Saturday, January 22, 2011

We've heard it all before







Chicken Hawk Tony Blair testified before the Iraq Inquiry. Before we get to the latest round of lies from Blair, let's get into what happened inside the hearing and outside. Alex Barker (live blogging for Financial Times of London) reported, "Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. Peple began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: 'Well stop trying to kill them.' Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted 'It is too late', another said 'he'll never look us in the eye'. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq, delivered the final blow. 'Your lies killed my son,' she said. 'I hope you can live with it.'"
Rose Gentle's son Gordon Gentle died June 28, 2004 in Basra at the age of 19. Before the hearing, she told Mustafa Khalili and Laurence Topham (Guardian -- link is video) that her son was the driving force in her actions, "It's definitely Gordon that kept me going." She is a co-founder of Military Families Against The War. After the hearing, she noted of Tony Blair, "I don't think I could ever forgive him to be honest." She explained, "He can look at his sons grow up, get married, have kids. We've lost that. We'll never have that."
Because of the illegal war (yes, it was illegal despite spin from the Independent's resident idiot columnist and others -- "just war theory" was not created in the post-WWII period) and those who started it and those who continue it, many have experienced the tragic loss Rose Gentle lives with. But, as she notes, Tony Blair is never haunted by the coffins.
Entrances and exits can be very telling. With a fake, plastered grin on his face and a security detail, Tony Blair walked briefly in the sunlight as cries of "WAR CRIMINAL!" were repeatedly and loudly shouted.
His entrance? Blair snuck in. Like the criminal he is. He snuck in and did so early thereby avoiding the protests. Still they turned out to bear witness on his War Crimes and the destruction that they brought about. Protestors chanted next to a man in a Tony Blair mask holding onto wooden bars (indicating Blair was behind bars).
Call: Tony Blair!
Response: Is a liar!
Stop The War was one of the organizers of the protests. Bryony Jones (CNN -- article has a photo of another man masked as Tony Blair behind bars) reports, "Protesters dressed in Tony Blair masks staged mock arrests as the former British Prime Minister appeared before an inquiry into the Iraq War. [. . .] Waving banners featuring bloody images of the carnage that followed, activists shouted: 'Blair lied -- thousands died' and "Justice prevail -- Blair in jail'." Ruth Barnett and Mark Stone (Sky News) note that Chickenhawk Tony is accused of sneaking into the Inquiry this morning to avoid the protest outside and they have video of protesters offering their take on Blair including this one, "Historians will judge him as a War Criminal as somebody who has lied to the public who has now -- He has -- Who tried to redefine the word lie: 'When is a lie not a lie?' And also I think history will judge him very, very harshly -- very harshly." Peter Walker (Guardian) reports on those protesting:

