Saturday, January 30, 2010

Down time from down time





Today the US military announced: "A United States Division-South Soldier died Jan. 28 of noncombat related injuries. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4375 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war. ICCC hasd't updated to 4375 this morning and still haven't now (it is AP's count). While you ponder that, wonder why a site called "Iraq Coalition Casualty Count" has never once included the Iraq Inquiry (ongoing with public hearings since November) in their linked to headlines. Seems like if Iraq's your focus and you're providing links, you should be providing links to the BBC, the Guardian, the Times of London, etc. And now to the Inquiry.

Today the one-time prime minister who may have forever tained the Labour Party, the full-time War Criminal who should be behind bars, the forever poodle who spents years sniffing Bush's ass Tony Blair provided testimony to the Iraq Inquiry in London (here for transcript and video options). The various apologists for Blair are whining that the world is full of Blair Haters. First, the world was full of Nixon Haters. When you're a War Criminal, your reputation travels. But even more hilarious is when the idiots claim that Blair is unfairly being treated, unfairly being called a liar and more. Where there is stupidity, there is Alastair Campbell. The twit tweets on Twitter. He also blogs. And he wants the world to know they shouldn't call Tony Blair a "liar."
Tony Blair lies, that makes him a liar. We're not going to waste an entire snapshot fact checking that horrid liar. We'll note one example. Channel 4's Iraq Inquiry Blogger noted in live blogging the hearing: "Blair: Looks at infant mortality stats - down from 130 per year in 2001-2002 to 40 by 2010. You'll always find some unhappy Iraqis". Blair didn't cite sources. For the 40 he could be using anything from the CIA figures to UNICEF -- however both and other say 43.5, not 40. It's also true that neither organization has published 2010 figures -- how could they, Tony? UNICEF is dealing with 2007 figures, the CIA with 2008 -- and they are estimates in both cases and wilder estimates than normal due to the fact that you're using extrapolation from a sample (not uncommon) in a country where you're not honestly sure as how to representative the cluster sample is (and where you are limited in where you can take a random sample). In 2002, according to the CIA World Factbook, the infant mortality rate was 57.61.
Three days of around the clock coaching and the liar can't resist lying. He wants to create a higher infant mortality rate before the illegal war to 'prove' that he was right. He was wrong and he has the blood of millions on his hand. He's a liar, Alastair, because he lies and he lies so badly he's caught lying. He's a liar.

We'll come back to Blair, let's set the scene first. While Blair testified, people protested. A Morning Edition (NPR) report featured the chanting of the protesters. Featured? Past tense because what we heard on the air isn't what the audio provides. However the transcript of the piece is what aired (at least it currently is). Those who heard the segment this morning heard "Blair lied!" Philippe Naughton (Times of London) reports, "Several hundred demonstrators -- chanting 'Jail Tony' and 'Blair lied' -- gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, although the former prime minister managed to slip in via a cordoned-off back entrance two hours before he was due to appear." CNN notes the protests took place "in the shadow of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament" and that Tony Blair had to arrive two hours early and use an alternative interest to arrive undected while 20-year-old Suad Mikar states, "I'm sure he can hear us. That's what matters, we don't need him to see us. He knows everyone's opinion about it." Sian Ruddick (Great Britain's Socialist Worker) reports, "The demonstration brought together school students, trade unionsits and activists in a show of anger against the war crimes Blair committed in Iraq. It began at 8am in central London. Protesters carried a coffin, symbolising the deaths of the over a million Iraqis in the war. Others wore Blair masks and covered their hands in fake blood. Police set up cordons to keep the demonstration away from the entrance of the Queen Elizabeth conference centre near the Houses of Parliament. This did not happen when any of the otehr witnesses came to give evidence."

Before we go further, I want to note some opening statements from John Chilcot today. He's the chair of the Inquiry and most reading the snapshots already know this but you'll see why we're going over it (again) before moving to the next section.

Chair John Chilcot: Today's hearing is, understandably, much anticipated, and in this circumstances, the Committee thinks it important to set out what this hearing will and will not cover. The UK's involvement in Iraq remains a divisive subject. It is one that provokes strong emotions, especially for those who have lost loved ones in Iraq, and some of them are here today. They and others are looking for answers as to why the UK committed to military action in Iraq and whether we did so on the best possible footing. Our questions aim to get to the heart of those issues. Now, the purpose of the Iraq Inquiry is to establish a reliable account of the UK's involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and to identify lessons for future governments facing similar circumstances. That is our remit. The Inquiry is not a trial. The Committee before you is independent and non-political. We come to our work with no preconceptions and we are committed to doing a thorough job based on the evidence. We aim to deliver our report around the end of this year. Now, this is the first time Mr Blair is appearing before us and we are currently holding our first round of public hearings. We shall be holding further hearings later in the year when we can return to subjects we wish to explore further. If necessary, we can speak to Mr Blair again. Today's session covers six years of events that were complex and controversial. It would be impossible to do them all justice in the time we have available today. The Committee has, therefore, made a decision to centre its questioning on a number of specific areas. If necessary, we shall come back to other issues at a later date. [. . .] I would like to begin the proceedings just by observing that the broad question by many people who have spoken and written to us so far is: why, really, did we invade Iraq, why Saddam, and why now in March 2003?

We should now all be on the same page regarding the Inquriy. And that makes us a million times more informed that the gaggle of idiots on today's second hour of The Diane Rehm Show on NPR today. The idiots: James Fallows (Atlantic Monthly), Tom Gjelten (NPR) and Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy). What do you do when you're asked about a subject you know nothing about? As anyone who's been to school knows, you bulls**t. "But what's the purpose of this Chilcot Inquiry about, Tom?" asks Diane. It's a basic question, one that should set up a lively segment. But that depends upon guests knowing their subjects.

Tom: Well . . . the-the-the-the British public is far more uh anti-war than-than the US public has been. And this has been something that has building -- been building for a long time in Great Britian and, you know, Tony Blair is-is really stained inthe-in the view of many -- much of the British population for having supported this war in a very -- at a very crucial time early on.

Tom has so much trouble speaking when he has no idea where he's headed. He's the student who didn't realize that he would be called upon. Completely unprepared and still playing with his early morning boner under the desk, he just wishes Diane would call on someone else and he stammers his way through until he thinks he has a concluding statement. What's the purpose, Diane asked him. Where in his reply (that's his entire reply) do you see an answer? You don't. She then asks Susan.

Susan: Well arguably this is also where foreign policy is at its most politicized even here in the US. I think if you look at the ongoing fights over national security -- look at --

No. Don't. Don't look at. How embarrassing. And I'm cutting her off before she embarrasses herself further.

The smartest thing anyone can ever say -- write this down, Suze -- is this phrase: "I don't know." Using that phrase when you don't know the answer will make you appear 10 times smarter than trying to bulls**t an 'answer' on a topic you know nothing about. Susan didn't know a damn thing and so decides, when asked about the Iraq Inquiry, to try to take it to another area. Hey, I did it all the time in Constitutional Law. If I was thrown a curve ball, I'd say, "Well it actually reminds me of another verdict . . ." And I'd b.s. my way through. But I was a college student. (And lucky.) Susan's supposed to be a journalist. If you're asked a question and you don't know the answer: Don't answer.

