Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Princess Di died for his sins





This morning Al Jazeera reported that, "The storm clouds are already gathering over this Inquiry being held among high security in London." That is the Iraq Inquiry chaired by John Chilcot. Ruth Barnett (Sky News -- link has text and video) reports that Chilcot used his opening remarks this morning to insist that the inquiry would be "fair and frank." Since the announcement that it would start this year (and continue next year with former prime minister Tony Blair expected to testify after England holds elections), there has been much speculation that the inquiry would be a farce. We'll note the following from Chilcot's opening statement:

Welcome to the Iraq Inquiry's first day of public hearings. For those of you who do not know me, I am Sir John Chilcot chairman of the Iraq Inquiry. I am joined by my colleagues Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar. Together we form the Iraq Inquiry Committee. Next to me is Margaret Aldred who is the Secretary to the Inquiry.
The Iraq Inquiry was set up to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK's involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations.
To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn't -- and, crucially, why.
My colleagues and I come to this task with open minds. We are apolitical and independent of any political party. We want to examine the evidence. We will approach our task in a way that is thorough, rigorous, fair and frank.
The Committee and I are also committed to openness and are determined to conduct as much of our proceedings in public as possible. I welcome those members of the public who join us here today -- thank you for taking the time and effort to travel here this morning. I also welcome the media present here at the QEII. For those not physically present, I am pleased that the Inquiry proceedings are available for broadcast and are being streamed on the internet.
These public hearings are the activity which will attract the most publicity but they form only one part of our work.

Ben Quinn (Christian Science Monitor -- text and audio) offers that no one may be pleased with the outcome, "Critics of the war probably won't get what they most want from the government-appointed panel – a public drubbing of unpopular former Prime Minister Tony Blair for leading the nation to war in the mistaken belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And supporters of the war are unlikely to get a clear declaration that Britain's participation in the invasion was the right thing to do." Quinn goes on to note that many critics of the inquiry point out that the "six member panel [. . .] includes not a single lawyer or judge" leading people to doubt the inquiry's ability to determine the legality of the war. From the audio.

Pat Murphy: Ben, first off, can you tell us a little bit about these people that are making up this British board of inquiry?

Ben Quinn: Yes, Pat. Well there are six members on the panel. They were appointed by the prime minister, by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The chair is Sir John Chilcot, a British civil servant. He's a Whitehall mandarin -- Whitehall being the headquarters of the British civil service. He has the unenviable task of chairing this panel. He has come into criticism in the past from, uh, various commentators who feel that he has taken a soft-touch to questioning in previous probes. So he'll be eagerly watched in terms of his handling of this inquiry. There are five others on the panel. Perhaps one of the more interesting figures is Sir Lawrence Friedman who is a distinguished academic. Now he's, he's been a professor of war at King's College in London since 1982 but notably he's credited with writing a large part of Tony Blair's famous -- infamous, perhaps -- some would say -- 1992 Chicago speech where he basically made the case for liberal military intervention.

Gideon Rachman (Financial Times of London) refrains from making any predictions while reminding that there were expectations on past British inquiries into Iraq: the Hutton inquiry which people thought "would destroy Tony Blair" instead whitewashed everything and falsely attacked the press (that's my call on the Hutton inquiry, not Rachman's) and the Bulter inquiry which Rachman feels wasn't a whitewash. John F. Burns and Alan Cowell (New York Times) feel reflective and observe, "The unpopularity of the war — and its impact on Mr. Blair's once glittery image among British voters -- contributed to his ouster by Prime Minister Gordon Brown two years ago." Of course, Gordon Brown was Tony's lap dog, his hand picked successor and the one who has carried out every one of Tony's policies (including refusing to release the files on John Lennon and citing 'national security' as a reason). As Gordon's stock continued to plummet, he finally yieled to public pressure this summer and announced he'd do what he had promised several years ago: Launch an inquiry into the Iraq War. Rose Gentle's song Gordon Gentle died serving in Iraq June 28, 2004. He is one of the 179 British forces who were killed in the Iraq War (ongoing Iraq War -- and ongoing for the British which expects to keep 200 service members in Iraq for the foreseeable future.) ITV News speaks with her (link is video) and she tells them, "I just hope the committee stuck to their word because they promised us that they'd look inside and outside and if there were mistakes made, the fingers would get pointed at the person making mistakes." Rose Gentle is a member of Military Families Against the War. Yesterday Julia Reid (Sky News -- link has text and video) spoke with Geoff Dunsmore, father of Chris Dunsmore who died serving in Iraq (July 19, 2007). He speaks of the Iraq Inquiry due to start this week in London, "The nation needs to know why we went to Iraq, clearly and concisely. We need to know why it cost money, but the biggest thing is why it cost a lot of lives -- my son's as one of them. I hope the inquiry will help the families that are struggling and trying to get some sense out of all this." Back in June Independent Labour MP Clare Short explained why she felt a real inquiry was necessary:

