War preparations or how the media ‘disappeared’ the secret memo by William Bowles

10 June 2005

Tony BlairSome time in mid-2002 (most likely June), George Bush and Tony Blair met to discuss their war plans, or as they would prefer to call it, ‘regime change’.

On May 1, 2005, the Sunday Times published the secret memo that detailed the results of the meeting. The memo, dated 23 July 2002 and marked:

“SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL – UK EYES ONLY” with the added proviso “This record is extremely sensitive. No further copies should be made. It should be shown only to those with a genuine need to know its contents”

It came and went with virtually no comment in the British or US media. But of late in the US, as the implications of the contents have become clear – it could well be the trigger for impeachment proceedings against Bush and, possibly the basis for criminal proceedings against Tony Blair for an illegal act of war – there are signs of recriminations as to why the US media all but ignored the memo given the nature of its contents (See ‘Memogate’). That the same could be said of the British media where as I show, it has gotten the old heave ho.

In part the memo read:

Tony BlairC reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action [my emph. WB].
Sunday Times, 1 May 2005

The memo contains absolutely damning evidence that virtually the entire leadership of the British government lied and lied consistently over the issue of just about everything concerning the alleged threat posed by Iraq and, as the memo states, including lying about there being any kind of legal basis for an invasion:

The Attorney-General said that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult [my emph. WB].

Yet with such incriminating evidence contained in the memo why hasn’t the Brit media gone for the proverbial jugular? The reality is that aside from the publication of the memo by the Sunday Times six weeks ago and significantly only days before the General Election, there has been a complete news blackout on the memo and its explosive contents.

The BBC’s Website contains just two stories on the memo. The first titled:

Blair plays down new Iraq claims

The story dated 1 May 2005 (the same day the Sunday Times published the memo), omits referring to any of the incriminating remarks the memo contains. It omits any mention of the Attorney General’s comment about the lack of a legal basis for an invasion. Indeed, the only thing of substance the story contains is the following by Jack Straw that Bush had:

“made up his mind to take military action even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin”.

HoonSo how to ‘fit up’ Saddam? The answer is supplied in a later BBC story dated May 2, 2005 and titled:

Hoon saw early Iraq legal advice

That quotes the following from the memo:

“Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.

“We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would help with the legal justification for the use of force.” [my emph. WB]

But missing from both BBC stories is any reference to the statement about the lack of intelligence on WMD or the fact that as the memo clearly states:

“the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

Instead, the first of the two BBC stories let’s Blair completely off the hook quoting Blair’s comment that the:

Lib Dems and Tories were focusing on Iraq as they had “nothing serious to say” about other issues.

Later, the piece again quotes Blair:

“We do say sorry for all those people who have died but I cannot apologise for taking the country to war…”.

But as to the critical substance of the memo, the BBC story simply ignores it. But this is merely the beginning as the BBC has, since publishing this whitewash of a story ignored this potentially explosive exposé of the lies told by Blair, Straw, Hoon and co.

So blatant is the lack of coverage that I emailed the BBC’s head of News and asked why the story had not received the attention it deserved and yesterday (9/6/05) received an (unsigned) response (another, identical and also unsigned response was received today, 10/6/05, but from a different department):

Thank you for your email expressing concern about coverage on the BBC’s website and on TV and radio. You refer specifically to the story ‘Blair plays down new Iraq claims’

This story was supported by analysis published on the same day, from our political correspondent, Nick Assinder

The first report (Blair plays down new Iraq claims) picked up on several controversial issues raised in the memo, and the criticism it provoked from the main opposition parties. The story reported the comment said to have come from Jack Straw that the president had “made up his mind” about going to war but “the case was thin.” Saddam “was not threatening his neighbours” and his WMD capability was “less than Libya, North Korea or Iran.” The report also carried Mr Straw’s comments that “we should work up a plan” which would “help the legal justification for the use of force.” You say in your email that you regard this as the least incriminating quote from the memo. However it seems a reasonable assumption that many people would regard those remarks as extremely controversial.

The BBC calls this “analysis”. What is more controversial than the one about “fixing” the intelligence which the letter from the BBC admits that:

With hindsight we would accept the news report should have reported the comments attributed to Sir Richard Dearlove that in the United States “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy’’.

With hindsight? Hindsight? The memo makes it quite plain that the reasons for going to war were fixed, specifically, the alleged intelligence! It doesn’t take hindsight to figure this out, indeed it has been subject of controversy for the past three years! Does the BBC need it spelt out in big letters? FIXED!

The letter goes on to say:

Our political correspondent noted in his analysis of the memo:

It talks about US plans for regime change – deemed illegal by the attorney general – and the inevitability of US military action which the UK would back.

It also shows the prime minister claiming it would make a difference “politically and legally” if Saddam was to refuse to allow weapons inspectors back into Iraq.

He continued:

The document shows the meeting concluded by stating, amongst other things: “We should work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action”.

The opposition parties have seized on the leak to suggest it showed the prime minister had already agreed action with President Bush and that regime change was the ultimate aim.

However we would not accept any implication that the BBC was deliberately downplaying a story that was critical of either the British or US governments and their decision to go to war in Iraq. We would point out that this memo was leaked to the Sunday Times, not to the BBC, therefore on the day in question the story had to be approached with a degree of caution. Prior to the publication of this memo the BBC reported reported extensively on the controversy surrounding the legality of the war in Iraq, but it was not considered the central issue in this particular report. [my emph. WB]

“Not considered the central issue in this particular report”? If the legality or otherwise of the invasion is not central, then what is? The BBC would have us believe that the legality of the reasons for war; the “fixed” intelligence; the fact that Bush had in fact decided to invade Iraq, come what may, and that the British government had agreed to go along with Bush’s decision to invade, are not central. Amazing stuff no doubt.