Wasn't that the whole point of the ridiculing of Sarah Palin for the Katie Couric interviews? Wasn't it that Sarah Palin gave responses that appeared to indicate she didn't know what she was talking about? Susan and Tom were brought on the show as 'informed' and 'experts.' They don't know what the hell they're talking about. It's embarrassing. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Next time, they should just say, "I am completely unprepared, I don't follow world events and I'm a stupid moron who can only give responses that I've been programmed to give." We're not forgetting James Fallows, don't worry. James kept saying In The Loop (a movie) and offered a Washington Post cartoon. He had nothing to share on the Inquiry because he didn't know a damn thing about an ongoing public inquiry into the Iraq War which began public hearings in November of last year. He's that out of touch, he's that stupid and he was brought on as an 'expert.'

James Fallows also insisted that Blair, unlike George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, has never waivered that the Iraq War was right. Excuse me? When the hell did Bully Boy Bush or Cheney waiver? They didn't. You don't know what you're talking about and you need to just apologize to all NPR listeners for that garbage. They'd expect it in a classroom but they're not supposed to have to listen to it on listener supported public radio.

"Let's move on," said Diane after only three minutes and normally I'd call her out on that; however, she rightly realized her guests didn't know a damn thing and had nothing to offer.
Now to Blair's testimony. He made like Lois running for mayor of Quahog on Seth MacFarlane Family Guy by invoking 9-11 repeatedly. How bad was it? Tony Blair's first sentence reference 9-11 twice ("up to September 11, after September 11"). From 1997 through 2001 (or, as he put it, "through 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001") Saddam Hussein (former leader of Iraq) "wasn't the top priority for us" but "at the very first meeting" with Bush ("February 2001") he, Bush and Colin Powell chatted up the topic. That must have been a free wheeling topic because, later in the hearing, Blair would talk about his phone call or calls to Iran's president and his fears over Iran. So Iraq wasn't top priority but they what? Spun a globe and took turns dissing other countries?

Tony Blair's grand standing on 9-11, a terrorist attack on US soil, was offensive enough but let's make the point that if you're going to grand stand, know your damn facts. Do not, for instance, declare, "over 3,000 people had been killed on the streets of New York" when that is incorrect. The death toll is 2,973 (I'm not counting the hijackers -- apparently Tony grieves for the hijackers) and it was New York, it was the Pentagon (not in NYC) and it was the Shanksville field in Pennsylvania. You want to grandstand on 9-11, Tony? Try getting the facts right. What an idiot. Three days of round the clock coaching and this is what he's left with?

For those who might foolishly cut Tony slack, he kept repeating the false figure and the false locations: "The point about this act in New York was that, had they been able to kill even more people than those 3,000, they would have" -- it's offensive.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne raised the issue of Blair's interview last month with the BBC's Fern Britten where Blair stated that even if he had known there was no WMD, "I would still have thought it right to remove him [Hussein]." Blair tried to walk the remark back by begging off with "even with all my experience in dealing with interviews, it sill indicates that I have got something to learn about it." He then tried to lie that the interview was actually taped prior to the creation of the Inquiry. Lyne didn't let him get away with that so Blair insisted it was taped before the Inquiry started their November public hearings.

We'll note this exchange.

Committee Member Usha Prashar: Your Chief of Staff told us that at Crawford and subsequently you did not set any conditions for Britian's support for the US, but that your approach was to say, "We are with you in terms of what you are trying to do, but this is a sensible way to do it. We are offering you a partnership to try and get to a wide coalition." But other witnesses who were also involved in the decision-making process have told us that you set a number of clear conditions for our support. Which was it?

Tony Blair: It was the former. Look, this is an alliance that we have with the United States of America. It is not a contract. It is not, "We do this for you, you do this for us". It is an alliance and it is an alliance, I say to very openly, I believe in passionately.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman pressed him on WMD and 45 minutes (Blair had told the British people that Iraq had WMD that could be used to attack the UK within 45 minutes). Blair did allow that he might have needed to correct that after one paper headlined it (Freedman pointed out it was three newspapers) but that he answer over "5,000 oral questions" from September 2002 and May 2003 and no one ever asked him about that (Freedman points out that Jack Straw did so publicly in February 2003). Blair insisted that the 'error' was taking on "greater signifcance" after the fact. Freedman replied, "I think it has taken on that significance possibly because it is taken as an indication of how evidence that may be pointed was given even more point in the way that the dossier was written." Freedman also asked Blair about his January 2003 meeting with Bush and whether it was an effort to persuade Bush "that now it was necessary to get a second resolution" from the United Nations. Blair responds that is correct and that a second UN resolution (1441 only authorized inspectors to go into Iraq) would "make life a lot easier politcaly in every respect." The obvious question there was: "Politically? What about legally since every bit of advice you were receiving at that point -- including from Peter Goldsmith -- told you that if there was no second resolution a war would be illegal?" That didn't get asked.

Blair then declares that the US government didn't feel a second resolution was necessary but Bush's "view was that it wasn't necessary but he was prepared to work for one." In January 2003? No. Blair's lying. The US administration's position was that 1441 gave them the legal right to start a war. That was their position while 1441 was being negotiated in the fall of 2002 and when it was passed November 8th. The legal rationale the Bush administration was a joke but to argue it, they could not have a second resolution. They knew they didn't have the votes on the Security Council (both from feedback and, as has been reported, from wiretaps) and going back for a second resolution and being shot down destroys their legal argument that 1441 allows them to declare war. Blair's lying.

A key exchange, and one that the Inquiry will most likely build on when writing their report, took place between Lyne and Blair. Before that, let's not Lyne's summary of events.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Firstly, there wasn't a legal basis, as Lord Goldsmith repeated to us the day before yesterday, for regime change as an objective in itself. Secondly, lawers in the US administration favoured what was called the revival argument and that meant that the authorisation for the use of force during the first Gulf War, embodied in Resolution 687, was capable of being revived as it had been revived in 1993 and in 1998. However, the UK's lawyers did not consider that this argument was applicable without a fresh determination by the Security Council, and they felt that, not only because of the passage of time since resolutions 678 and 687, but also because, in 1993 and 11998, the Security Council had formed the view that there had been a sufficiently serious violation of the ceasefire conditions and also because the force that had been used then had been limited to ensuring Iraqi compliance with the ceasefire conditions. Even in 1998, the revival argument had been controversial and not very widely supported. So the British argument was that you needed a fresh determination of the Security Council. [. . .] So the UK and the USA went to the United Nations and obtained Security Council Resolution 1441, passed unanimously. However, in the words of Lord Goldsmith, that resolution wasn't crystal clear, and I think you, yourself, this morning referred to the fact that there were arguments. It didn't resolve the argument, I think was the way you put it. The ambiguous wording of that resolution immediately gave rise to different positions by different Security Council members on whether or not it of itself had provided authorisation without a further determination by the Security Council for the use of force. So up until early February of 2003, the Attorney General, again, as Lord Goldsmith told us in his evidence, was telling you that he remained of the view that Resolution 1441 did not authorise the use of force without a further determination by the Security Council that it was his position that a Council discussion -- the word "discussion" was used in the resolution -- would not be sufficient and that a further decision by the Council was required. [Blair agrees with the summary.] On 7 March, Lord Goldsmith submitted his formal advice to you, a document which is now in the public domain. In that he continued to argue that: "The safest legal course", would be a further resolution. But in contrast to his previous position and for reasons which he explained to us in his evidence, he now argued that, "a reasonable case" could be made, "that Resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution." But at the same time he coupled this with a warning that, "a reasonable case does not mean that if the matter ever came before a court, I would be confident that the court would agree with this view." So at that point, Lord Goldsmith had, to a degree, parted company with the legal advisers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who have also given evidence to us through Sir Michael Wood and Ms Elizabeth Wilmshurst. They were continuing to argue that the invasion could only be lawful if the Security Council determined that a further material breach had been committed by Iraq. I emphasize the word "further", of course, because 1441 established that Iraq was already in breach, but then the argument was about the so-called firebreak and whether you had to have a determination of a further material breach. Lord Goldsmith told us that, when it became clear that we were not likely to get a second resolution, a further resolution, he was asked to give what he described as a "yes or no decision", especially because clarity was required by the armed forces, CDS had put this to him, and by other public servants. He had received also an intervention from a senior Treasury lawyer. So having given you that advice on 7 March, by 13 March, he had crucially decided -- and this is from a minute recording, a discussion between himself and his senior adviser, David Brummell, who has also given evidence to us and which is also on the public record -- he had decided that: "On balance, the better view was that the conditions for the operation of the revival argument were met in this case; ie, that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without a further resolution going beyond Resolution 1441." Now, there is one further stage in the process and then I will get to the end. This view now taken by the Attorney General still required a determination that Iraq was "in further material breach of its obligations." The legal advisers in the FCO considered that only the UN Security Council could make that determination, but the Attorney took the view that individual member states could make this determination and he asked you to provide your assurance that you had so concluded; ie, you had concluded that Iraq was in further material breach, and on 15 March, which is, what, five days before the action began, you officially gave the unequivocal view that Iraq is in further material breach of its obligations. So it was on that basis that the Attorney was able to give the green light for military action to you, to the armed forces, to the Civil Service, to the Cabinet and to Parliament. But i tremained the case, as Sir Michael Wood made clear in his evidence, that while the Attorney General's constitutional authority was, of course accepted by the government's Civil Service advisers on international law, headed by Sir Michael Wood -- although Ms Wilmshurst herself decided to resign at this point from government service -- they accepted his authority but they did not endorse the position in law which he had taken, and it remains to this day Sir Michael's position -- he said this in his witness statement -- that: "The use of force against Iraq is March 2003 was contrary to international law."

