Leaning lessons line by line

By Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

Military officials are going through the 2.6m-word Chilcot report “line by line” to learn crucial lessons in the face of its damning criticism of the way UK troops were deployed in the US-led invasion of Iraq, a crossparty group of MPs has been told.

But…

Brigadier Ben Barry, retired, whose written statement to Chilcot has still not been published, told the Guardian on Tuesday the report failed to hold anyone to account about the slowness in responding to the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as roadside bombs.

“The chief of defence staff, permanent secretaries (top civil servants) and defence ministers have not been asked the necessary hard questions on this,” Barry added.

The Guardian also points out that:

in a little-noticed passage of the report, Chilcot says Gordon Brown, then chancellor, “should have ensured that estimates of the likely overall cost of a UK intervention in Iraq, for military and civilian activities during the conflict and post‑conflict period, and the wider implications for public expenditure were identified a identified and available to ministers and cabinet”.


The Powell note and the Chilcot fudge

by Chris Ames

As I’ve said before, the fundamental problem with the Inquiry report is its completely untenable claim, in spite of a mass of evidence to the contrary, that Tony Blair was seeking a resolution of the issue of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, with a threat of regime changes as a lever, rather than the other way round.

This assessment, which the panel must know to have been untrue, seems to be based on nothing more than a succession of witnesses lying through their teeth and despite Blair himself declaring in evidence that he chose to “confront and change” (ie regime change) rather than to toughened containment, which was how the March 2002 Options Paper described the policy that he was publicly articulating.

Thus, the report concluded:

12. In Mr Blair’s view, the decision to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US was an essential demonstration of solidarity with the UK’s principal ally as well as being in the
UK’s long‑term national interests.
13. To do so required the UK to reconcile its objective of disarming Iraq, if possible by peaceful means, with the US goal of regime change. That was achieved by the development of an ultimatum strategy threatening the use of force if Saddam Hussein did not comply with the demands of the international community, and by seeking to persuade the US to adopt that strategy and pursue it through the UN.

Among the documents released by the Inquiry that show that the objective of disarming Iraq “if possible by peaceful means” was ditched as incompatible with the US objective of regime change is Jonathan Powell’s note to Blair of 19 July 2002.

This document talks about (providing George Bush with) “a roadmap to getting rid of Saddam”, by issuing an ultimatum and finding a legal base through WMD rather than through regime change. Blair wrote across the top of the document “I agree with this entirely”.

Given how clearly this document sets out the way that the WMD ploy would be a part of the regime change plan to justifiy overthrowing Saddam and Blair’s express agreement, I was astonished at the weekend to read an article by the Institute for Government’s Daniel Thornton (a former private secretatry to Blair) describing the document as

the most important internal advice makes clear that the UK had specific objectives that it was trying to achieve by influencing the US, such as using the UN to encourage Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

I’m not sure which bit of a roadmap to getting rid of Saddam via an ultimatum, Chilcot and Thornton didn’t understand.

Another of the Inquiry’s conclusions that is contradicted by the Powell note is the claim that:

523. By late August 2002, the Government was troubled by intense speculation about whether a decision had already been taken to use military force. In Mr Blair’s words, the US and UK had been “outed” as having taken a decision when no such decision had been taken.
524. Mr Blair’s decision on 3 September to announce that the dossier would be published was a response to that pressure.
525. The dossier was designed to “make the case” and secure Parliamentary (and public) support for the Government’s position that action was urgently required to secure Iraq’s disarmament.

The Powell note also includes in its routemap to getting rid of Saddam:

We need to make the case. We need a plan and a timetable for releasing the papers we have prepared on human rights abuses, WMD etc.

These papers are of course the dossier and Powell and Blair are proactively planning in July 2002 to release them. The assertion that the dossier was a reactive measure is a straightforward lie and that the Butler Inquiry, on which Chilcot sat, was told and accepted at face value. Chilcot accepted it all over again, although the must have known it wasn’t true.

On the bright side, in an excellent article for the London Review of Books,  A Grand and Disastrous Deceit, Philppe Sands both catalogues the report’s criticisms of Blair and points to its failings:

Yet the inquiry has chosen to hold back on what caused the multitude of errors: was it negligence, or recklessness, or something else? In so doing it has created a space for Blair and the others who stood with him to protest that they acted in good faith, without deceit or lies. To get a sense of how this space was created requires a very thorough reading of the report. But two techniques can be identified immediately.

First, the inquiry has engaged in salami-slicing, assessing cause and motive in individual moments without stepping back and examining the whole. The whole makes clear that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein and wage war in Iraq was taken early, and that intelligence and law were then fixed to facilitate the desired outcome. On legal matters, Blair manipulated the process, forcing the attorney general to give legal advice at the last possible moment, with troops already massed and a coalition ready to roll. He would have known that Goldsmith was less likely at that stage to have said that war would be illegal. […]

Second, on the basis of material I have seen but isn’t in the public domain, I believe the inquiry may have been excessively generous in its characterisation of evidence.