We have also reported extensively on suggestions that the intelligence was made to look firmer than was actually the case. [my emph. WB]

Firmer”? One could hardly get more disingenuous reporting by the BBC than this when the memo is quite clear that the ‘intelligence’ had been fixed so as to justify an invasion. All that remained open was when? The BBC’s use of the word “firmer” is quite illuminating as it is not only light years away from what the memo tells us but contradicts even the government’s ‘line’ on the “faulty” intelligence.

Considering that the government have not questioned the authenticity of the memo, the fact that it was the Sunday Times that broke the story seems entirely irrelevant.

The letter then goes on to refer to a report published weeks before the memo was published (as if this has anything to do with the issue):

We would also point you towards an article by our World Editor John Simpson which raised a range of issues about the government’s handling of intelligence in relation to Iraq:

But Simpson’s ‘op-ed’ piece merely reiterates the ‘line’, namely that the intelligence had been at worst, faulty. Simpson says:

It [the Butler Report] was nothing of the sort. Properly read, it seemed plain that Lord Butler felt intelligence had been wrongly used by the Blair government.

In other words, Simpson pushes the same old hoary line that the government simply ‘got it wrong’. The entire thrust of Simpson’s piece is essentially about ‘spin’ and has nothing to say about policy and indeed it is the complete omission of any analysis of policy that reveals the bankrupt nature of the BBC’s alleged reporting. The letter continues:

This article – published a few weeks before the leak of the memo – and of course the Panorama programe it refers to, are a clear indication that the BBC continues to robustly report issues that are in the public interest in relation to the use of intelligence and the war in Iraq.

But obviously ‘robustness’ doesn’t refer to the damning memo. Again, the letter sidelines the essential issues by focusing on the ‘use of intelligence’. The letter finishes with the following:

While we have not returned to the issue of the memo since our original report and the analysis that went with it, we are likely to return to the story at a future date. Our World team are monitoring developments surrounding this story in the United States, in particular the action being taken by critics of the current administration. Thank you for email, and kind regards.

But obviously not its effect on the situation in the UK as the public have been denied any real coverage by the BBC or the rest of the corporate media for that matter.

Meanwhile, in the US, although there have been more stories on the memo, the corporate media has also killed the story — dead. Typical of the reaction is the following comment from the Chicago Tribune:

But the potentially explosive revelation has proven to be something of a dud in the United States. The White House has denied the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war.
17 May, 2005

Strange that the Chicago Tribune refers to the ‘American media’ but excludes itself! After all, why has the media not followed up on the story and could the alleged “indifference” of the public not having something to do with the fact that the media has largely ignored the story? After all, if the public have not been exposed to the memo’s contents, it’s hardly surprising they would be ‘indifferent’ and that the story is a ‘dud’. How does the Tribune arrive at the conclusion that the public seems generally indifferent?

Although I don’t possess a crystal ball nor inside dope on what goes on in the editorial offices of the BBC or the corporate media, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the memo’s contents have been airbrushed out of the nations’ consciousness and with good reason for it makes a mockery of everything we have been told for the past three years.

The BBC’s response to my inquiry is entirely inadequate in that it simply does not address in any significant manner the substance of my complaint. Indeed, it continues to uphold the lies we are being told by the government.

If you, like me, feel cheated and, as I said in my original letter to the BBC, that the BBC is not executing its legal mandate to serve the public interest, then why not drop Ms. Boaden and co a note and let them know.

Helen Boaden, director of BBC news
Email: helenboaden.complaints@bbc.co.uk
Pete Clifton, BBC news online editor
Email: pete.clifton@bbc.co.uk
Mark Thompson, BBC director general
Email: mark.thompson@bbc.co.uk
Michael Grade, BBC chairman
Email: michael.grade@bbc.co.uk

Some additional links on ‘Memogate’

The Downing Street Memo Reconsidered by David Corn 11/6/05

DOWNING STREET DOCUMENTS — Ten Briefcases Full by Grace Reid 12/6/05

Cabinet Office paper: Conditions for military action 12/6/05

Leaked Cabinet Office paper: Conditions for military action

Agree to engage the US on the need to set military plans within a realistic political strategy, which includes identifying the succession to Saddam Hussein and creating the conditions necessary to justify government military action.

Memo: U.S. Lacked Full Postwar Iraq Plan:
A briefing paper prepared for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers eight months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq concluded that the U.S. military was not preparing adequately for what the British memo predicted would be a “protracted and costly” postwar occupation of that country.

About the Downing Street Memo…:
US Media Shamed by Brit Journalist

Ministers were told of need for Gulf
war ‘excuse’ by Michael Smith 12/6/05

Memogate Background – Bolton Said to
Orchestrate Unlawful Firing By Charles J. Hanley 4/6/05

The Real Memogate By Solomon Hughes 2/6/05

Brits and Yanks Unite to Demand Answers to Downing Street Minutes 11/6/05

President Bush, With the Candlestick… By Robert Parry 7/6/05

Memogate Hearings Scheduled for June 16 6/6/05

$1000 Reward For Getting Bush to Answer Downing Street Minutes 7/6/05

Saturday 11th June 2005
The Downing Street Memo Reveals Blood on the Hands of Our Complicit Corporate Media…and the Hijacking of Our Collective Fear by Anthony Wade

Saturday 11th June 2005
Bush and ’The Memo’

Friday 10th June 2005
Downing Street Memo proves invasion wasn’t ’last resort’: Impeach Bush Now!

Bush lied about war? Nope, no news there!
” This is where all the work conservatives and the administration have done in terms of bullying the press, making it less willing to write confrontational pieces — this is where it’s paid off.” Salon, June 9, 2005 By Eric Boehlert

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