Tony Blair agreed the above was a "fair" summary of events. In great detail and at lenght, Lyne will establish (with Blair agreeing) that the legal issues were set aside in Blair's Cabinet despite the fact that "until 12 February, you were not being told by the Attorney [General Goldsmith] or the Foreign Office legal advisers that you had the option of not getting a futher decision out of the Security Council."

The issue here is the second resolution and Blair's portrayal of he and his Cabinet wanting one (and they were advised it was necessary for it to be legal). So if he wanted one (this is me, not Lyne), (a) where was the work done on a second resolution and (b) shouldn't that have been the entire focus since the war would start shortly?

Now for the exchange. Lyne asked "wasn't Number 10 saying to the White House in January and February, even into March, that it was essential, from the British perspective, because of our reading of the law to have a second resolution?"

Tony Blair: It was politically, we were saying --

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Not merely preferable, but essential.

Tony Blair: No. Politically, we were saying it was going to be very hard for us. Indeed, it was going to be very hard for us.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Weren't we saying it was legally necessary for us, because that was his advice?

Tony Blair: What we said was, legally, it resolves that question obviously beyond any dispute. On the other hand, for the reasons that I have given, Peter [Goldsmith] in the end, decided that actually a case could be made out for doing this without another resolution, and as I say, did so, I think, for perfectly good reasons.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Well, it must have been of considerable relief to you, on 13 March, when he told you that he had come to the better view that the revival argument worked, because, at that point, he had given you, subject to you making the determination, the clear legal grounds that you needed.

In an earlier round of questioning, Lyne had observed, "You said a moment or two ago that you had agreed with President Bush, not only on the ends but also on the means, but the Americans actually had a different view of the means, in that they were already planning military action, and they had an explicit policy of seeking regime change. Did you, at Crafword, actually have a complete identity of view with President Bush on how to deal with Saddam?" What he appears to be building on -- and he's creating a case, if you're paying attention -- is that a lot of work was done planning for war. A lot of time spent with Bush. When did the UK ever say, "Without a second resolution, we can't go to war?" Never. (Blair confirmed that in response to lengthier versions of that question, as we've noted above.) Some members of the Cabinet and the public were under the belief that Blair wanted a second resolution. But there was no work done for one. So the point being, Blair was given legal advice repeatedly that, barring a second resolution, the Iraq War would be illegal and, month after month, he ignored that advice. There was no push on Blair's part for a second resolution, there was no (by his own admission) pre-condition of a second resolution before he pledged to support Bush in the war.

Blair made up his mind to go to war and did so before he's admitting and the proof is in the fact that he ignored legal advice. He blew it off. He had months (from November to March) to work on a second resolution. That wasn't a priority. He's detailed what he worked on and what he tasked. And there's nothing on those lists that have to do with second resolution. Blair wanted to go to war and pressured and pressured Goldsmith to finally sign off on it days before the Iraq War started. That's the reality coming out of the Inquiry.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Tony Blair pins the blame on 9-11"
"The US military announces another death"
"I Hate The War"
"Life Inside the Oval Palace"
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"Dissing the Supremes"
"It's all over now, Barry Blue"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's all over now, Barry Blue








Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to vote on a nomination and proposed legislation. Starting with the nomination, November 9th, US President Barack Obama nominated Raul Perea-Henze to be the Assistant Secretary of Policy and Planning, Department of Veterans Affairs. Today the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee took a vote. Excepting Ranking Member Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham and Johnny Isakson, all voted in favor of Perea-Henze (Graham was not present during the vote, Burr asked that the record reflect Graham and his own votes opposing the nomination). ("All voted in favor? I would assume the entire committee. Most of whom did not show -- eight of the fifteen committee members were present during the vote -- for the hearing but if Graham's vote in opposition is recorded despite him not being present, I would assume those not present could also vote in favor of the nomination.)
Markup hearing? If you're thinking they addressed S. 1779, you are wrong. That bill addressed the need for a federal registry, similar to the one for Agent Orange exposure, for veterans exposed to contaminates while serving. It was introduced by Senator Evan Bayh, has been held up by the Committee since October 21st. Bayh's bill is co-sponsored by Byron Dorgan (who has been also been a leader on this issue), Robert Byrd, Jeff Merkley, John Rockefeller, Ron Wyden and Richard Lugar. That bill's still buried.
If that surprises you, imagine being Senator Jay Rockefeller who had a statement on the bill all ready for delivery. In fact, it's posted at the Committee's website:
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for this mark up, following up on the powerful and emotional hearing of October 8th last year with military personnel and family members exposed to toxic materials in their combat service, and even from their military housing.
At that hearing, my remarks and questions focused on Russell Powell, a medic with the West Virginia Guard. He and hundreds of other members of the Guard were exposed to toxic chemicals while on duty guarding the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Facility in Basra, Iraq. For years, they were kept in the dark -- not told about their exposure. And today, they are still struggling to get the health care they need.
That is simply not acceptable. It must be fixed. And I believe today's mark represents the first important step forward.
I greatly appreciate that Chairman Akaka has incorporated a vital provision from Senator Bayh's legislation -- which I have cosponsored -- to guarantee these guardsmen the quality VA health care coverage they have earned.
That guarantee is an important element of the Homeless Veterans and Health Care Act and I strongly support it.
But at last fall's hearing, we also were moved by the heartbreaking testimony from military family members.
In particular: families describing serious water problems at Camp Lejeune and dangerous toxins in the air at Atsugi Naval Air base in Japan.
There is no doubt, we all agreed: Military personnel and family members dealing with the painful consequences of toxic exposure deserve the best health care possible.
Chairman Akaka's new legislation provides the right kind of care to families from Camp Lejeune and Atsugi Naval Air base.
But his bill goes beyond those two locations and their toxic exposure incidents. It creates a process between the VA and DoD to deal with thousands of potential exposures through a joint board. And, so future families don't have to wait for decades, the bill establishes a clear time frame for the board's decisions.
I firmly believe we must be absolutely clear about our shared responsibility. The VA's responsibility is our veterans and their care. DoD has a longstanding policy of caring for their military dependents.
DoD bears significant responsibility and has to take responsibility, today. The Pentagon has to acknowledge what happened and bear the financial costs. This matters.
The Akaka bill strikes the proper balance -- allowing the VA to provide coverage for veterans while DoD covers their families. The Chairman's legislation gets it right and I strongly support his efforts. This is our chance to do the right thing, honor our veterans' service and recognize their families' sacrifice, by ensuring they get the care they seek, they need, and they deserve.
It needed saying. Sadly, it went unsaid. There was no time for the needed bill.
What did they discuss? We'll note Richard Burr's remarks.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: As you know one of my top priorities in the Congress has been to end homelessness among our country's veterans. And the Committee Print S. 1237, the Homeless Veterans and Other Health Care Authorities Act of 2010, furthers that goal and I applaud all the members for their commitment to homelessness. I'm concerned however that the Committee's marking up legislation without having the official views of the Dept of Veterans Affairs on S. 1547, one of the key measures in the Committee Print before us today. We've heard the President talk about el-eliminating duplicate programs. We have had a legislative hearing on 1547 in October at which time where officials views from the administration were promised but, three months later, we still don't have those views. Without those views, the Committee doesn't have a full scope of key questions such as how the creation of a new program or the expansion of an existing ones will be coordinated with other homeless programs administered by the VA and other federal agencies? Or how this legislation fits with the [VA] Secretary's overall plan to end homelessness in five years? As well: What is the cost of the legislation and how long will it take the VA to be able to be appropriately staffed to carry out the bill's mandates? Now I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that any administration's testimony should dictate how this Committee proceeds but it would be helpful to have information to make an informed judgment on what's best for veterans and addressing their specific needs. As for the second bill on the agenda, quite frankly I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed at the approach used to provide health care for veterans and family members exposed to contaminated well water at Camp Lejeune. Not only might this bill be subject to Rule 25 Point Of Order because of subject matter, it's arguably in another Committee's jurisdiction, it also fails to appreciate the deep distrust that family members and veterans have for the Dept of Defense and, specifically, it's handling of these matters once these wells were found to be contaminated and, in the years since, on the scientific inquiries that have been ongoing. Frankly, to those effected by the contamination at Camp Lejeune, requiring DoD to be a key decision maker and provider of health care is absurd. Now. I'm disappointed personally that the majority has decided to take the tack that they have to put a different bill in. Uh-uh. I don't think it's been the practice of the Committee in the past. And, uhm, I hope this is not an indication of how we proceed forward in this Committee. I understand the Chairman has the votes, I know what the outcome is. It won't change my passion for this debate. It will not change the degree of description of what I share with the members . It is the reason that and I other members have turned to this legislation and it is certainly indicative of why Democrats and Republicans in the House next week will introduce practically the same bill with VA responsibilities to provide health care to individuals and family members that have disease that could likely be tied to exposure to contaminants on a military installation. Now I would only ask the members of this Committee -- likely included that group are some of your constituents -- and though you haven't had to fight the Dept of Defense day in and day out on behalf of this group, I have and members before me have -- without any conclusion, without any finality, without any help. Today as we sit here getting ready for this markup, even though under US Code 42, statutorily the Secretary of the Navy is obligated to pay for the studies required to understand the health and mortality effects of this exposure, the Secretary of the Navy refuses to fund the CDC's arm at ASTDR that is obligated entity to go out and share with the country their scientific conclusion. Let me say that again: The Secretary of the Navy has refused to fund -- even though the law says he has to. So for me in good conscience to turn this over to the Dept of Defense to determine the scope of coverage for these individuals is insane. If the outcome of this vote is pre-determined, then so be it. I would hate for members to leave the markup today and believe that they will not revisit this issue. It will be revisited time and time and time again until the Congress recognizes that maybe the Dept of Defense, maybe the Secretary of the Navy can hide but the Congress can't hide from these people. These are people we represent. These are people that have asked us to come here and represent their interests, their health concerns, their future and I can't hide from them.
To be clear, his objection to the second bill is that DoD is being put in charge when DoD is seen as the person who put people at risk to begin with and is seen as refusing to admit to the contamination after the public discovered it. He is advocating for, among other things, the VA being over the issue the way that the House proposal will advocate (US House Rep Chet Edwards is introducing that measure). Burr proposed an amendment, 9 (Democrats plus Bernie Sanders -- Sanders was not present) voted to table the amendment, all five Republicans voted against tabling it. (Again, only 8 of the 15 Committee members were present.)
On the first bill, his objection is one that is being whispered by Democrats and will probably come out in public in the next months: The administration promises to get back to Congress but never does. Publicly, Ike Skelton and Carl Levin (chairs of the House and Armed Services Committee) have made statements in hearings regarding this issue but look for more serious statements to be made. (Congress -- those two committees in fact -- have still not been provided with the so-called 'withdrawal' plan from Iraq by the administration despite repeated promises.)
Burr is stating that he is unsure of whether the bill is workable or what is needed because the VA has not provided the feedback that was promised. He is stating that hearing from the VA wouldn't mean a yes or a no vote for him but it would mean that he and the Committee would have a stronger framework to judge the bill and the needs. That is what he is saying. But what Democrats are saying (Burr is a Republican) is that they're getting very tired of the administration promising testimonies and witnesses and reports that never arrive. A Republican brought it up for the first time in a hearing this year but if the White House doesn't start living up to their promises to Congress, Democrats who are complaining privately are going to go public and they will not do it as nicely as US House Rep Skelton and US Senator Levin did last year.
For Jon Tester and you can read Kat tonight -- she'll cover his testy nature. Wally filling in for Rebecca tonight intends to note one aspect of Burr's remarks.
Today the US Justice Dept announced that Theresa Russell (not the actress, this is a one-time US Army Staff Sgt) entered a guilty plea to money laundering while 'serving' in Iraq and that her ill gotten gain went on to fund her purchase of "a car, cosmetic surgery, and" more. From the Justice Dept news release:
WASHINGTON -- A former staff sergeant in the U.S. Army pleaded guilty today to a one-count criminal information charging her with money laundering arising from a scheme involving the fraudulent awarding and administration of U.S. government contracts in Iraq, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division.
Theresa Russell, 40, of Pleasanton, Texas, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Antonio. According to court documents, from January 2004 through October 2004, Russell was deployed to Logistical Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, a U.S. military installation near Balad, Iraq. As part of the plea, Russell admitted that from April 2004 to February 2005, she received more than $30,000 in cash from John Rivard, a former major in the U.S. Army Reserves. Russell admitted that she knew the money she received from Rivard was the proceeds of bribery.
In July 2007, Rivard pleaded guilty to bribery, among other offenses, in connection with his service as an Army contracting officer at LSA Anaconda. According to court documents, from April 2004 to August 2005, Rivard conspired with a government contractor to steer federally-funded contracts to the contractor's company in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit bribe payments.
According to court documents, Rivard instructed Russell to divide the payments she received from him into several smaller monetary bank deposits, which she admitted she did, in an effort to avoid the detection of law enforcement authorities. Russell admitted that she subsequently used the criminal proceeds to purchase, among other things, a car, cosmetic surgery, and household furnishings and goods.
The maximum penalty for the money laundering charge is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release following the prison term. Sentencing is scheduled for May 21, 2010.
This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Daniel A. Petalas and Justin V. Shur of the Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, as well as Trial Attorney Ann C. Brickley. This case is being investigated by Army Criminal Investigation Command; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the FBI; Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation; Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While we're on the legal system, we'll drop back to last week. Danny Fitzsimons is a British citizen who stands accused of killing two 1 British citizen (Paul McGuigan) and 1 Australian citizen (Darren Hoare) while wounding one Iraqi (Arkhan Madhi) in an August 9th Baghdad shooting.
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.

