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Congress to hold forum on Downing Street memo

Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON – The secret British memo of 2002 that reported that President Bush was determined to go to war against Iraq months earlier than he publicly acknowledged will get its first official hearing today – sort of.

In the closest version so far to a congressional hearing on the Downing Street memo, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., will head a forum examining the document. That will be followed by an Internet-organized rally in front of the White House. Conyers plans to deliver the signatures of 105 congressional Democrats and more than 500,000 citizens on petitions demanding a detailed response from the Bush administration to the memo’s allegations.

The memo, minutes of a meeting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had with aides on July 23, 2002, in London, said it “seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action.” Bush has long said he didn’t decide to go to war until shortly before the bombing began in March 2003.

The memo also says that the Bush White House “fixed” intelligence data to justify the war. Bush’s pre-war emphasis on the danger of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction proved to be erroneous after inspectors failed to find any such weapons.

The memo came to light on May 1 in the Sunday Times of London. So far in the United States, it has triggered more of a national sigh than a gasp, but news of it spread quickly on Internet blogs.

Conyers said he’s holding the hearing to uncover whether “there was a secret decision well ahead of the authority Congress had given” on Oct. 11, 2002, to Bush to launch the war. Conyers said the memo suggests that even as the Bush administration “was assuring Congress, they were secretly planning war.”

Both Bush and Blair denied such allegations, but they haven’t challenged the document’s authenticity.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said despite the memo, nothing points “to a deliberate politicizing to get an end result” by the Bush administration. Hoekstra said his committee has no plans to investigate the memo.

Today, four congressmen have planned a news conference to discuss legislation calling on Bush to phase out the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

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