My post of a few days ago regarding the so-called "Downing Street Memo" led to my receipt of a lengthy email which appears to be mostly a reprint of this Daily Kos diary. The point of the email (and the diary) is that the "memo" is in fact not a "memo," but rather "minutes" of a meeting. And, the author concludes, because "minutes" are "legal documents" while "memos" are not, the Downing Street "minutes" could lead to some sort of legal action against someone (Bush?), whereas a "memo" would not have the same impact.
I’m not so sure. Yes, "minutes" is the term normally used to refer to a record of what happened at a meeting, whereas a "memo" is just a communication from one person to another. And yes, "minutes" do have legal import in the context of corporate law. But whether they have any legal import in a context like this is quite another matter. The problem is twofold. First, unlike the corporate context, I am not aware that government officials are under any sort of legal obligation to maintain accurate "minutes" of their meetings – it may be a good idea, but I don’t know that it’s required. Second, it is (unfortunately) not illegal for the government to lie to the people (in contrast, it is illegal for a corporation to lie to its shareholders, at least in certain contexts). So let us assume that these "minutes" do in fact "prove" that Bush lied to the people of this country when he told us that he had not decided to go to war in Iraq prior to March of 2003 (when in fact he had), and that he was not bending intelligence to fit the policy (when in fact he was). What then? Anyone who thinks that some international tribunal is going to make Bush and Blair out to be war criminals is not living on this planet, and if it were to come to an impeachment trial in this country (ha ha), the distinction between "memo" and "minutes" would be relatively unimportant because an impeachment trial is not a courtroom proceeding and is not bound by rules of evidence.
So let me be clear: as I’ve said from the very first day that the contents of this document were revealed, this is an important development that shows – perhaps more clearly than any other single piece of evidence – that Bush misled this country about Iraq. But whether we call it a "memo" regarding a meeting, or "minutes" of a meeting, or a "memo" that contains "minutes," or anything else, strikes me as relatively unimportant (and, since the catch-phrase "Downing Street Memo" seems to have taken hold, I don’t see much harm in sticking with it). What’s important is the contents. They are very important indeed.