Iraq War veteran Danny Fitzimons joined the British military at the age of 16 and was deployed on his first mission at the age of 18. Before he was 28-years-old, he'd been diagnosed with PTSD. Out of the military, he began working for the contractor AmrourGroup Inc in August 2009. The shootings took place August 9th. By August 10th, Martin Chulov and Steven Morris (Guardian) were reporting that British embassy staff was not allowed to speak with Danny and that the Iraqi government or 'government' was announcing Danny had been in court (the day after the incident) and given a full confession. To be clear, the reporters were not vouching for the confession. Only an idiot -- or an American reporter -- would do that. Iraq has a long history (even just post-invasion) of forcing 'confessions'. August 11th, Amnesty International issued the following:
Responding to reports that a British employee of a security company working in Iraq may face a death sentence, Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said:
'It's right that private military and security company employees like Danny Fitzsimons are not placed above the law when they're working in places like Iraq and it's right that the Iraqi authorities are set to investigate this very serious incident.
'However, as with all capital cases, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty if applied to Mr Fitzsimons in this case.
'Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone.
'The important thing now is that if Danny Fitzsimons is put on trial he is allowed a fair trial process without resort to the cruelty of a death sentence.'
Last year 34 criminals were hanged in Iraq. Private security guard Fitzsimons, employed by UK firm ArmorGroup, would be the first Westerner on trial since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Kim Sengupta (Independent of London) reported last Thursday that Danny appeared in Iraqi court and "was sent for psychiatric evaluation minutes after the start of his trial". Oliver August (Times of London) adds, "Efforts to have Mr Fitzsimons tried in the UK have failed since Iraq and Britain do not have a prisoner transfer agreement. However, once he has been sentenced or is found to be mentally ill, London and Baghdad may discuss the possibility of bringing him back." Adam Schreck (Time magazine) reports, "The trial has been adjourned until Feb. 18, according to Fitzsimons' attorney, Tariq Harb." There is a petition on Facebook calling for Danny to be tried in the United Kingdom and not in England. Reprieve is raising funds for Danny's defense.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
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"Tell CBS "NO""
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"That's presidential?"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

That's presidential?





Today the Iraq Inquiry in London heard from the former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith who apparently had trouble with timelines (link goes to video and transcript options). Ruth Barnett and Andy Jack (Sky News) report, "There was no evidence of an 'imminent threat' from Iraq to justify a war in self defence, Lord Goldsmith has told an inquiry." That was early in the morning. The hearing got more interesting as it went along. Goldsmith would explain the US never wanted a second resolution and if Goldsmith knew that, Tony Blair did which means Blair most likely never wanted a second resolution despite remarks to the British public as well as the Parliament in the lead up to the Iraq War. In addition, Goldsmith revealed that when he finally decided to flip on his own advice (he'd stated the Iraq War was legal without a second UN resolution), he did so not based on the law but based on whose side he wanted to be on -- as if a war is a game of dodge ball.
Before we get to the sorry excuse for a lawyer and human being that Goldsmith is, let's note that the Liberal Democrats issued a release today:

Following Sir John Chilcot's admission today of 'frustration' over the Government's unwillingness to declassify certain information, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has called for key documents to be published before Tony Blair's hearing on Friday.
The documents, which must be made public if the Blair hearing is to be effective, include correspondence between the then-Prime Minister and George W Bush which has already been discussed, but so far remains unseen.
Commenting, Nick Clegg said:
"Despite Gordon Brown's claim that he has 'nothing to hide' this has all the hallmarks of a cover up. Just as Liberal Democrats warned, the protocol on the release of documents is being used to gag the inquiry.
"To restore trust in the inquiry the Government must immediately declassify certain key documents ahead of Tony Blair's hearing -- the memo from Sir David Manning to Tony Blair dated January 31, 2003 and the letter from Tony Blair to George W Bush sent July 2002.
"Labour are leaving themselves open to charges of outright sabotage of Chilcot's work to save their own political skins. If Tony Blair gets through on the nod due to the withholding of key documents, the public will rightly dismiss this inquiry as a whitewash.
"This will not go away. The Government must understand that the truth about this illegal war must and will emerge eventually, and that the time to come clean is now."

