war, as revealed in the British “Downing Street memo”. Part 2 coming soon!

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. I’m coming to you from outside Washington today. And in Washington is Ray McGovern. He was a 27-year veteran analyst at the CIA. He used to do White House briefings during the Reagan administration, now an author, regular writer in, and a regular contributor to the The Real News Network. Thanks, Ray.


JAY: So seven years ago, the Downing Street memo meetings took place that gave rise to the famous or infamous memo. President Obama has said that the issue of criminal offenses that might have been committed during the previous administration (and one reads into that “by the leaders of the previous administration—President Bush, Vice President Cheney”), that this is in the hands of the attorney general, and he’ll decide whether or not criminal offenses have occurred. And most of the focus has been on torture cases, but I’ve always thought the bigger issue is waging an illegal war. So, Ray, take us back. Tell us what are the Downing Street memos. And do they suggest that there should be an investigation into the potential of criminal charges against Bush and Cheney for waging a war in Iraq?

MCGOVERN: Paul, the advantage of the Downing Street minutes is that it’s a documentary piece of evidence of the kind that intelligence analysts or investigative reporters or people really lust after in terms of proving a case, and this does prove a case. You have to think back to 2002. Blair was in Crawford, Texas. He committed himself to do whatever Bush decided with respect to war. And then he got a little bit worried. You know, Bush was on the phone with him every other week or so, and Blair was hearing these braggadocio type things about what we’re going to do to Saddam and why, and he wanted to check that out. And what better way to check it out than send his intelligence chief to meet with his opposite number, George Tenet, who at that time was head of the CIA and meeting with Bush six mornings a week with the president’s daily brief? What better way than to send Sir Richard Dearlove over the Atlantic to meet with Tenet? Now, Tenet was reluctant to meet with him for obvious reasons, but Blair prevailed upon Bush to make Tenet meet with Dearlove. And once you get Tenet going—he’s that big, garrulous fellow who likes to brag about all the secrets he knew—well, he really gave Dearlove an earful. And three days after Dearlove was with Tenet that entire Saturday—and I know folks who were there with him them all—they had a one-and-a-half hour tête-à-tête behind closed doors, and that was what Dearlove was reporting on when he was seeing Blair and his principal national security advisers—there were 14 there altogether—three days later on July 23, 2002. So we’re talking still eight months before the war, okay? Big message—this was Dearlove’s report: the president has decided that war is inevitable to remove Saddam Hussein for regime change; the war will be justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass disruption. Translation from the British: we’re going to say that Saddam Hussein has all manner of weapons of mass destruction and that he’s likely to give them to al-Qaeda or the terrorists. And then the crowning sentence: but the intelligence and facts are being fixed around around the policy. “Fixed around the policy.” I mean, there it is in black and white. That is the cardinal sin of intelligence analysis: you don’t fix the facts around the policy; you give them the facts, and if they want to do a stupid policy, well, your conscience is clean—you’ve told them what you think about the world. And so what happened was there was a little discussion there, and it’s really quite interesting on several counts. One is that the foreign secretary, who was getting a more sensible view from Colin Powell, upped and said, “Well, you know, the evidence is very thin, weapons of mass destruction. But, you know what we can do? Here’s an idea. We’ll serve an ultimatum on Saddam Hussein. We will propose the most intrusive inspection regime in the history of the world. We’ll crawl all over his palaces. We’ll interview his scientists one-on-one. And he should reject that. And then we’ll have a casus belli; then we’ll have a better reason to go to war.” Okay? And the attorney general, Sir Lord Goldsmith, says, “Yeah, that would be better, because regime change, that doesn’t do it from a legal standpoint, to start a war. So it’s much better to have something like that.” You know, it’s like a bunch of mafia a new northern New Jersey. It was really, really incredible. And there it is in black and white. Now, one of the interesting things here, Paul, is the inspection thing. Bear in mind that Dick Cheney was unalterably opposed to letting the UN inspectors go back into Iraq. He said so in his major speech before the war, of course. That speech was August 26, 2002. And he ridiculed the notion that there should be UN inspectors, because that just gives us a false sense of security, said Cheney. But the battle was waged, Blair and Dearlove against Cheney, and Bush was persuaded, in order to get British support for this war of aggression, that he needed to say, okay, we’ll propose this ridiculous regime, and Saddam will refuse it, and that’s the way we’ll go into Iraq. Now what does Saddam do? He’s too clever than half by these other guys. What he does is say, “Alright, come on in. You can interview my scientists one-on-one. We won’t insist on a minder there. You can crawl over my palaces. Just, you know, please put the cap back on the toothpaste. Do whatever you want.” And that’s what happened from the end of November 2002 until 17 March 2003. The UN people, the UN inspectors, were crawling all over Iraq. Now, I remember Carl Levin, a ranking member, at the time, of the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying to George Tenet, the head of the CIA, “They’re not finding anything. Are you giving him the best information you have about weapons of mass destruction?” and Tenet swearing on the Bible, yeah, he was giving them the best information. And for once Tenet was telling the truth, because the best information revealed—”the best” in quotes—revealed no weapons of mass destruction. So what happens? Well, George Bush entertains the prime minister of Spain four weeks before the war and tells him, well, you know, we’re going to go in there no matter what. He has discussions with Blair—and this is again recorded in the documents that we have—he has discussions with Blair on 31 January 2003 in which he says, you know, “We’re going to have to figure some other way to justify this. Well, I know what we’ll do. We’ll get a U-2 airplane, we’ll paint it with UN colors, and we’ll fly it over to attract Iraqi antiaircraft fire or missiles, and then we’ll have a casus belli. Or, no, no, this might be a good idea: we’ll get one of those Iraqi scientists to come out and tell us about all the bad things that are going on. You know. Well, a third one could be we could get Saddam Hussein assassinated. What do you think, Tony?” That’s in the document. That was 31 January 2003. Meanwhile, my old colleagues at the CIA had had success in recruiting guess who? The Iraqi foreign minister—not the former Iraqi foreign minister, but the foreign minister in place, who Saddam Hussein thought was working for him. He was working for us. He was reporting to us in the summer of 2002. And what he said was that there aren’t any weapons of mass distraction. When George Bush was told that by Tenet and his chief lieutenants, George Bush said, ah, he’s just lying. Okay? Then the British gave us access to the head of Iraqi intelligence—not the former head of Iraqi intelligence, but a fellow named [Tahir] Habbush, and he told us the same thing. He said, look, you know, there aren’t any weapons of mass distraction. So George Bush knew very, very well that there were no weapons of mass instruction. And this ridiculous business about saying, well, he had to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein would not let the weapons inspectors in from the UN, you know, in the Bronx we call that—that’s a bald lie.

