by Chris Ames
It has to be said that not everyone thinks that the Inquiry should be able to publish all the documents that it thinks will support its findings. The Independent’s John Rentoul protesteth quite a lot that Blair’s secret conversations should remain secret, even though/because what Blair said secretly was the same as he said publicly.
But Rentoul has quite a knack of stabbing Blair in the back while trying to support him. Yesterday he claimed that:
The second assumption behind today’s story, though, is more fundamental. It is that, by a secret handshake, or an encrypted message in the presidential toothpaste, Blair secretly agreed that the UK would take part in military action in Iraq. The important word in today’s report is “covert”, as The Independent claims that the draft Chilcot report is “highly critical of the covert way in which Mr Blair committed British troops to the US-led invasion”.
It would be surprising if the Chilcot report criticised Blair on those grounds, given his public support for US action against Saddam Hussein, should it prove necessary, for more than a year before the invasion, and given his need to secure the approval of the Cabinet and the House of Commons.
We’ll put aside the fact that Blair did not “need” to secure the approval of the Commons but chose to do so. What is more telling about Rentoul’s words here is the way he defines the way that Blair publicly set out his policy as “support for US action against Saddam Hussein, should it prove necessary”. Oh dear, he really doesn’t get it.
People who suspect that Blair said something different in public from what he said in secret believe that Blair told Bush that he would support US action against Iraq, should Bush decide to take such action. Or as Rentoul has pointed out:
we know what one of the notes said, at the end of June 2002, because it was in Andrew Rawnsley’s book:
You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.
If Rentoul doesn’t understand the difference between backing war “should it prove necessary” and backing war because it is what Bush has decided to do, he should perhaps leave the debate to those who do.
By Chris Ames
The Independent reports that:
Washington is playing the lead role in delaying the publication of the long-awaited report into how Britain went to war with Iraq,
Although the Cabinet Office has been under fire for stalling the progress of the four-year Iraq Inquiry by Sir John Chilcot, senior diplomatic sources in the US and Whitehall indicated that it is officials in the White House and the US Department of State who have refused to sanction any declassification of critical pre- and post-war communications between George W Bush and Tony Blair.
Without permission from the US government, David Cameron faces the politically embarrassing situation of having to block evidence, on Washington’s orders, from being included in the report of an expensive and lengthy British inquiry.
On the issue of what the Inquiry might do about it, the paper says:
The authors are facing difficult choices forced on them by Washington and the Cabinet Office’s desire not to upset the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and the US. They may deliver a neutered report in spring next year which would effectively absolve Mr Blair of any serious policy failures – because there would be no clear evidence contained in the report to back up such direct criticism. Another possibility is that the report will be so heavily redacted as to be rendered meaningless and hence a waste of almost £8m of British taxpayers’ money.
Meanwhile, the BBC, being an organ of the state, concentrates on the goverment’s denials:
The US has no veto over the disclosure of communications between Tony Blair and George W Bush regarding war with Iraq, the Cabinet Office has said.
… describing such exchanges as a “particularly privileged channel of communication”, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Any suggestion that the US has a veto is wrong.
“The government is currently engaged in discussions with the Inquiry.
“All sides recognise that this raises difficult issues involving legal and international relations considerations.”
Members of Tony Blair’s Cabinet were “deliberately” excluded from seeing key documents drawn up by officials examining the case for war against Iraq, a former head of the Civil Service has claimed.
Lord Butler, who led the Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction in the aftermath of the invasion, said there was no shortage of “very good” information available to help ministers evaluate the case for war in 2003.
But in remarks to a Foreign Office seminar, Lord Butler suggested that the former Prime Minister had intentionally kept the documents away from the majority of the Cabinet. “A lot of very good official papers were prepared,” he said. “None was ever circulated to the Cabinet, just as the Attorney General’s advice [on the legality of the war] was not circulated to the Cabinet.
The BBC follows the Mail and Times in reporting that
The UK’s top civil servant should no longer have responsibility for deciding which documents sought by the Iraq Inquiry should be declassified, a former foreign secretary has said.
Lord Owen said Sir Jeremy Heywood should not be the final “arbiter” because he worked closely with Tony Blair ahead of the 2003 invasion
The Lord Chancellor should decide on behalf of the government, he added.
The BBC wrongly states that this is dispute over “access to key material”.
According to the Mail:
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The Inquiry and Government agreed in the Inquiry’s Documents Protocol that the Cabinet Secretary should be the final arbiter of declassification – that remains unchanged and has the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister’s full support.