 


Did Blair commit misconduct in public office?

by Chris Lamb

Former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Macdonald suggested in an article for the Times newspaper (‘Blair could be charged with misconduct in public office’, July 7) that Tony Blair could be prosecuted under the 18th century common law criminal offence of misconduct in public office.

This offence has rarely been used since the 19th century but seems to be the only avenue to bring Tony Blair, and possibly some of those in his ‘sofa government’, to a criminal trial as there is no available statutory law covering ‘crime of aggression’ or indeed the misconduct in office it involves.

For the offence to apply, the suspect has to be a public office holder and be ‘acting as such’ when the misconduct occurred.

There are two elements to the offence. The person holding public office;

wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself.

According to an issues paper produced by the Law Commission;

‘Acting as such’

A public officer must be “acting as such” when he or she performs the misconduct alleged. The practical significance of this is unclear.

(2) Wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself  1.21 Again, although the AG’s Reference does not separate the concepts of “wilfulness” and “neglect or misconduct” we examine them separately.

Breach of duty (neglect or misconduct) 1.22 If the breach of duty, whether by act or omission, is a breach of a determinative duty then that breach will usually be sufficient to amount to misconduct in public office, subject to it being serious enough. If the duty breached is of a nondeterminative duty owed by the person then it may in some circumstances be sufficient for the misconduct in public office offence provided it is serious enough.

Wilfulness

1.23 The state of mind (or “fault element”) required by the offence is that the defendant acted “wilfully”. This requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant:

Summary of Misconduct in Public Office: Issues Paper 1 – The Current Law   

(1) was aware of the circumstances existing that made his or her position a public office; and

(2) was aware that a situation might have arisen calling for one of the duties of that office to be fulfilled; and

(3) engaged in the conduct which breached the duty in question; and

(4) the decision to do so was unreasonable in light of the facts known to the defendant.

(3) Abuse of the public’s trust

1.24 The wilful breach of duty must be serious enough to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust. That is, the breach of duty must meet a threshold of seriousness such that the misconduct has the effect of harming the public interest. We call this the “seriousness test”.

1.25 To be guilty of the offence it must also be proven that the public office holder was aware of the circumstances existing that made his or her breach of duty serious. It is not, though, a requirement that he or she had in fact concluded that it was serious.16

(4) Without reasonable excuse or justification

1.26 The final aspect of the offence is that it must be committed in circumstances where the defendant had no reasonable justification or excuse for his or her conduct. It is unclear whether the term “reasonable excuse or justification” constitutes a standalone defence to a charge of misconduct in public office (as opposed to simply allowing for denial of another element of the offence).

The offence can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment (according to the seriousness of the misconduct).

 

 

 

 

 


Cabinet Office still blocking advice to Brown

by Chris Ames

In the Observer, Jamie Doward and I report that the government is still refusing to release the secret advice to Gordon Brown about setting up the inquiry, dispite Digest contributor Chris Lamb’s successful information tribunal appeal (and despite the Cabinet Office’s attempt to appeal to the upper tribunal being rejected).

The advice could show why the panel of privy counsellors was picked, why it was set up as a lessons learned inquiry and why it was unable to rule on the legality of war,

Chris Lamb is quoted in the article, as is Philippe Sands QC.


Damning procedures and claims but avoiding judgement on intentions and good faith

by Piers Robinson

The Chilcot Report has delivered severe criticisms of the way in which the British government took Britain to war in Iraq in 2003 and, in these early days following its publication, there has been widespread media criticism of Tony Blair as well as other officials. Chilcot has made clear that war was not the last resort at the point of invasion, that more time could and should have been given to the UN weapons inspections, that the way in which Blair established the legal basis for war was far from satisfactory, that planning for post invasion Iraq was inadequate and that Blair had failed to fully engage his cabinet and other officials in the decision making process. Criticisms of Blair seem likely to continue and to harden further in light of the report.

At the same time, the report pulls punches when it comes to the question of deception and manipulation, despite seeming to offer up evidence, or even confirmation, that the British public was misled by the Blair government and that bad faith was involved. As discussed here and here, two issues have dominated over the years; the first concerned the manipulation of intelligence in order to promote the impression that Iraq was a serious and current WMD threat; the second concerned whether Blair misled Parliament and the British people by claiming that the disarmament of Iraq, through peaceful means if possible, was his objective and not the removal of Saddam (regime change).

What have we learned from Chilcot about these two issues? On intelligence and WMD, the report has concluded, quite clearly, that fault lies with the intelligence services for allowing an exaggerated and misleading impression of the threat posed by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to be communicated to the public. Readmore..


Chilcot pulls his punches (again)

by Chris Ames

I’ve posted this piece on Comment is Free, covering much of the same ground as my initial response on Wednesday:

From the start I had low expectations of the Iraq Inquiry. Gordon Brown, who loved to fix things, asked a group of establishment figures to carry out a “lessons learned” inquiry that was not supposed to reach a finding on the legality of the 2003 invasion.

