Ray McGovern talks with Paul Jay about the paper trail on the Iraq war, as revealed in the British “Downing Street memo”.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking to Ray McGovern about the Downing Street memo or minutes, and whether or not it shows criminal intent on the part of President Bush and Dick Cheney, and what implications it might have for the attorney general about whether or not to pursue charges, though we have not heard much talk about the Iraq War as even the potential for this investigation. But the Downing Street memo certainly suggests that there should be. So, Ray, pick up, first of all, with how do we know these minutes, this memo, even exists, and talk a little bit about how much coverage has it gotten in the US as compared to in Britain.
RAY MCGOVERN, RETIRED CIA ANALYST: Well, Paul, it’s really interesting. What’s needed to surface this kind of information is some courageous—we call them patriotic truth-tellers—who realize the enormity of what is about to happen or what has happened and release the details of that enormity to the press. Now, I don’t know who it was, but there was one such patriotic truth-teller that had access to the minutes that were prepared that same day by a participant at Downing Street—and there were only 14 there. Someone, one of those, either by carelessness or by intent gave that memo to someone who gave it to The Sunday Times of London—an incredible public service. Now, in Britain, of course, there’s a Secrets Act, which automatically condemns such a person who’s caught to at least two years in prison. And that person did it anyway. I’ll bet it was a woman, because there was only one other woman, besides Elizabeth Wilmshurst that we mentioned before, who spoke out before the war started, and that was Katherine Gun, who worked for the NSA [National Security Agency] equivalent in the British system and warned people that something really messy was happening at the UN, where the US and Britain were determined to shove through their plans for war.
JAY: How do we know this leak is legitimate?
MCGOVERN: It was verified, and Tony Blair swears by it—well, he didn’t swear by it. Tony Blair has verified its authenticity. It can’t be denied. It’s recognized by the British government as authentic.
JAY: So, given that this memo, in a fairly clearcut way, makes it evident that British and American officials knew there were no weapons of mass destruction and were going ahead anyway, why hasn’t this had more impact in US press, US politics? In the American discourse it’s as if this memo never existed.
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MCGOVERN: Well, you know, the only reason it got any play at all was because two months, almost, or a month and a half after The Sunday Times of London carried the story, John Conyers was persuaded to hold a hearing on that. You know, he thought it was sort of interesting, as you and I do. And so he was allowed to convene a group down in the basement of the Capitol—that’s the only room they would give him, the Republican majority. But that was very interesting, because that brought the matter to the fore because C-SPAN televised it live and so forth. So Amy Goodman, on Democracy Now!, had us interviewed the day before. And the Washington Post that day, 15 June 2005, actually mentioned the Downing Street memo, and what they said was, you know, this is very vague but intriguing. Well, it wasn’t vague at all and it wasn’t intriguing. It was unconscionable. It was very depressing, these leaders of a so-called civilized country getting together in sort of a cabal to plan a war so that they could ingratiate themselves with other leaders across the Atlantic who were preparing the same thing. The Post, in other words, dissed it: they said that this is well known; there’s no news here; we knew this all the time. Well, if they knew that the British and the US, eight months before the war against Iraq, were plotting this matter, it would have been really neat if they had told us that, and they didn’t.
JAY: Do you think this meets the bar of criminality? Dick Cheney was on Fox and on television quite often. In one of the speeches he made, he said what’s happening is policy differences are being criminalized, and one administration can’t do that to the other.
MCGOVERN: They’re trying to obfuscate the situation here. When they talk about policy differences, they talk about torture as if, you know, this is a policy argument. It’s a crime; it’s not a policy argument. Torture is a crime under US law, as well as international law. With respect to waging a war of aggression—and that is a technical term defined by Nuremberg, the Nuremberg tribunal, which came after World War II. And what they said was that to institute a war of aggression is to commit the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only inasmuch as it contains the accumulated evil of the whole. Now, that’s where torture, that’s where kidnapping, that’s what putting people in black holes without telling their wives or their children, much less the Red Cross, that’s where that comes in. That’s the accumulated evil, okay? So the supreme evil is the war of aggression, and everybody knew that in the aftermath of World War II. But now we have one superpower, and it can be sort of pushed aside—you can do the war of aggression. And as night follows the day, there will be these accumulated evils, and these accumulated evils are banned by international and national law. But the war of aggression, well, unless you lose, hmm, unless you lose, then the thinking is, well, maybe it’s not so important, because we’re the one sole remaining superpower in the world, and besides that, we don’t recognize all those conventions that would have us before the Hague. Now, the ironic thing here is that George Bush and Dick Cheney can’t go outside the country. They can’t risk it. You know, they can take lots of secret service folks with them, but they run the risk of a citizen’s arrest on the plane to Cancún or the plane to Paris. And, you know, I’m not blowing smoke here; this has already happened. Don Rumsfeld, two years ago, was in Paris for a conference. Some brave soul filed a formal petition with the Paris police, saying this is a war criminal, we need to detain him here and investigate. As the Paris police were figuring out what to do about this, Rumsfeld went out the back door, went to Charles de Gaulle, and was off in the next plane out of the country. So this is a real thing. But isn’t it an embarrassment? Isn’t it an embarrassment that we, we Americans, are depending on people like the magistrate in Paris or gutsy lawyers in Spain—. You know, Spain is where we had waterboarding and sleep deprivation, all these other kinds of torture things, developed, pretty well, there, 500 years ago. So it’s really ironic that we have to depend on other people who, you know, subscribe to the civilized notion that torture is always intrinsically wrong, not to mention that it doesn’t turn up reliable information. We have to depend on others? Give me a break. I think the American people are up to it. I think that Barack Obama, in releasing those four shameless, pornographic memos—under Department of Justice letterhead, okay? These are the ones that were written as to what you can do and make it not torture. Okay? Really easy: you define torture as causing major organ failure or death. If you do either of those, you could be brought up on charges of torture.
JAY: But the question of waging war of aggression is a violation of international law, and that is a law that the United States has signed on to. The conventions and international law trumps domestic law, supposedly. If Iraq war is an illegal war, isn’t it a violation of American law? And that seems to be not even part of the conversation now.
MCGOVERN: Well, what you’re referring to, I think, Paul, it is the UN Charter, which we have made a matter of our domestic law. And there you get into situations where violence of this kind can be justified.
JAY: Except in this case it wasn’t. There was an attempt to get a Security Council resolution, and they didn’t get it. So Kofi Annan called this war an illegal war. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it until year afterwards, but he did do it.
MCGOVERN: Yeah. But, you know, it’s the same with McNamara, you know, when he was talking about General LeMay and killing 100,000 Japanese in cities toward the end of the war, saying, you know, if we lose, we could be brought up on war crimes, ’cause these are really war crimes, what we’re committing here. And that was LeMay, okay? Now, the supposition was we’re not going to lose, okay? That’s one heck of a way to do morality.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, Ray.
MCGOVERN: You’re most welcome.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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