Of course, in the never never land of the establishment, no-one ever has a conflict of interest. Not never.
by Chris Ames
In an editorial, the Observer suggests a way forward over the government’s refusal to allow it to publish the information that it believes is crucial to its account of events, which is also holding up the “Maxwellisation” process:
But while Chilcot should be applauded for his efforts to get to the bottom of the affair, it should be noted that he does have options available to him. If Heywood will not release the material requested, Sir John should set his own firm deadline for publication and for beginning the Maxwellisation process, under which those who might be criticised are warned by letter in advance. In doing so, he should warn that, lacking the full facts, he will be forced to draw his conclusions from details already in the public domain, including in memoirs and accounts of the run-up to the war, of how people behaved, what promises might have been made and where culpability resides. Thereby, he can lay down a challenge to those, foremost among them Blair, who could publicly insist, as Brown has done, that his correspondence be released if he believes he has really nothing to hide.
Is this the way forward? I can’t see how it would help. The Inquiry’s problem is not a lack of evidence on which to draw conclusions but that it does not believe it can convince the public of its conclusions without being able to put reliable evidence in front of us. “Memoirs and accounts of the run-up to the war” are not reliable evidence.
Once again, we return to John Rentoul’s claim that:
we know what one of the notes [from Blair to Bush] said, at the end of June 2002, because it was in Andrew Rawnsley’s book:
You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I’m with you.
This is how the Inquiry dealt with it:
SIR JOHN CHILCOT: The Andrew Rawnsley book quotes you saying at about the end of July, so it must be the same event, Rawnsley quotes you as saying, having said to President Bush, quoting from Rawnsley, quoting you: “You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I am with you.” Is that about right?
THE RT. HON. TONY BLAIR: No, it is not what I said. What I said is what I said in the note, and with the greatest respect to Andrew Rawnsley I don’t think he was present at the meeting.
So how does it help to base your conclusions on something that Blair will simply deny? Does it get us any further forward if Blair fails to take up a challenge to publish the information that disproves it?
Incidentally, I’m still waiting for Rentoul to admit that maybe we don’t “know” what was in the note – or assert in the alternative that Blair was lying by denying something that we all “know”.
by Chris Ames
The admirable Peter Oborne has an excellent piece on the Telegraph site, drawing attention to blatant conflict of interest held by Jeremy Heywood.
… Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is blocking the publication of correspondence between George W Bush and Tony Blair ahead of the Iraq War, together with later correspondence between Gordon Brown and Mr Bush – thus effectively stalling the already heavily delayed Iraq Inquiry.
No security issues are at stake. The blocking of the correspondence between Downing Street and the White House is an affront to democracy and prevents us from forming a judgment about the most disastrous war in recent British history. Sir Jeremy Heywood should now be removed from all decisions relating to the Iraq Inquiry, because he was himself deeply involved in the flawed government process in the run-up to and after the invasion of Iraq.
Sir Jeremy was appointed Tony Blair’s principal private secretary in 1999. Within a short space of time (as his senior colleagues have told me in detail) he became an intrinsic part of the collapse of the process of government which took place after 1997.
As Sir Robin Butler graphically described, the principles of sound, accountable administration were abandoned and replaced by “sofa government”. Decisions were made informally by a small coterie including Blair, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Anji Hunter. Sir Jeremy was the only civil servant who was granted full access to the sofa.
Oborne points out that it was Heywood’s job to produce minutes that were never taken and concludes:
David Cameron must now urgently intervene to strip Sir Jeremy of his role, and take control of the decision himself. If he fails to do this, the Prime Minister himself risks becoming complicit in what now looks more and more like a giant cover-up involving elements of the British establishment and political class to prevent the truth becoming known about how we became involved in the Iraq War.
It’s hard to argue with any of that, when all is said and done.
by Chris Ames
The Inquiry has posted a letter from Sir John Chilcot to David Cameron, explaining that it can make no further progress towards publishing its report because officials have still not allowed it to publish the evidence on which it intends to rely. Here is the explanation on the Inquiry website.
The Inquiry has today published an update on its progress that Sir John Chilcot sent to the Prime Minister on Monday 4 November. As the letter explains, the Inquiry’s ability to begin the ‘Maxwellisation’ process, during which it will send the detail of its provisional criticisms to relevant individuals, is dependent on the satisfactory completion of discussions between the Inquiry and the Government on disclosure of material that the Inquiry wishes to include in its report or publish alongside it.