It’s a truism to which I’ve often resorted that the tendency of any establishment inquiry is to assume that, while mistakes were made, everyone acted in good faith and no one lied. Thus, after the Chilcot report was published this week, we had Blair crowing: there had been no lies; parliament and the cabinet had not been misled; there had been no secret commitment to war; intelligence had not been falsified; and the decision had been made in good faith.

This was Blair’s spin on what the report said. In fact, it avoided making any judgments that suggested Blair misled anyone. For me the key test was whether the inquiry would nail the lie that Blair was seeking to achieve a resolution of the issue of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction by peaceful means.

 

 


Brian Jones vindicated (again) over Report X

by Chris Ames

The late Dr Brian Jones, formerly of the Defence Intelligence Staff, was one of the people who encouraged me to set up the Digest and was then a valued contributor until his untimely death four and a half years ago.

Brian first came to public attention during the Hutton Inquiry, when he told of his colleagues’ concerns over the mysterious piece of intelligence (Report X) that was used to sex-up the dossier “by assertion” but was subsequently discredited.

The Iraq Inquiry tells pretty well the whole shameful story, beginning in Section 4.2, and it is a humiliation for former SIS/MI6 chief Richard Dearlove.

431. The SIS report of 11 September was used by Mr Scarlett and Mr Miller
in reaching key judgements about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons
capabilities included in the Government dossier published on 24 September.
432. Specifically it provided the assurance for the judgements that Iraq had:
• “continued to produce chemical and biological agents”;
• “military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons …”

But it is Section 4.3 that really exposes the farce:

130
In early October, questions were raised with SIS about the mention of glass containers in the 23 September 2002 report.47 It was pointed out that:

Glass containers were not typically used in chemical munitions; and that a popular movie (The Rock) had inaccurately depicted nerve agents being carried in glass beads or spheres.

Iraq had had difficulty in the 1980s obtaining a key precursor chemical for soman [a chemical agent].
131.
The questions about the use of glass containers for chemical agent and the similarity of the description to those portrayed in The Rock had been recognised by SIS.48 There were some precedents for the use of glass containers but the points would be pursued when further material became available.

Brian always argued that the report should be published to expose how weak the intelligence was. I heard aspects of this story from a former colleague of his.

A number of media outlets have had fun with the story, including  The Guardian, The Independent, the Mail and the BBC.

But we should remember, that Alastair Campbell, who was present when Dearlove told Tony Blair about the tall tale and agreed that it would be used to sex-up the dossier “by assertion”, played no part in sexing-up the dossier, which wasn’t sexed-up and didn’t have any intellignce improperly inserted.

 


Chilcot pulls his punches

by Chris Ames

There’s an awful lot to say about the Inquiry’s report but my initial response is that, however devastating it is in criticising the process that Tony Blair and others went through to take Britain into an avoidable and disastrous war, Chilcot did what every establishment inquiry always does and pulled his punches.

On each test of whether Blair acted in good faith, the report simply ducks the question.

It spells out story that shows that Blair signed up unconditionally for regime change but fails to point out that this was very different from what he said he was doing.

It simply refuses to question whether Blair really believed that the intelligence established beyond doubt that Iraq had WMD.

Most bizarrely, it refuses to make any finding on the period between 7 March 2003 and the start of the war, thereby avoiding addressing whether Blair’s blame the French strategy, on which Commons support for war was based, was a lie.

 


Chilcot “not afraid to criticise”

By Chris Ames

 

Sir John Chilcot has given an interview in advance of his report’s publication this morning.

I made very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behaviour which deserved criticism then we wouldn’t shy away from making it. And, indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that.

The Guardian has more on this.


The Night before Chilcot

by Chris Ames

The Iraq Inquiry website, which houses many documents to which this site links, is no longer available in its previous form  but carries the following statement:

As planned, this website has been suspended to allow the Inquiry to make the final preparations necessary for publication of The Report of the Iraq Inquiry on 6 July.

The updated website containing the Inquiry’s report and supporting documents will go live once Sir John Chilcot has finished his public statement on 6 July.

It is being reported that Sir John Chilcot will give his statement at 11am.

It’s important to remember that alongside the statement will be a great deal of previously unpublished evidence.

In the meantime, a few news organisations have handy guides to who’s who etc, incuding the BBC and the Guardian.

Finally, what will Chilcot say? My view is that it is inevitable that the report will conclude that Britain’s involvement in Iraq was a catastrophically bad idea, even without inadequate planning for the aftermath and inept handling of the occupation, was sold under a false premise, and happened because Tony Blair promised early on to support George Bush in seeking regime change, with WMD as a pretext.

How far it will go in saying that Blair lied (or misled people) as to his intentions and the strength of the intelligence remains to be seen, but establishment inquiries do have a habit of assuming that everyone acted in good faith, doing their best in a difficult situation etc, etc.

Any other predictions?