Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Iraq War's British roots

Tuesday, John Chilcot declared, "We have called as witnesses those with first-hand experience of the development and implementation of UK government policy in Iraq. Our first round of public hearings begins today and runs until early February 2010. We will then take a break from public hearings, returning to our analysis of written material. We will hold some private hearings: to take evidence on matters which if disclosed in public would cause harm to the public interest, or where there are other genuine reasons why a witness would have difficulty being frank in public. The circumstances in which we will hold private hearings are set out in the Protocols published on the Inquiry website."

John Chilcot

Chilcot (pictured above) is in charge of the Iraq Inquiry taking place in London. Last week saw them being public hearings. Gordon Brown, the current Prime Minister of England, had long promised an inquiry into the illegal war and appeared to be preventing one. With Labour polling to find how poorly the slide in Brown's personal popularity was and how much it damaged the party as a whole, Brown announced, June 15th, that the long-promised Iraq Inquiry would take place and picked Chilcotto to head it. Chilcot is the Chair and also serving on the committee are Lawrence Freedman, Martin Gilbert, Roderic Lyne and Usha Prashar -- Gorodn Brown selected all five members.

Last week the committee heard public testimony from Simon Webb, Peter Ricketts, William Patey, Tim Dowse, William Ehrman, Christopher Meyer and Jeremy Greenstock. But problems were already apparent.

Craig Murray is the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan and he observed on Tuesday:

Sir John Chilcot was just ten minutes in to the first public session of the Iraq Inquiry when he told the first big lie -- and a lie which, when examined, exposes the entire charade.
"My colleagues and I come to this inquiry with an open mind."
That is demonstrably untrue. Three of the five members -- Rod Lyne, Martin Gilbert and Lawrence Freedman -- are prominent proponents of the Iraq war. By contrast, nobody on the committee was in public against the invasion of Iraq. How can it be fine to pack the committee with supporters of the invasion, when anyone against the invasion was excluded?

Others took exception to this section of Chilcot's opening statement, "As I have said before, we are not a court or an inquest or a statutory inquiry; and our processes will reflect that difference. No-one is on trial. We cannot determine guilt or innocence." Chris Ames (Guardian) took issue with the committee's refusal to release documents, "Andrew Gilligan has returned to haunt the government on Iraq. His revelations in the Sunday Telegraph and today's Telegraph tell us a lot about the attitude of the military before and after the invasion and provide more evidence that it was planned from early 2002, whatever Tony Blair said. But they are perhaps as significant for what they tell us about Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry. They are a humiliation for the inquiry, which -- as I write -- has not put a single piece of new evidence into the public domain."

Returned? Gilligan broke the story of the British government using "sexed up" intelligence to make the case for war. In the US, Bully Boy Bush falsely claimed that US intelligence said that Saddam Hussein had sought 'yellow cake uranium from Africa' and the administration also repeatedly (and falsely) tied Iraq into 9-11. In the US, then-Prime Minister and forever Poodle Tony Blair claimed that Iraq now had the capabilities to launch a WMD attack on England in 45 minutes. Gilligan broke that news of the spin on BBC and the response of Tony Blair's administration was to demand that the BBC out their source. Gilligan's reporting has held up despite governmental attacks and held up last week. Despite that, Andrew Sparrow would explain Tuesday that Gilligan wasn't invited to give testimony, " Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who broadcast the story about Downing Street 'sexing up' the dossier about Iraq's WMD, is on Sky News. He says that he has not been asked to give evidence to the inquiry. He says that a friend of his had dinner with Chilcot recently and that Chilcot did not seem particularly interested in reopening the David Kelly affair." David Kelly was a source for Gilligan's BBC report, as well as a source for other reports. He apparently took his own life after the government's efforts to out him (Blair and cronies knew the source was Kelly).

Gilligan's remarks to Sky News make Chilcot's declaration in his opening statement sound, at best, insincere, "We have also asked anyone who has information, or who wants to make points, relevant to our terms of reference to contact us."

In terms of relevance, last week's witnesses made very clear that Tony Blair's 1999 speech in Chicago was very relevant to England's involvement in the Iraq War. One of the few non-British outlets to grasp the speech's importance in real time was PBS' The NewsHour which provides the text in full. Some call it "The Blair Doctrine," some see it as "The Buttinsky BusyBody Doctrine" but the following highlights will show how Blair's thinking on Kosovo would be similar to his thinking on Iraq -- or at least his public spin on both:

This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values. We cannot let the evil of ethnic cleansing stand. We must not rest until it is reversed. We have learned twice before in this century that appeasement does not work. If we let an evil dictator range unchallenged, we will have to spill infinitely more blood and treasure to stop him later.

[. . .]