While many were clearly veteran activists -- the Socialist Workers party had a notable presence -- the crowd was mixed. Jackie, from Essex, had stopped by to wave a "Bliar" placard for 20 minutes before heading to her job at a City law firm.
"I'm not ashamed of it but I don't make a point of publicising it," she said. "I don't think there is much hope anything will come of this. It's all starting to look very much like an establishment cover-up."
More hopeful was the veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, who said he believed Chilcot's blocked attempts to release the former prime minister's correspondence with President George Bush, plus doubts about Blair's testimony raised by the former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, indicated the establishment was starting to turn on Bair.
He said: "I'm not so interested in seeing him in court. I think Blair now knows that the infamy will follow him around forever. I think he's starting to realise that the end is not coming -- that lovely smile is not going to see him through this time,
"It's something of a Shakespearean tragedy. He came into power with such possibilities to transform the country. All those things he could have done and he squandered billions of pounds and thousands of lives to be a sort of second lieutenant to Bush"
Inquiry Chair John Chilcot noted at the start of today's hearing, "We heard some six hours of evidence from Mr Blair a year ago. We have also heard from many other witnesses and have amassed a very considerable body of documentary evidence. As I made clear in launching this round of hearings, there are a number of areas where we need to clarify what happened. We need to find the lessons to be learned and to do that we need to construct as reliable and accurate account as possible and reach our own conclusion." Did that happen?
Not for the public. But they did get to see Tony visibly squirming, his voice go to higher levels than normal and break little a pubescent boy's at one point. A few key exchanges. All testimony quotes are from the Inquiry's official transcript unless otherwise noted. And, also, we're not promoting Blair's book so I'll edit out the title.
Committee Member Martin Gilbert: Mr Blair, the very powerful speech you made to the House of Commons on 18th March 2003 was of critical importance. Without Parliament's approval our troops would not have been able to participate in the invasion. In your speech you drew an analogy with the 1930s, the moment you said when Czechoslovakia was swallowed up by the Nazis. That's when we should have acted. This was not the first that analogy had been made. Jack Straw, for example, recalled the descent into war in the 1930s when he spoke on 11th February. Comparing Iraq with Nazi Germany has enormous emotive force with the British public. It also heightens perceptions of the level and imminence of the threat. In your book [ . . .] you say that you regretted and almost took out that reference and the almost universal refusal, as you put it, for a long time for people to believe Hitler was a threat. Can you tell us why you regretted saying that?
War Criminal Tony Blair: I think I actually said in the speech in the House of Commons on 18th March -- I don't have it in front of me -- we have to be aware of glib comparisons, but there was one sense in which I think there was still valid point to be made about how we perceive threat and that is in this sense, my view after September 11th was that our whole analysis of the terrorist threat and that extremism had to change, and at that point I was most focused on this, that the single most important thing to me about September 11th, as I have often said; that 3,000 people died, but if they could have killed 300,000, they would have.
And he went on to babble repeatedly and at lenght, a non-stop, stream of random babble, never addressing the question asked led to his declaring this final sentence, "So in that sense in a way I would say there is an analogy, but you have to careful of bringing it out too broadly, otherwise you make a point that suggests the circumstances of Nazi Germany were the same as Saddam Hussein and I didn't really mean to suggest that."
Committe Martin Gilbert: So that's what you regretted?
War Criminal Tony Blair: Yes, but I don't -- let me just make on thing very clear, I don't reget the basic point I am making, which is that this is a time in which even though many people would say this extremism can be [. . .]
And he continued to waffle. So the takeaway is that, no, Tony Blair didn't regret making the comparison. His ghost writer and publisher thought it would be a thing that would help paint him as someone who agonized then and now over the decision, someone thoughtful, but that's just not who Tony Blair is. He established and underscored that throughout the hearing.
Committee Member Martin Gilbert: The Cabinet paper for conditions on military action which was issued on 19th July 2002, a version of which has appeared in the press, recorded that you had told the President at Crawford in April 2002: "United Kingdom will support military action to bring about regime change provided certain conditions were met." Was that a turning point?
War Criminal Tony Blair: It wasn't a turning point. It was really that all the way through we were saying this issue now has to be dealt with. So Saddam either comes back into compliance with UN resolutions or action will follow.
So all along they were saying that Hussein had to be dealt with?
Next we'll emphasize this.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Just a short question on the Attorney General's involvement in advising on Resolution 1441, as you will have seen, Lord Goldsmith said in his statement that he was not being sufficiently involved in the meetings and discussions about Resolution 1441 and the policy behind it that were taking place at Ministerial level, and he says: "I made this point on a number of occassions." Given the importance that you have placed on Lord Goldsmith's understanding of the negotiations, why wasn't he allowed to be more closely involved in the negotiation of 1441 as well as in the discussions which lay behind it.
War Criminal Tony Blair: Well, I have to say I think I had more to do with Peter Goldsmith on this resolution than I can ever recall on any previous military action that we took. Now --
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: 1441?
War Criminal Tony Blair: Yes. Now I have read what Peter has said now, and obviously that's something it would be sensible to have the Attorney General -- I think in retrospect it would have been sensible to have had him absolutely in touch with the negotiating machinery all the way through, because I think then we wouldn't probably have got into the situation where he thought provisionally, at least, that we needed another resolution, because I think had he known of the negotiating history real time as we were going through it we could have avoided some of the problems later.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes. I mean, I think he would agree with you there. [. . .] I mean, in his statement he says that he wasn't involved in discussions about 1441. Between the time of his meeting with you on 22nd October, when he told you that the draft then in contemplation did not authorise the use of force, until 7th November when the text was, as he puts it, all but agreed, but you say you were very much involved with him over this resolution. These two statements don't seem to fit together.
War Criminal Tony Blair: No. What I am saying is I was more involved -- I recall having more meetings with Peter about the legality of this issue than I did on any of the other occasions. I did actually -- there was a meeting I think on 17th October, which we then minuted out, including to Peter, where we set the objectives for the resolution. Then he and I had the meeting on 22nd October, and -- I mean, I agree in retrospect it would be better if he had been there, because we would have then -- he would have been sensitised to the evidence that has been given to you by Stephen Pattison and by Iain Macleod, Stephen Patterson being the head of the then Department of the Foreign Office, and Iain Macleod being the legal advisor and the legal counsellor for the UN process and they explained why the Resolution 1441 did meet our objectives and significantly changed in the days leading up to its adoption.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Iain Macleod is the legal counsellor advising Jeremy Greenstock in New York. The Foreign Office legal advisors working in London, Sir Michael Wood and those working to him, as has come out from the respective evidence, took a very different view. They took the same view as the Attorney General, and the Attorney General took the view, as you know, that at this time he took the view that 1441 did not authorise use of force unless there was a further resolution, but you have said in your statement that 1441 "Achieved our objectives". Now how could it have achieved our objectives if your Attorney General, your senior legal officer was telling you that it hadn't?
We're not wasting time dictating in Blair's fumbling response. If you know this issue is going to be raised -- and it was known, it was the biggest Blair story in the press all week long beginning at the start of the week, you do not show up and fumble and offer, "I mean, I can't remember exactly what I said after 22nd October [. . .]" You don't do that. Unless you're lying, there's no possible reason to do that. And if you're wondering about my critque of the rambling say nothing Blair, the Guardian headlines their editorial "Blair at the Chilcot inquiry. Jaw-jaw, war-war and law-law." From the editorial:

Whether he led straight, however, is more doubtful. It is becoming ever clearer that No 10 spun the country along, not merely by hyping intelligence, but also by committing to the Americans in private while at the same time insisting to people and the parliament that no decision had been made. The general idea of a promise as an undertaking that is not to be given until it is certain it can be honoured was yesterday turned on its head by Mr Blair. "I was going to continue giving absolute and firm commitment until the point at which definitively I couldn't," he explained. He was free, easy and indeed creative with the detail – for example, singling out Iraq's bar on scientists meeting UN inspectors as the "key issue" on the eve of war, when that problem had in fact been resolved by then. It will be open to the committee to damn him with the detail should it choose to do so.

The excerpts from the hearing I selected were are among the things that stood out to me. Joshua Norman (CBS News) was most focused on Tony Blair's claim that the "wretched policy of apology" (Blair's words) must end. And that and the Goldsmith issue are paired up in Emma Alberici's report for Australia's AM (ABC -- link has text and audio):
EMMA ALBERICI: A month before the Iraq war began in 2003, one million people marched through the streets of London.

Almost eight years later, there were barely 100 protesters gathered outside the conference centre at Westminster as Tony Blair returned to the Iraq inquiry for the second time.

The five member panel led by Sir John Chilcot were seeking some clarifications, specifically about private letters between the former Prime Minister and the then President of the United States George Bush - correspondence written, in the year before the war.

TONY BLAIR: So what I was saying to him is, 'I'm going to be with you in handling it this way', right? 'I'm not going to push you down this path and then back out when it gets too hot, politically, because it is going to get hot politically, for me very, very much so'.

EMMA ALBERICI: Earlier in the week, Tony Blair's own attorney general told the inquiry that Mr Blair's claims in the House of Commons that Britain did not need a United Nations resolution explicitly authorising force were not compatible with his legal advice.

Lord Goldsmith told the inquiry that he felt uncomfortable about the way the Prime Minister ignored his official legal advice when making his case for war to the British people.

Tony Blair, who is now the Special Envoy to the Middle East representing the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia, said the war in Iraq could not be used to explain the rise in Islamic extremism. And he told a shocked roomful of grief stricken relatives of those killed in Iraq, that the experiences there should not make the world reluctant to invade Iran.

And it's that never-ending impulse to send more people into war, a blood lust, that causes Catherine Mayer (Time magazine) to term Blair "unchanged and unrepentant."
Iraq Inquiry Digest's Chris Ames has been following the story since long before the Iraq Inquiry. At the Guardian, he shares his take:

The specifics and the evidence, including new evidence published today, are against Blair. The evidence makes clear that he was seeking regime change from an early stage.

Opening questions sought to establish when Blair took the decision to pursue a policy that was likely to lead to war and what part the cabinet played. Martin Gilbert asked exactly when Blair took this decision. Blair waffled and evaded the question.

When it came to the way that Blair kept most of his cabinet out of the loop, the tables were turned. Had the cabinet seen the March 2002 options paper, leaked but still officially unpublished, which set out the plan that led to war? Could Blair point to a cabinet discussion of the paper? He could not. So how did Blair expect the cabinet to take an informed view? Blair waffled further, disputing "the notion that people weren't debating and discussing the issue". The cabinet knew what the policy was.

Next week, hopefully Monday's snapshot, we'll address the remarks he made in relation to other issues and how Tony Blair may not be the poodle because a good argument can be made that he's the one who pushed and prodded War Criminal Bush along the path to illegal war. (Bush may have been a dupe, but he was a willing dupe.) And we'll close out on the Inquiry with Mary Riddell (Telegraph of London) offering her take:
The sheer gall of Tony Blair never ceases to startle. And he gets away with it. Once, the revelations emerging from the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war would have been dynamite. The attorney general's advice that the invasion would not, without a second UN resolution, be legal; the Foreign Secretary's worries about the whole enterprise -- these are yesterday's sensations, neutralised by time and by inertia.
And yet there is still something awesome about Mr Blair's intractability. On he marched, in thrall to the US president and unhindered by his supine government and a credulous opposition who have never squared up to their faults either. Blair's lack of remorse and his adamantine belief that he was right cannot be dented now. The loss of the lives of British forces and of Iraqi civilians were, in his view, a wholly necessary price.
To say that Blair is unrepentant does not begin to explain his intransigence. Having prosecuted one disastrous war, he is now squaring up for the next dust-up, with a renewed warning that Iran, a "looming challenge" has got it coming. With luck, the leaders who followed Blair, on both sides of the Atlantic, will shake their heads in disbelief at this madness.

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