JAY: It’s a lie that gets repeated on Sunday morning after Sunday morning television.

MCGOVERN: Charles Gibson, interviewing George Bush, he said, “Well, now, tell me really why you went into Iraq.” And he said, “Well, Saddam Hussein wouldn’t allow the UN inspectors in, and so I had to go in.” And Charles Gibson listened respectfully, and as all members of what I call the fawning corporate media, as they all conduct themselves, said, “Okay, Mister President, we’ll go on to the next question.” False on its face. George Bush, in 2003, in 2004, 2006, 2007, and then at the end of last year, felt it necessary to repeat that lie, and he was never once, never once called on it. So that’s what Bob Parry of Consortium News and I call faux history. It’s sort of—it might make the history books for all we knew, but the fable is that George Bush and Tony Blair had to go into Iraq because Saddam Hussein would not let the weapons inspectors in. Now, one last little footnote there. George Bush, on 17 March 2003, two days before the celebrated shock and awe, got up on the television, worldwide broadcast, and said, “I warn all foreign journalists and inspectors to get right out of Iraq immediately.” Okay? That’s when he gave the ultimatum for Saddam and his two sons to leave, you know, you know, leave Dodge right away. And so here’s the president himself, two days before the invasion, saying, “I warned the UN inspectors to get out.” And so how can he pretend now that they never were let in? The only way he can pretend that, Paul, is by the fawning corporate media not calling him on it. And that’s why I’m delighted to have one chance here to tell the real story, make some real news. And, frankly, it’s a little frustrating that the fawning corporate media won’t carry this story, but it’s part and parcel of the whole thing. When you look at what happened there, you take the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, in London, he had already ruled that regime change is not an adequate juridical justification for an attack on Iraq, and he had ruled again before the war. And then NSC [National Security Council] lawyers descended upon London, and guess what? He changed his mind and said, well, maybe it would be alright. And guess what? All the British lawyers went along with him save one. That was Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy general counsel for the foreign office. She said, “Look, this is illegal. This is a war of aggression. I know about wars of aggression. That’s my specialty. I’m out of here.” And guess what? When I made a little speech at Oxford in January at an Oxford forum, I mentioned Elizabeth Wilmshurst, and I could see that none of those hundreds of people recognized the name. And I said, “You know about Elizabeth Wilmshurst, do you not?” Not one raised their hand. And there you have it: the funding corporate media is a transatlantic phenomenon. In London as well, it’s very, very hard to get the real news.

JAY: Thanks, Ray. So in the next segment of our review, let’s talk about how we know about the Downing Street memos/minutes, but also how we don’t know—how little attention it’s received in the American mainstream press. It’s not part of the official discourse, although in England it certainly is—two very different news cultures. And also let’s talk about what is the implications of the minutes and of the knowledge of this intent on the issue of whether or not Bush-Cheney committed a crime in going to war in Iraq. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Ray McGovern.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer and was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.