Now let's jump in to the hearing and if you're lost in the timeline, consider the confusion to be Goldsmith's fault. He will apparently identify an event, a trip, in February 2003 as having taken place in February 2002. Follow down the rabbit hole if you can.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: When did you actually give the Prime Minister your first advice?
Peter Goldsmith: Well, my advice remained preliminary until July -- I'm so sorry, until February. It remained preliminary until February, because I was still conducting my enquiries and researches. On, I think, 27 February, I met in Downing Street with, again, the Prime Minister's advisers and I told them then that, in the light of the further enquiries I had made, following my visit to the United States, following discussions with Jeremy Greenstock, following my investigation of the negotiating history, I was of the view that a reasonable case could be made -- I'm sorry, there was a reasonable case that a second resolution was not necessary, and that that was, on past precedent, sufficient to constitute a green light.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: You have moved ahead to 27 February.
Peter Goldsmith: Yes.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: We were hearing yesterday in discussion with Ms Wilmshurst, about presentation of draft advice by you in the middle of January to the Prime Minister.
Peter Goldsmith: Yes.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Advice that she said that she had, I think, seen unofficially.
Peter Goldsmith: She wasn't involved. Ms. Wilmshurst wasn't --
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Let's not personalise it and her. I think she was speaking for the FCO legal advisers collectively then. The question I wished to ask you is: what did you present to the Prime Minister, and how and when, in January?
Peter Godlsmith: As I said, I presented a sort of draft provisional advice as a basis for understanding what the response was to some of my concers, particularly drawing attention to the need to understand what was meant by "for assessment" in operational paragraph 4.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Was this in sort of fleshed-out form?
Peter Goldsmith: Yes.
Commitee Member Roderic Lyne: Was it quite a lengthy document?
Peter Goldsmith: Because the whole point was there were a number of textual arguments that were being raised. You couldn't explain those in a ten-second conversation.
Goldsmith then explained he met with Tony Blair, then prime minister, to discuss a draft of his findings. The draft also made it to Jeremy Greenstock and others but Goldsmith only provided it to Tony Blair. January 23, 2003, he met with Greenstock to discuss the findings. Greenstock told him that a resolution from the United Nations' Security Council authorizing the Iraq War was unnecessary. The issue of the first resolution (the one allowing UN inspectors into Iraq) was raised.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: In one of the early drafts of that resolution, that the United Kingdom and the United States, I think, showed to the French on 25 September 2003 -- and I appreciate that you were not being consulted on the drafting process, so let me quote from that: "We were bidding to include the following words in the resolution, that the Security Council", I quote: ". . . decides that false statements or omissions in the declaration and failure by Iraq to comply shall constitute a further material breach, and that such breach authorises member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area." Now, presumably, if we had succeeded in getting those words into the resolution, there would have been no need for a second decision at all?
Peter Goldsmith: Quite right.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: But we do not succeed in getting those words into the resolution. So in order to achieve a resolution, we had to give ground.
Peter Goldsmith: Well, the ground that was given particularly was to concede some second stage. The difficult question is whether the second stage was a Council discussion, where they would consider the discussion, or a Council discussion where they would decide what would happen next.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: We conceded that we had not been able to achieve a clear statement in this resolution that authorised member states to use all necessary means, ie to use force?
Goldsmith then goes off topic and Lyne tries to bring him back. Whenever Goldsmith goes off topic -- especially to avoid answering a question -- he ends up giving away much more than he realizes. He's not on topic but we'll jump in here anyway.
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.
Do you find Peter Goldsmith to be believable? That's a person call and people will have to make it on their own. But the above exchange -- an exchange Goldsmith offered willingly (in an attempt to avoid Lyne's questions) is rather explosive and people seem to be missing that.
Think for a moment what the Iraq Inquiry has been told. You've got, yes, one group that declares that England had 1441 and didn't need another resolution for the war to be legal and then you have the legal experts who say of course England needed a resolution authorizing the war. But back that up. Forget for a moment whether it was needed or not. We are told, over and over, that Tony Blair thought he could get a second one or thought that a second one would be sought. But Goldsmith has just revealed the US government's position -- after 1441 -- was that NO other resolution from the Security Council would be sought.
Because of wasting time? No.
The US government's position, according to Goldsmith, was that if a second resolution was passed it might limit the US' actions. Goldsmith (leaving out Lyne's "yes"): "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. [. . .] Therefore, if they [the US] had agreed to a decision which said the Security Council must decide, they would have then lost that freedom."
That's rather important. Not because of the US administration's legal 'strategy' (or 'legal' 'strategy') but because if that was the US position and it was conveyed to Goldsmith then we've heard a lot of liars in this Inquiry insist that Blair was trying for a second resolution. Tony Blair was attached to George W. Bush at the hip and Bush was saying that a second resolution could restrain US actions so the US didn't want a second resolution, you better believe Tony Blair wasn't attempting a second resolution.
If you find Goldsmith believable, then the above is explosive because it reveals that witnesses have lied to the Inquiry (some may have been misinformed -- it would go to how high up they were) and it means Tony Blair has lied to the British people because the US position would have been in place before 1441 passed. When they saw the language emerging for 1441, the US position would have been in place and it would be, according to Goldsmith, "Fine. That's our resolution. We won't go back for another because it might hem us in."
The Inquiry should ask Tony Blair Friday to explain his understanding of the US position on a second resolution and when he became aware that they felt a second resolution might hem them in? At what point did Blair decide to go along with no second resolution? He should then be asked if he was sincere in his talk (during the lead up) about a second resolution? It does not add up, it does not make sense. Clearly, by March, it was too late to talk of a second resolution for Blair (because the date was already set for the war and Blair knew it). So at what point was Blair stringing along the public (and possibly his Cabinet members)?
In January 2003, as Blair prepared to meet with Bush at the end of the month, Goldsmith testified he again informed Blair a second resolution was necessary for the war to be legal. In February 2003, Goldsmith states he changed his mind about that. Repeated attempts by Committee Member Usha Prashar to determine why that was were met with Goldsmith doing everything but answering her questions.
February 10, 2003, Goldsmith went to DC. Please note, he is asked and he says it is February 10, 2002 (page 108 of the transcript, lines 21 through 25). That does not appear to be correct. He was in DC February 10, 2003. He was at the White House on Feburary 11, 2003 according to the official records. If indeed he visited in 2002 -- as he seems to think he did, that would mean that the US government and the British government defrauded the UN as well as the citizens of the world. 1441 is passed November 8, 2002. For Goldsmith's timeline to be correct -- maybe it is -- they would have had to have planned in February 2002, nine months before seeking the resolution, how they would not go for a second one. Again, I can get a confirmation on the February 2003 visit. I can't find out anything on a February 2002 visit. If I'm wrong and he did visit in February 2002 and that what follows took place then, there are some additional issues of fraud to the ones US House Rep John Conyers once noted.
Goldsmith testified he spoke with Will Taft IV of the US State Dept., he states he spoke to the legal adviser for the National Security Council, to Condi Rice, to "Colin Powell's people," to "Judge Gonzalez" (that's Alberto Gonzalez) and with John Ashcroft who was then the US Attorney General.

Peter Goldsmith: On one point, they were absolutely speaking with one voice, which is they were very clear that what mattered to them, what mattered to President Bush is whether they would, as they put it, concede a veto -- I need to explain that -- and that the red line was that they shouldn't do that, and they were confident that they had not conceded a veto. The point about conceding a veto was that the reg light was, "We believe" -- they were saying "that we have a right to go without this resolution. We have been persuaded to come to the United Nations" -- plainly some in the administration disagreed with that, you know that very well, "but the one thing that musn't happen is that by going this route, we then find we lose the freedom of action we think we now have", and if the resolution had said there must be a further decision by the Seucrity Council, that's what it would have done, and the United States would have been tied into that. They were all very, very clear that was the most important point to them and that they hadn't conceded that, and they were very clear that the French understood that, that they said that they had told -- discussed this with other members of the Security Council as well and they all understood that was the position.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: So they were very clear that the French had acknowledged, presumably in private, that there wasn't any need for a second decision?
Peter Godlsmith: Yes, in the discussions that they had had. They were very clear -- they were very clear that they had been adamant that this was key to them and that they had stuck to their guns and they had therefore conceded the discussion, the French acknowledged that, and discussion and no more.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: What evidence did they give you that the French had acknowledged this?
Peter Goldsmith: I wish they had presented me with more. That was one of the difficulties, and I make reference to this, that, at the end of the day, we were sort of dependent upon their view in relation to that. But I had seen -- certainly I had seen -- I looked very carefully at all the negotiating telegrams and I had seen that there were some acknowledgements of that, acknowledgments that the French understood the United States' position, at least, in telegrams that I had seen, and I was told of occasions when this had been clearly stated to the French.
To repeat, all the above describes what he would have encountered in February 2003 but he is saying it was February 2002.
In one of the more laughable moments, he explains he did not confirm the French government's position. He merely took the word of the Americans (and of people in his own government). Why? Because he insists he couldn't speak to the French government. It gets more crazy: He insists no British official could speak to the French. He couldn't place a call and no one could attempt to go through diplomatic channels.
He says because there were hard feelings between the US and France at that time and England was partners with the US and, golly, if the US saw Britian standing with France behind the gym, smoking a cigarette, the US might not invite Britain to the big party Friday. At "golly," I'm satirizing but it was his position and that's laughable. Even the Chair, John Chilcot, expressed surprise and asked of diplomatic channels which Goldsmith insisted couldn't be used.
Lyne asks Goldsmith what a court of law would say if he presented this? You have the official, public record of France's position. And if Goldsmith presented this hearsay of France's position (provided second hand by the US), what would a court say? A court would rule against it (it's hearsay) and Goldsmith knows that so he gets nervous (and gives away more than he realizes) and changes the topic. Asked what a court of law would say about that, he replies:
Well, can I answer this way, and I know I'm moving forward, but at that point that I took the view -- and I'll explain why -- that I had actually to come down on one side of the argument or other, I used a test which I quite frequently use when I'm having to advise on difficult matters, which is to say "Which side of the argument would you prefer to be on?" and I took the view I would prefer to be on the side of the argument that said a second resolution wasn't necessary.
That's not what a lawyer does. A lawyer does not say, "Do I want to be on A or B side?" An attorney looks at the law. The law is the law. You can interpret it, you can argue for grey areas, but the law is the law. You do not say, "___ is guilty or innocent. Which side do I want to be on?" You look at the evidence. You look at the facts. You go to precedents and you make a call. But Goldsmith has confessed to the Inquiry that when Tony Blair and Jack Straw didn't want a second resolution -- even though Goldsmith had been insisting the war would be illegal without a second resolution -- Goldsmith decided he'd rather be on Tony Blair's side. (He testified he decided that in March . . . and he testified he kind of decided that in January. We'll just say "March" and leave it at that.) It's not about sides, it's about the law.
Goldsmith is a joke and should be disbarred. He is saying he decided on a position -- not based on the law -- and then cherry picked through various things to back up the position. He should be disbarred and the UK should make him return his salary because that's not practicing the law.
If you've ever wondered what it's like in the committee hearing room, Andy Beckett (Guardian) provides a detailed picture, he also sketches out each committee member and we'll note one section of his report:
As soon as I sat down and took out my notebook, a woman in a neighbouring seat with an intense air introduced herself. "I am from one of the bereaved families," she said. "My sister was kidnapped and died in Iraq."
Margaret Hassan was a British aid worker murdered during the Baghdad insurgency in 2004. Her family saw video footage of her captivity and death. Hassan's sister, Deirdre Manchanda, was contemptuous about the inquiry: "Sir John Chilcot," she said, with heavy sarcasm, "I wish he was my grandfather. When he consulted the bereaved families [before the hearings], I said, 'This is a huge conference ­centre, get another room for when Tony Blair appears. Or can the --bereaved families have reserved seats that day?'"
Manchanda went on: "I wouldn't shake Tony Blair's hand. But like other people here from the bereaved families, I haven't thrown eggs. We have ­conducted ourselves in a dignified way. Chilcot wrote back very politely, but not one proposal I put was agreed to."
And for the reaction of another person who lost a loved one in Iraq, we'll note Peter Brierly (father of Shaun Brierley) from "Tony Blair is guilty of mass murder" (Great Britain's Socialist Worker):