We need an inquiry that forces all parties and the public to face up to the fact that we got involved in Iraq because George Bush and the neo-conservatives wanted to overthrow the unpopular regime of Saddam Hussein -- regime change -- and establish a friendly power in Iraq, so that they could relocate American bases in the middle east, dominate the Gulf and have close relations with a country that contained a large proportion of the world's remaining oil. As has been said, all of that is laid out for all to read in the documents published by the Project for the New American Century, which many of those who became senior figures in the Bush Administration had signed up to.
Of course, the US expected the invasion of Iraq to be popular with Iraqis and therefore thought that it would help to stabilise the middle east. The only problem was that international law, laid down after the second world war under the leadership of President Roosevelt and with the support of Prime Minister Churchill, did not permit that, and thus the lying became necessary in order to do what the neo-conservatives thought to be right.
I did not know that Tony Blair had the published documents of the Project for the New American Century drawn to his attention -- they were certainly not drawn to the attention of the Cabinet -- but I think that he was desperate to be close to George Bush and worried that he would not be because of the closeness of his relationship with President Clinton, and that he therefore gave his word early on that Britain would be with him in the planned invasion of Iraq. From that, it all flows: the exaggeration of the threat from weapons of mass destruction to give an excuse for war, because regime change is not legal.
The Butler report and the various leaks from our intelligence agencies have shown that the intelligence was being fixed around the policy. Hans Blix started out believing that there were WMD in Iraq, but when he found and reported that there were not -- he reported to the Security Council what he had found, and also achieved the dismantling of large numbers of ballistic missiles -- he was briefed against and smeared because his truthful findings were obstructing the excuse for war.

Clare Short resigned from Tony Blair's cabinet May 12, 2003 declaring, "I am afraid that the assurances you [Tony Blair] gave me about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached. The security council resolution that you and Jack have so secretly negotiated contradicts the assurances I have given in the House of Commons and elsewhere about the legal authority of the occupying powers, and the need for a UN-led process to establish a legitimate Iraqi government. This makes my position impossible."

Andrew Gilligan live blogged the first day of the inquiry for the Guardian. He calls attention to several moments in the hearing including, on the issue of the panel itself, this on the day's three witnesses (Peter Ricketts, Simon Webb and William Patey):

This is interesting. Webb also says that, during the time in question, he received a promotion in the MoD after going through a selection process that involved two members of the inquiry assessing candidates - Lady Prashar, who, as First Civil Service Commissioner, was involved in senior appointments of this kind and Sir Lawrence Freedman, who I presume was on the panel as a member of the "great and the good". This disclosure does rather reinforce the impression that the inquiry represents the establishment interrogating itself.

Nicholas Witchell (BBC News) offers a video report of today's hearing. Nico Hines (Times of London) offers up "best of the evidence. The Telegraph of London reports a witness has stated that Bush and Blair were planning the Iraq War two years before it began:Sir Peter Ricketts, who was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001, said there was concern in both London and Washington that the strategy of ''containment'' of Saddam Hussain was ''failing''.Giving evidence at the first public hearings of the inquiry, he said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush administration. He said that, in discussions with Secretary of State Colin Powell, it appeared the Americans were ''thinking very much on the same lines''.He added, however, that others in Washington were already thinking further ahead. A second report from the Telegraph offers a second witness testifying that the US was planning the Iraq War back in 2001:Sir William Patey, then head of Middle East policy at Foreign Office said that in February 2001, the UK knew that some in the new US administration wanted to topple SaddamHe said: "We were aware of the drum beats from Washington."However, he said that Britain was not then willing to engage in regime change in Baghdad. "Our policy was to stay away from that." David Brown and Nico Hines (Times of London) add of Ricketts, "He said a review of the Iraq policy was already under way in Whitehall in anticipation of the arrival of the new Bush Administration." On Monday, Chris Ames (Guardian) explained that Andrew Gilligan was unearthing a great deal and his scoops "are perhaps as significant for what they tell us about Sir John Chilcot's Iraq inquiry. They are a humiliation for the inquiry, which -- as I write -- has not put a single piece of new evidence into the public domain. [. . .] The Telegraph, on the other hand, is putting a lot of new information into the public domain. It has published extracts from two of the papers on which it has based its stories. It does have to be said that the first of these, 'Stability Operations in Iraq', was published last year on Wikileaks, but the whole effect of what Gilligan has done is to add to the sum of public knowledge." Sunday Gilligan summarized "hundreds of pages of secret Government reports" regarding the Iraq War:Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain's objective was "disarmament, not regime change" and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but "very small numbers" of officials "constrained" the planning process. The result was a "rushed"operation "lacking in coherence and resources" which caused "significant risk" to troops and "critical failure" in the post-war period. Operations were so under-resourced that some troops went into action with only five bullets each. Others had to deploy to war on civilian airlines, taking their equipment as hand luggage. Some troops had weapons confiscated by airport security. Commanders reported that the Army's main radio system "tended to drop out at around noon each day because of the heat". One described the supply chain as "absolutely appalling", saying: "I know for a fact that there was one container full of skis in the desert." The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.The plans "contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen", causing a "notable loss of momentum" which was exploited by insurgents. Field commanders raged at Whitehall's "appalling" and "horrifying" lack of support for reconstruction, with one top officer saying that the Government "missed a golden opportunity" to win Iraqi support. Another commander said: "It was not unlike 1750s colonialism where the military had to do everything ourselves." In another report, Gilligan explains, "In the papers, the British chief of staff in Iraq, Colonel J.K.Tanner, described his US military counterparts as 'a group of Martians' for whom 'dialogue is alien,' saying: 'Despite our so-called "special relationship," I reckon we were treated no differently to the Portuguese'." Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) adds:Fresh evidence has emerged about how Blair misled MPs by claiming in 2002 that the goal was "disarmament, not regime change". Documents show the government wanted to hide its true intentions by informing only "very small numbers" of officials.The documents, leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, are "post-operational reports" and "lessons learned" papers compiled by the army and its field commanders. They refer to a "rushed" operation that caused "significant risk" to troops and "critical failure" in the postwar period.Norton-Taylor has come up with a list of five questions that the inquiry must answer to be seen as genuine.

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