I believe the world has changed in a more fundamental way. Globalisation has transformed our economies and our working practices. But globalisation is not just economic. It is also a political and security phenomenon.
We live in a world where isolationism has ceased to have a reason to exist. By necessity we have to co-operate with each other across nations.

[. . .]

We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper. We cannot ignore new political ideas in other counties if we want to innovate. We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure.

[. . .]

Many of our problems have been caused by two dangerous and ruthless men - Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. Both have been prepared to wage vicious campaigns against sections of their own community. As a result of these destructive policies both have brought calamity on their own peoples. Instead of enjoying its oil wealth Iraq has been reduced to poverty, with political life stultified through fear.

[. . .]

I say to you: never fall again for the doctrine of isolationism. The world cannot afford it.

Thus Spake The Poodle.

He would be the Happy Face of Imperialism, the one who, you understand, didn't want to have any war but had to, just had to, and had to for the people, to protect the people. In reality, people who never asked him to do anything other than not attack their country. But what do 'foreigners' know -- even about their own country? We Know Best is what Tony Blair declared in Chicago. It's what other War Hawks for the 'left' like Samantha Power insist upon as well.

Iraq was not a threat. That popped up in Wednesday's hearing when William Ehrman testified, "We did, at the very end, I think, on March 10, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn't yet ordered their assembly, and there was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of the effective dispersal of agents."

Iraq was not considered a big threat to England. That was established in another of Wednesday's exchanges.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: So in terms of your concerns over this period, you mentioned Iran, you mentioned North Korea, you mentioned Libya, you mentioned Pakistan, at least through AQ Khan, and you mentioned Iraq, but in terms of rank ordering again, where would Iraq come on that list, in terms of the most threatening in proliferation terms?

Tim Dowse: It wasn't top of the list. I think in terms of -- my concerns on coming into the job in 2001, I would say, we would have put Libya and Iran ahead of Iraq.

It was revelations like the above that led Liberal Democrat Party MP and chief of staff Edward Davey to issue the following statement: "It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception. The threat that Saddam could deploy WMD within 45 minutes was fundamental to the Government's argument that Iraq presented an imminent danger. Yet this new evidence shows that the intelligence was, if anything, pointing towards Iraq becoming less of a threat. A leader of courage and conviction would have used such evidence to halt the drumbeat for war, but Blair just turned a blind eye to intelligence that contradicted his case. This evidence proves what has long been suspected, that intelligence was cherry-picked or dismissed to support the case the Government wanted to make. It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception flying in the face of the latest and best intelligence."

Thursday's testimony was best reported on by Chris Ames (Guardian):

At the Iraq inquiry this morning, Sir Christopher Meyer has let so many cats out of the bag that it is hard to keep up with them all. He has confirmed that by the time Tony Blair met George Bush at Crawford, Texas in April 2002, Blair had already agreed to regime change. Meyer and others had told the US administration about this change of heart in March 2002. The "UN route" was a way to justify the war but the inspectors were never given the chance to do their job.

Friday saw Jeremy Greenstock spin for the commission. Walter Pincus (Washington Post) reports on Greenstock's testimony. Greenstock infamously declared that the Iraq War was legal. To make that assertion he had to be selective about what he revealed to the committee. He climbed the cross to state that the 2002 resolution from the United Nations (which allowed weapons inspectors back into Iraq but did not authorize war) was so important to him that he would have resigned if the UN hadn't granted it. But he apparently was never bothered by the fact that the United Nations refused to authorize the war. While his lips maintained "legal," Chris Ames found more in the written record:

In a written statement to the inquiry, Greenstock openly admitted that one of the reasons why Britain could not agree that a further resolution was necessary was that to do otherwise would undermine the basis on which Britain bombed Iraq in 1998.

To have conceded that the use of force against Iraq was not legal under international law unless the security council took a specific, fresh decision would have been to reject the basis under which military action was taken in December 1998.

So we would say that, wouldn't we?

It was a very careful, self-justifying performance from a former ambassador with an admitted propensity to cover his and his country's diplomatic tracks. Prove me wrong, seemed to be his challenge to the inquiry. Despite a mountain of evidence, the committee seemed reluctant to do this. Maybe they feel sympathy for a man who put his heart and soul into seeking Iraqi disarmament, apparently unaware that regime change was the real agenda. I'm not so sure.

This morning Brian Brady (Independent of London) reports:

Tony Blair will be quizzed over a devastating official memo warning him that war on Iraq would be illegal eight months before he sent troops into Baghdad, it was claimed last night.
The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will consider a letter from Lord Goldsmith, then Mr Blair's top law officer, advising him that deposing Saddam would be in breach of international law, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday.

Poor little Greenstock, caught on the world stage with his knickers down.
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