'We've been saying what has now come out of the Chilcot inquiry for the last six years. The decision to go to war was made years before it was announced, it was illegal, and it was to depose Saddam Hussein.

They denied it all this time, and now it's out.

But that isn't enough. The only acceptable outcome is for Tony Blair to face investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

When he gives evidence Blair will deny these things. Unless they put charges to Blair, the inquiry is in disrepute.

The Iraqi people should have a voice too, to come and give evidence. It wasn't just people who were killed -- a whole country was destroyed.

Every other day there seems to be a bombing or something similar in Baghdad.

The violence only exists because of the instability war has created.

We went and met with John Chilcot along with other military families before the inquiry started.

I met him individually and he said that if anything illegal came out in the inquiry he wouldn't hesitate to pass it on.

Well now it has come out of their own mouths that it was for regime change.

Since I refused to shake Blair's hand, he seems a bit different.

People used to say you'll never get what you want, but he's looking less cocky now, less confident.

We won't stop until we get him -- and until we get justice.'

There is more to "Tony Blair is guilty of mass murder" but we don't have the room in today's snapshot, we'll note the other half tomorrow. Great Britain's Socialist Worker's coverage on this topic also includes:
Friday, one-time prime minister and forever poodle Tony Blair will appear before the Iraq Inquiry. A major protest is expected to take place outside as War Criminal Tony testifies. From Stop The War Coalition's "Protest on Tony Blair's Judgement Day: 29 January from 8am:"

Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Broad
Sanctuary, Westminster, London SW1P 3EE

On Friday 29 January, Tony Blair will try to explain to the Iraq Inquiry the lies he used to take Britain into an illegal war.

Writers, musicians, relatives of the dead, Iraqi refugees, poets, human rights lawyers, comedians, actors, MPs and ordinary citizens will join a day of protest outside the Inquiry to demand that this should be Tony Blair's judgement day.

There will be naming the dead ceremonies for the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Blair's war. Military families who lost loved ones in Iraq will read the names of the 179 British soldiers killed.

Join us from 8.0am onwards.
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"Decisions, decisions"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Decisions, decisions







