Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spunky Brewsters






In London today, the Iraq Inquiry resumed public hearings. Or as Alice Tarleton (Channel 4) put it, "And they're back. The Iraq inquiry resumed public hearings today for the first time since the general election." The Inquiry is headed by John Chilcot. Ruth Barnett (Sky News) notes today, "Sir John opened the latest round of hearings by inviting international lawyers to give evidence of the legality of the war." Sam Marsden (PA) adds, "Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and ex-MI5 director general Baroness Manningham-Buller are among the witnesses who will appear before the inquiry over the next month." Iraq Inquiry Digest's Chris Ames shares his thoughts of today's hearing at the Guardian, including, "Watching the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Very, very slow motion." Today they heard from the British Ambassador to France (2001 to 2007) John Holmes and the Chief Police Avister to the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad (2003 to 2004) Douglas Brand (link goes to video and transcript options -- as with previous coverage of the Chilcot Inquiry, I'm working from the transcripts and friends in England -- reporters and attorneys -- following the Inquiry).

Under questioning from Committee Member Lawrence Freedman, Holmes stated French popular opinion turned on the US government when Bush gave his Axis of Evil speech, "Certainly after the Axis of Evil speech, there began to be a real French concern expressed in different ways by different people and reflected in the way that the French press were writing about it, that the Americans had decided that another response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq and was to produce regime change by attacking Iraq."

In terms of where the difference was between the French government and the UK government, Holmes declared that ". . . I think the major difference between us was always whether they thought that what the Iraqis had, whatever it might have been -- and, of course, that was the subject of debate -- was either sufficient or sufficiently alarming or sufficiently of an immediate threat to mean that you needed to go to war to stop it. That's where the differences started to arrive rather than exactly what the intelligence assessment [on WMD] was." Chair Chilcot summarized Holmes' response, "In other words, the threat assessment might have differed from the assessment of the stocks and programmes, intention rather than possession." And Holmes agreed with that summary. He further added that France, in 2002, had a different "policy conclusion" than the UK (or the US), "They wanted to do it through the inspectors, rather than through the invasion." Jaques Chirac was president of France when Holmes became Ambassador (Chirac was president from May 1995 through May 2007) and Holmes stated, "He essentially set policy. He saw foreign policy as his pre-eminent domain [. . .] he regarded himself as the elder statesman if you like, of the international community" and Holmes quickly returned to Bush's Axis of Evil speech.

Ambassador John Holmes: I think he [Chirac] was also very much influenced in all this, particularly, again, after the Axis of Evil speech, by the belief that the kind of foreign policy which was being represented and articulated by President Buh was a unilateralist vision of the world which he could not share, though was dangerous and based on a lack of knowledge of the world and that he [Chirac] was therefore returning to counter by setting out an alternative, multipolar vision of the world, which was very much the French vision at the time.
Committee Member Martin Gilbert asked him out UN Security Resolution 1441 which the UN adopted November 8, 2002 by a unanimous vote of the UN's Security Council. Although 15 nations make up the Security Council only five are permanent members and have the right of veto. Those five are the UK, France, China, Russia and the United States.

Ambassador John Holmes: I think the French objectives were, all throughout this, to get the inspectors back in, to make sure that there was going to be no automaticity -- that was the great catchphrase, "no automaticiy" -- from 1441 or, indeed any subsequen resolution, which had to be a subsequent decision by the Security Council, and there should be no hidden triggers in 1441, which would allow the Americans and the British to claim that somehow they had legitimised military action when they hadn't. So that was -- I think those are the essential points they were trying to defend in 1441, and that's why there was such a very long and complicated and tortuous negotiation about exactly what the language was.

With that background, we'll now jump ahead to Committee Member Roderic Lyne's questioning.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Now, in order to try to work out precisely what 1441 meant, the Attorney General, when he was in the process of finalising his advice to the Prime Minister, talked to Sir Jeremy Greenstock about the negotiating history, as he told us in his evidence, and then went to America and talked to lawyers and others in Washington, and in these conversations was exploring what the French, as the main negotiating counterparties on 1441, had really intended, what they had accepted, what they had signed up to in 1441. We asked him whether, apart from relying on the reporting of the United Kingdom and the American representatives at the UN on the French position, it might have been logical for him to go to Paris and ask the French directly what they had meant by it and he said: "You couldn't have had the British Attorney General being seen to go to France to ask them 'What do you think?'" Couldn't he have gone to Paris to actually talk to the French about this?

Ambassador John Holmes: I don't see why he couldn't have done or at least had somebody else ask the question on his behalf. But I think what is true is that the French were, again, very wary about ever saying what their own legal position was. They took a very strong legal position about no automaticity -- I was just describing the need for UN legitimisation of any action -- but they were very careful -- I don't remember them ever actually saying what their own legal position was. I don't remember whether we ever went and talk to the Quai legal advisers. It may be that Chirac took it seriously for a while at least or thought there was something to be gained from that, but it never really developed fully as time went on.

[. . . moving to March 2003 for the following questions]

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: The Foreign Secretary of the time, Jack Straw, told us in evidence that he couldn't for the life of him understand why the French and the Germans were not agreeing to a second resolution, because this was the way to resolve this peacefully. Was that interpretation of the second resolution, that it was still a possible way of getting a peaceful outcome, not one that President Chirac would have shared at this point at all?

