Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Did he crap out in Vegas?







Starting in London, where the Iraq Inquiry continued public hearings today. Appearing before the committee were Clare Short, Hilary Benn and Peter Ricketts (link goes to video and transcript options). As Committee Chair John Chilcot explained at the start of the hearing, Short "was Secretary of State for International Development from 1997 until May 2003, when you resigned over the Iraq question."

Up to this point, one narrative emerging from all the testimony is that Blair portrayed one reality to one group and another to a second group. If you were on the inside, you testified you didn't think a second UN resolution was necessary [1441 only authorized inspections, there was no resoultion autorizing the war]. If you were part of the Cabinet or advisers but not of sufficient War Hawk statutory, you were in the other group. And if you were Peter Goldsmith (Attorney General), you were brow beat and bullied until you changed your legal advice. One group was unconcerned about a second UN resolution because they knew, despite Tony Blair's posturing, he wasn't interested in getting a second resolution.

With that narrative in mind, Clare Short's testimony is even more damning than many might have expected. Asking about "the machinery of government," Committee Member Roderic Lyne noted of the legal issues of war, "You said it wasn't substantive discussion, Mr Blair said it was. It is a Cabinet of which you were a member. Then these decisions were endorsed by the House of Commons, of which you are still a member."

MP Clare Short: The first thing to say is that I noticed Tony Blair in his evidence to you, kept saying "I had to decide, I had to decide", and, indeed, that's how he behaved, but that is not meant to be our system of government. It is meant to be a Cabinet system, because, of course, if you had a presidential system, you would put better checks into the legislature. So we were getting -- his view that he decided, him and his mates around him, the ones that he could trust to do whatever it was he decided, and then the closing down of normal communications and then this sort of drip feed of little chats to the Cabinet. Now, that's a machinery of government question and there is a democratic question, but, also, there is a competence of decision-making question, because I think, if you do things like that, and they are not challenged and they are not thought through, errors are made, and I think we have seen the errors.

Short rejected the idea that the Cabinet endorsed the war and declared, "I think he misled the Cabinet. He certainly misled me, but people let it through."

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Sorry, who misled the Cabinet?

MP Clare Short: The Attorney General. I think now we know everything we know about his doubts and his changes of opinion and what the Foreign Office legal advisers were saying and that he had got this private side deal that Tony Blair said there was a material breach when Blix was saying he needed more time. I think for the Attorney General to come and say there is an unequivocal legal authority to go to war was misleading, and I must say, I never saw myself as a traditionalist, but I was stunned by it, because of what was in the media about the view of international lawyers, but I thought, "This is the Attorney General coming just in the teeth of war to the Cabinet. It must be right", and I think he was misleading us.

Short is also of the opinion that Peter Goldsmith was leaned on.

MP Clare Short: I noticed that Lord Goldsmith [in his testimony to the Inquiry] said he was excluded from lots of meetings. That is a form of pressure. Exclusion is a form of pressure. Then, that he was -- it was suggested to him that he go to the United States to get advice about the legal position. Now we have got the Bush administration, with very low respect for international law. It seems the most extraordinary place in the world to go and get advice about international law. To talk to Jeremy Greenstock, who -- I'm surprised by his advice. I think to interpret 1441 to say you have got to come back to the Security Council for an assessment of whether Saddam Hussein is complying, but there shouldn't be a decision in the Security Council, is extraordinarily Jesuitical. I have never understood it before, and I think that's nonsense, and it wasn't the understanding of the French and so on, because I saw the French Ambassador later. So I think all that was leaning on, sending him to America, excluding him and then including him, and I noticed the chief legal adviser in the Foreign Office said in his evidence that he had sent something and Number 10 wrote, "Why is this in writing?" I think that speaks volumes about the way they were closing down normal communication systems in Whitehall.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: But there was a critical week before the conflict started on 20 March. It was on 13 March that Lord Goldsmith came into his office and told his officials that, on balance, he had come to the view that the better view was that the revival argument could be revived without a further determination by the Security Council. I suppose the question is: in the days before 13 March, specifically, was he subjected to pressure? Was this a decision not reached purely on legal grounds? Now, he said not, Mr Blair effectively has said not. Do you have any evidence that, in that period, pressures were applied of a non-legal kind to the Attorney General? He had legal discussions with the Americans in February, but I'm talking about the period between 7 March, when he gave his formal advice, and 13 March, when he had come to this clear, on balance conclusion.