Committee Member Usha Prashar: Can I just then confirm, what were your views of the legal position on the use of force against Iraq before the Security Council Resolution 1441?
Elizabeth Wilmshurst: They were the same as described by Sir Michael Wood this morning, that it would be necessary to have a resolution of the Security Council, if force against Iraq were to be lawful, that the other lawful reasons for the use of force were not present at that time.
Commitee Member Usha Prashar: But there was a consistent view of all the law officers with the FCO [British Foreign & Commonwealth Office]?
Elizabeth Wilmshurst: Of all of the legal advisers within the FCO, yes.
Committee Member: Was the Foreign Secretary [Jack Straw] aware of your advice?
The illegal war. In London today, the Iraq Inquiry heard there was no legal basis for the Iraq War. Today's witnesses were Michael Wood (Legal Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2001 - 2006), David Brummel (Legal Secretary to the Law Officers, 2001 -2004), Elizabeth Wilmshurts (Deputy Legal Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 2001 - 2003) and Margaret Beckett (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, May 2006 - June 2007) (link goes to transcript and video option). John Chilcot is the chair of the Inquiry and he noted this morning that the testimonies would focus on legal issue and, "It is important also to recall we shall be raising legal issues with Jack Straw when he appears again on 8 February and with Mr [Tony] Blair on Friday." The first witness was, Michael Wood who explained, "I was the chief legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 1999, the end of 1999, until February 2006 when I retired. I was the head of a group of lawyers."
Usha Prashar: Sir Michael, thank you for your statement. What I want to cover is the legal position on the use of force before the Security Council 1441 and also what happened in terms of practical advice giving and the concerns you might have raised, but I think it would be very helpful if youc an just tell us whether you were ever asked to advise on the provisions of international law relevant specifically to regime change in Iraq, and who asked you, and when was this, and what advice did you give?
Michael Wood: It was such an obvious point that kept on coming up and we just stuck in the sentence: "Regime change is not a legal basis for the use of force." It wasn't really controversial, so -- I can't remember if and when I presonally put that sentence in, but it went constantly into documents and was not, as far as I can recall, challenged by anyone.
Usha Prashar: So you can't remember when you were specifically asked that question and by whom?
Michael Wood: I can't. I can remember when we were first -- at least, I think I can remember, having refreshed my memory with the papers -- when we first looked at the general question of the legal basis for the use of force prior to the adoption of 1441, if you would like me to set that out.
Committee member Usha Prashar: I would actually. That was my next point. I really wanted you to briefly give your view on the legal position of the use of force before.
Michael Wood: I think the legal position was pretty straightforward and pretty uncontroversial. The first possible basis would be self-defence, and it was clear to all the lawyers concerned that there was no -- a factual basis for self-defence was not present, unless circumstances changed, because there was not -- Iraq was not engaged in an armed attack, nor was there an imminent armed attack on us or its neighbours or anybody else. So self-defence was ruled out. The second possibility would have been the exceptional right to use force in the case of an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. This was the Kosovo argument, the argument we used in 1999, and also used for the No Fly Zones. Apart from the No Fly Zones, it was clear that there was no basis, using that rather controversial argument, for the use of force, in 2001/2002. So that left the third basis, possible basis, which was with authorisation by the Security Council. There, of course, we had a series of resolutions culminating in 1205 of 1998, which was seen as the basis for Operation Desert Fox in December 1998, and so there was a slight question whether that finding of a breach, a serious breach, was still -- still had some force. But I think all the lawyers who looked at it were pretty -- was very clearly of the view that it was not, and that if we sought to rely on that resolution of some years before, we wouldn't have had a leg to stand on. So the advice that was given was that there was no basis for the use of force in late 2001, when it first arose, I think, in 2002, without a further Security Council decision. There was one point that kept on coming up. Occassionally ministers, people, would say, "Well, Kosovo, we can do what we did in Kosovo. We didn't need a Security Council Resolution there". They remembered that we hadn't had a resolution, but, of course, Kosovo was very specific. It was based on the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe, the hundreds of thousands of Kosovans being driven from their homes and their country.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: You made that very clear --
Michael Wood: We made it very clear throughout and I don't think it was very controversial. Occassionally, you would get ministers saying the wrong things, or the Prime Minister [Tony Blair] saying the wrong thing privately, and I would just jump in and remind people of this basic position, but the basic position was set out by one of my colleagues as early as November 2001, when I think President Bush made some kind of statement which made it look as though fource might be used. So we set out the position immediately. It was repeated in a document that was attached to repeated documents that went to that famous meeting on 23 July [Crawford, Texas meet up between Blair and Bush at Bush's ranch]. These, I think, are --
Committee Member Usha Prashar: What you are saying is that you and your colleagues were consistent in the advice you were giving prior to this period?
Michael Wood: We were, and I'm sure the Attorney was aware of what we were saying and agreed with it. It just wasn't really a controversial business at that stage.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: During this period, nobody challenged you, nobody disagreed with you.
Michael Wood: That's correct.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: This was the consistent view of you and your colleagues?
Michael Wood: Yes.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: I think this morning we have actually published notes that you sent to the Foreign Secretary on 26 Mrach, which is a -- records the Secretary of State's conversation with Colin Powell.
Michael Wood: Yes.
Committee Member Usha Prashar: I mean, were you concerned what he said, that he felt entirely comfortable making a case for military action to deal with Iraq's WMD? What were your concerns and why did he choose to write in this way?
Michael Wood: I was obviously quite concerned by what I saw him saying. I mean, often reports are not accurate. They are summaries, they are short. He may well not have said it in quite the form it came out in the telegram, but whenever I saw something like that, whether from the Foreign Secretary or from the Prime Minister or from officials, less often perhaps, I would do a note just to make sure they understood the legal position.
UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was passed by the Security Council on November 8, 2002. It did not declare war. It allowed for inspections. The inspection process was ended when Bush announced Saddam could leave or the invasion would start. There was not a resolution for the invasion. The committee has heard some witnesses admit they would have liked a second resolution, some state that it was not needed and a few delicately question the war itself without a second resolution. Today the committee heard that the Iraq War was illegal without a second resolution and that the cabinet -- including the Prime Minister Tony Blair -- knew of that before the start of the Iraq War.
Wood testifed about a January 24, 2003 letter (which the committee made public) to Jack Straw written as a result of a meeting Straw and Dick Cheney (the US' then president of vice) had in DC where Straw insisted a second UN resolution was only a preference and the war was still a go "if we tried and failed" to get a second resolution. Wood stated of his letter, "That was so completely wrong, from a legal point of view, that I felt it was important to draw that to his attention." Elizabeth Wilmshurst testified in the afternoon.
Chair John Chilcot: Did it make a difference that Jack Straw himself is a qualified lawyer?
Elizabeth Wilmshurst: He is not an international lawyer.
Emma Alberici (Australia's ABC News) notes of the above exchange, "Even Sir John Chilcot could not resist but laugh." Jeremy Greenstock had earlier testified and noted that he didn't believe the Iraq War was "legitimate" but he would not weigh in on the legality.
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: You are saying that's actually part and parcel of the legal problem as well? That you don't necessarily see this distinction between legality and legitimacy?
Elizabeth Wilmshurst: In the case of Resolution 1441, he seemed to be saying that it was all right if we trod a very narrow line of textual interpretation, with which I didn't agree, of course, but he had a narrow textual argument, but which didn't have regard to what he said the majority of the Security Council believed. I was saying that, in this particular case, actually the whole question is: whose is the decision, the Security Council's or individual member states'? So that what in this case he was calling "legitimacy", I would call "legality". I would treat it as part of the legality argument. I do not know that I would make a wider proposition of it.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne used his questioning to, among other things, establish that the legal advice from the Foreign Office and the Attorney General's opinion was the same (illegal without a second resolution) and that it was the same "throughout 2002, before and after the adoption of Resolution 1441, and up until the point of the Attorney General's advice of 7 March 2003". That is when the divergence comes, days before the start of the Iraq War. It should also be noted that as last year drew to a close, Tony Blair told the BBC that even without WMD, the Iraq War was still justifiable on the grounds of regime change. That argument/defense was rejected by government attorneys as Blair damn well knew.
Will Stone (Morning Star) quotes Lindsey German, Stop The War, reacting to today's testimonies, "We all knew that the war was illegal but it's a disgrace that Mr Straw ignored legal advice. When you hear that legal advisers had doubts abou tthe war and were being ignored you realise that this is not just about Tony Blair but a whole host of people who all went along with it." Brian Haw tells Stone, "Nobody will accept responsbility for the war even though international law was thrown clean out the window. That's what they hung the Nazis in Nuremberg for." James Chapman (Daily Mail) emphasizes this from today's hearing, "Astonishingly, Downing Street asked lawyers to assess what the consequences would be if Britain toppled Saddam Hussein without legal authority. When they received the lawyers' memo, No.10 demanded: 'Why has this been put in writing?'"

Andrew Sparrow live blogged today's hearings for the Guardian. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged at Twitter. Chris Ames fact checked at Iraq Inquiry Digest. At the Guardian, Chris Ames gives the backstory on the previous efforts to hide the legal advice and the disregarding of that advice:
Last year, the information tribunal ordered the government to release the minutes of the cabinet meetings of 13 and 17 March but Straw -- for the first time ever -- used the veto that he had himself put in the freedom of act to block publication. It had emerged during the tribunal hearing that there was considered to be insufficient discussion of the legal issues at the second meeting. It has since been admitted during the inquiry that all that happened at that meeting was that Goldsmith's very short legal advice was tabled and that a request by Clare Short for a discussion was rejected by the majority of the cabinet.
This lack of discussion is one of the key political and constitutional issues around the war. Should the cabinet have discussed the legality of a decision for which they were constitutionally collectively responsible?
Friday, one-time prime minister and forever poodle Tony Blair will appear before the Iraq Inquiry in London. A major protest is expected to take place outside as War Criminal Tony testifies. From Stop The War Coalition's "Protest on Tony Blair's Judgement Day: 29 January from 8am:"

Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Broad
Sanctuary, Westminster, London SW1P 3EE

On Friday 29 January, Tony Blair will try to explain to the Iraq Inquiry the lies he used to take Britain into an illegal war.

Writers, musicians, relatives of the dead, Iraqi refugees, poets, human rights lawyers, comedians, actors, MPs and ordinary citizens will join a day of protest outside the Inquiry to demand that this should be Tony Blair's judgement day.

There will be naming the dead ceremonies for the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Blair's war. Military families who lost loved ones in Iraq will read the names of the 179 British soldiers killed.

Join us from 8.0am onwards.
Paul Lewis and Vikram Dodd (Guardian) report, "Anti-war campaigners planning to protest when Tony Blair appears before the Iraq inquiry on Friday said today they had been barred from going near the building where he is giving evidence. Up to 1,000 protesters are expected to rally outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, in Westminster."

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