Ambassador John Holmes: No, I think, as he was suggesting, the draft in the form it was at that stage, with the kind of timelines and tests which the French thought was impossible to pass, and deliberately impossible to pass for Saddam Hussein, was not a way of actually avoiding a war but was simply a way of legitimising it. That's really why they were so strongly opposed to it. Now the discussion about what the resolution could contain went on even after that statement by President Chirac, with the French continuing to suggest longer timelines, but by that stage, we were so much up against the military deadline, that it became increasingly desperate and irrelevant.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: If the second resolution had contained a longer deadline for Iraqi compliance, do you think that France would have considered supporting it?

Ambassador John Holmes: I think it is possible because that's what essentially they were suggesting. They were suggesting -- they didn't like the six tests or whatever they were called, but they said "If you give -- if you put in a period" -- I think 120 days was the period they wanted -- "for the inspectors to operate, so they can do their job properly without being put against impossible deadlines, then that's something we could contemplate", but of course, they were still wanting to say that-that a second resolution of that kind would also not have any automatic trigger in it. You would still need to come back at the end of that, the Security Council would need to come back at the end of that, and take a view on what the inspectors were saying to them. So you know, at that stage, you were into third resolution territory. So that is a reason why we weren't particularly attracted, perhaps, to that route, but in any case in those timescales it was simply not available.

To recap the main points in the testimony highlighted above, Jeremy Greenstock went to the US to talk about a second resolution, the French's attitude towards it and related topics but Greenstock told the Inquiry that he couldn't ask the French government whether they would get behind a second resolution or not and Jack Straw claimed to the Inquiry that the French position was puzzling. The British Ambassador to France told the Inquiry today that the French position was consistent and not surprising and that he was surprised by the attitude that the French government could not be asked by the British government whether they would veto a second resolution if offered.

Greenstock previously testified to the Inquiry on November 27th and December 15th of last year. Straw testified January 21st and February 8th of this year. Holmes rejected their claims that (a) the French position was puzzling and (b) that no one could have asked the French government their position on a second resolution. Those are the big items coming out of the hearing today. Related, on January 27th, the Inquiry heard from Peter Goldsmith who'd served as the UK Attorney General.

Peter Goldsmith: The United States, as everyone has said -- Sir Michael said it, I have said throughout, it is apparent on 7 March -- didn't believe they needed an United Nations Resolution at all. They believed they were able themselves to make the determination that Iraq was in material breach, and, therefore, they didn't need -- they didn't need 1441. Mr. Blair had -- and I said, I think to his credit -- had got President Bush to the UN table.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: I think, with respect, that's a separate point. We have gone past that point already.

Peter Goldsmith: With respect, may I make the point? Because it is important, and it is one of the things that came across very clearly in the meetings I had in February with the UN. Because the United States didn't need 1441 -- we did because we took the view that there had to be a determination of material breach. The United States didn't need it. They could have walked away from 1441 and said, "Well, we have been to the United Nations, they haven't given us the resolution we want, we can now take force." The only red line I was told by the State Department, legal adviser, the only red line that the negotiators had was that they must not concede a further decision of the Security Council because they took the view they could move in any event.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes.

Peter Goldsmith: Therefore, if they had agreed to a decision which said the Security Council must decide, they would have then lost that freedom.

Self-quoting from January 28th, "Popular narrative: US didn't want a second resolution, wasn't going to fight for one. But what Goldsmith said takes it in another direction. The popular narrative allows the British government to do as they indicated they were doing: Pursue a second resolution. But Goldsmith testified Wednesday that it wasn't just that the US didn't want it. The US government based their legal approach (set aside whether it was legal or not) on the 'legal' opinion that UN Resolution 1441 (granting the power for inspectors to go back into Iraq) was all that was necessary for the start of war on Iraq. In addition, Goldsmith testified that the US didn't want a second resolution, couldn't accept one, because of their legal opinion. Going back to the UN for a second resolution risked hemming in the US legal opinion. If they went and got a resolution with conditions, that could hem the US in. If they went and were shot down (as most believed they would be), then the US government's assertion that a second resolution wasn't needed to start a war would have been exposed as the lie it was. The US didn't just not want a second resolution, they couldn't afford one. If there was one -- one passed or one rejected -- it revealed the legal opinion wasn't sound and opened up a whole set of issues that the Bush administration didn't want to deal with."

Today's testimony by Holmes backed up Goldsmith on that aspect. Holmes on what the French government ssaw, "I think their assumption was that -- and increasingly so as the autumn went on and so on -- and this is the view they had come to -- that the Americans were going to mount a military operation virtually come what may and, therefore, there could be a second mabye, but that could not be something which was going to actually stand in the way of that action." A second resolution could have tied the US government's hands. That's how the French saw it, it's how Goldsmith said the Americans saw it. Did Bush lie when claiming the US would seek resolutions? According to witnesses at the Inquiry, Bush mispoke due to a teleprompter malfunction.

Jeremy Greenstock: There are two different sorts of second resolution and this my explain why President Bush used the plural when he was ad libbing, when his teleprompter gave him the penultimate American text and not the text he had agreed to, by a mistake of his staff. He ad libbed the words, "And we shall come to the UN for the necessary resolutions" from his memory. It wasn't that the telepromprter broke down, he saw that it was the wrong text on the teleprompter, as I understood the story. There was, as part of the lead-up to the negotiation of 1441, the idea that there should be a pair of resolutions, not a single one in 1441 that should have the inspectors' conditions in one part and in the second resolution the consequences for Iraq on what would happen if they didn't comply with the the first one. There was the possibility of passing those resolutions either together and simultaneously or sequentially in time. As it happened, in 1441 we built those two elements into a single text and it was successfully negotiated and passed unanimously on 8 November as a single text.

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