Democrats focus on pre-war actions of Bush administration

Some congressional Democrats are insisting that the White House provide more information about what led to the decision to go to war in Iraq, citing a document known as the "Downing Street memo" as evidence that intelligence was distorted.

Rep. John Conyers and other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee were conducting a public forum Thursday, prompted by documents that have surfaced from inside the British government about pre-war planning.

The so-called "Downing Street memo" says the Bush administration believed that war was inevitable and was determined to use intelligence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the ouster of Saddam.

The "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy," says the memo, recounting a July 23, 2002 meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his national security team. The meeting took place just after British officials returned from Washington.

U.S. officials and Blair deny the assertion about intelligence and facts being "fixed," a comment which the memo attributes to the chief of British intelligence at the time. The meeting took place eight months before the invasion of Iraq.

Conyers pointed to statements by Bush in the run-up to invasion that war would be a last resort. "The veracity of those statements has - to put it mildly - come into question," he said.

The London Sunday Times disclosed the contents of the memo May 1.

Bush should respond to questions raised by the Downing Street memo, says a letter signed by Conyers and over 90 other members of Congress, as well as a half-million Americans.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan dismissed the memo on Thursday and indicated that no one in the White House plans to respond to the letter.

"This is simply rehashing old debates that have already been discussed," he said.

The Sunday Times also reported on an eight-page briefing paper prepared for Blair which concludes that the U.S. military has given "little thought" to the aftermath of a war in Iraq.

The briefing paper of July 21, 2002 says that a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise and that "as already made clear, the U.S. military plans are virtually silent on this point. Washington could look to us to share a disproportionate share of the burden."

PETE YOST, Associated Press Writer

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