MP Clare Short: No, I do not have any evidence, but I think him changing his mind three times in a couple of weeks, and then even -- in order to say unequivocally there was legal authority, to require Tony Blair to secretly sign a document saying that Iraq was in material breach, and not to report any of that to the Cabinet, is so extraordinary -- and by the way, I see that both Tony Blair and he said the Cabinet were given the chance to ask questions. That is untrue.

Short went on to describe the meeting when the Cabinet was informed of the sudden decision by Goldsmith that the war would be legal, noting that Robin Cook didn't attend and that Goldsmith sat in Cook's chair.

There was a piece of paper round the table. We normally didn't have any papers, apart from the agenda. It was the PQ answer, which we didn't know was a PQ answer then, and he started reading it out, so everyone said "We can read", you know, we didn't -- and then -- so he -- everyond said, "That's it." I said, "That's extraordinary. Why is it so late? Did you change your mind?" and they all said, "Clare!" Everything was very fraught by then and they didn't want me arguing, and I was kind of jeered at to be quiet. That's what happened.

Committee Roderic Lyne: So you went quiet?

MP Clare Short: If he won't answer and the Prime Minister is saying, "Be quiet", and that's it, no discussion, there is only so much you can do, and on this, because I see the Prime Minister -- the Attorney, the then Attorney, to be fair to him, says he was ready to answer questions but none were put. I did ask him later, because there was then the morning War Cabinet, or whatever you call it, that he did come to and he gave all sorts of later legal advice and I asked him privately, "How come it was so late?" and he said, "Oh, it takes me a long time to make my mind up".

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The argument on this Cabinet meeting we have heard --

MP Clare Short: I would like to ask you to ask for the books -- you know the Cabinet secretary keeps a manuscript note and there is another private secretary that keeps a manuscript note on this. I think you should check the record.

Short noted they were not informed that Goldsmith had voiced objections earlier or that Elizabeth Wilmshurst had resigned over this issue or that the Foreign Office found the war would be illegal without a second UN resolution.

MP Clare Short: I think we should have been told that, and I also think -- because the side documents -- because you can tell he was uncertain. He made Blair write and sign a document saying Saddam Husseinw as not cooperating under the terms of 1441 and was in material breach. When Blix was saying -- do you remember he got rid of the ballistic missiles and he said, "These are not matchsticks", or toothpicks, or something, do you remember? And he was asking for more time. So at the time when Blix was asking for more time, the Prime Minister secretly signed to say there was no cooperation and Blix was saying I'm getting some cooperation. So -- I mean, this is disgraceful.

To Tony Blair's assertion that he had to give up on chasing down a second resolution because the French said they would not approve one, Short called that "a deliberate lie" and explained that a decision was made -- as it had been in the US (she reminded everyone of the "freedom fries") -- to blame the French and use that deceit as an excuse to avoid a second resolution. She notes the French position was not "never" on a second resolution but "not now" while inspections were ongoing.

Short also noted the lie used to deploy the troops to the region, how -- if they weren't deployed -- it wouldn't look like anyone was serious and yet, once they were deployed, the fact that they were there became the reason for "'We've got to go now,' because they can't leave them sweating in the desert? Do you remember the contradiction?" She noted discussions within the Arab world to remove Hussein from Iraq and how possibilities for other avenues or stronger partnerships were repeatedly met with objection that there wasn't time and there must be no waiting.

Short's testimony was strong and consistent throughout and she did a strong job refuting all of Tony Blair's claims before the committee. She also noted that the current prime minister, Gordon Brown, was shut out of the discussions. Today a poll was released. Kylie MacLellan and Michael Roddy (Reuters) report that the poll found Gordon Brown shared the blame with Blair for the Iraq War (60%) -- that may be due to his continuation of it. It also found that 37% believe Tony Blair should be tried for War Crimes. The reporters do not note it but that is a 9% increase since the most recent poll and the poll took place after Blair testified in public.

Nico Hines live blogged Short's testimony for the Times of London, Andrew Sparrow live blogged for the Guardian and Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged at Twitter. Iraq Inquiry Blogger also has a post up that provides an overview of Short's testimony. Chris Ames live blogged and fact checked at Iraq Inquiry Digest.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Clare Short says Peter Goldsmith "misled the Cabinet""
"A functioning democracy?"
"Those enablers"
"The Iraq Inquiry"
"David Muir, I don't like liars"
"Iraq Inquiry (Wally)"
"The dropped ball"
"Tomorrow's hearing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
"Friday's stunt and the coward"
"Isaiah, the faux peace set, etc."
"Iraq, Senate, Third, Isaiah"
"And he's leaving the country again!"

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