Since June this year the Inquiry has submitted ten requests covering some 200 Cabinet-level discussions, 25 Notes from Mr Blair to President Bush and more than 130 records of conversations between either Mr Blair or Mr Brown and President Bush. The Inquiry Secretariat has responded to a number of Cabinet Office questions on those requests, but the Government and the Inquiry have not reached a final position on the disclosure of these more difficult categories of document.
The Inquiry is therefore not yet able to confirm when it will be in a position to commence the ‘Maxwellisation’ process.
In response, Cameron has hinted that the Inquiry has given officials quite a lot to do, by asking for “thousands” of documents to be declassified, “including many hundreds since the summer”. But Chilcot seems to be pointing out that the problem is really only over the controversial stuff and that the government is not stalling over the less “difficult” categories. He says that the delay is “regrettable”, which is what passes for criticism in the world of the establishment, from which Chilcot comes.
The Guardian reports the story here. It points out that the row over revealing what Blair said to Bush has been going on for a long, long time, and the Inquiry itself for even longer.
by Chris Ames
The announcement that Jack Straw is to stand down from parliament at the next election has prompted speculation from some quarters that he is anticipating criticism from the Inquiry, when it eventually publishes its report.
The Daily Mail’s Black Dog resorts to the anonymous comment to float the idea:
Not all Labour MPs hurried to eulogise ex-Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, 67, who has surprised Westminster by saying he will quit politics at the next Election.
A senior Left-wing MP, recalling Straw’s role in the Iraq War, muttered: ‘I wonder if Jack’s early announcement is connected with the fact that the Chilcot Inquiry into Iraq is coming soon, is likely to castigate him and he wants to go before he’s pushed?’
Meanwhile, the Independent’s Matthew Norman addresses the issue with a bit of irony:
What brooks no debate is this: Jack’s retirement has nothing to do with fears that he will be lacerated by the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraqi calamity, which is expected to report next year.
by Andrew Mason
With three new ‘dossiers’ on Syrian WMD capabilities now published, all saying much the same thing and none providing any hard evidence of Bashar al-Assad’s direct involvement in the August 21 chemical incidents in the Ghouta district of Damascus, it is probably worth revisiting one particular previous US claim about the existence of a number of ‘smoking guns’ – in other words prima facie evidence strongly suggesting implied proof of the case that the US wanted to make.
In February 2003 US Secretary of State Colin Powell played and then translated (from Arabic) to a plenary session of the United Nations Security Council parts of the content of three intercepted conversations between Iraqi military officers discussing what was said to be WMD concealment efforts involving a ‘modified’ vehicle, nerve agent and ‘forbidden ammo’. This third claim, actually the second chronologically in the speech, was not a verbatim report of what had actually been said.
Powell not only did not place this communication into proper context, whereby the Iraqi authorities, as part of their increasingly proactive efforts to account for any remaining proscribed weapons, had just agreed with UN inspectors that they would search their vast ammunition dumps for lost, stray, or otherwise empty chemical warheads which had been left over from previous wars, he also added fictitious detail into his version of the transcript to make it sound far more incriminating towards the Iraqi regime, in so far as this then allowed for the possibility that such weapons had been at some point deliberately retained.
Read the rest of this entry »
by Andrew Mason
As has already been noted in the comment section of the last thread, the Independent is today reporting that, according to Inquiry sources, the delivery of a final draft anytime this year is now “highly unlikely.”
This report adds little else to pre-existing knowledge about the Inquiry process, other than mentioning some ‘new’ material being supplied by Gordon Brown and President Obama, which has now also been examined.
It does though state that the well-known about and on-going disclosure issues linked to protected correspondence actually relate to three US presidents, namely Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama. Previously, it was generally understood that this matter only concerned communications between Tony Blair and Bush.
by Andrew Mason
With outside military action seemingly becoming more likely as a result of the counter-claimed chemical weapons usage by one side or the other in the ongoing Syrian crisis, it is also rapidly becoming more obvious that the lessons to be drawn from the outcome of the Chilcot Inquiry need to learned as a matter of priority.
John Kampfner, writing on Sunday for the Guardian, brings this into sharp focus:
Where, one might reasonably ask, is that elusive Chilcot report? The refusal to publish it, until all those involved are a distant memory, reinforces the view that the spooks and the politicians do not want the full truth to come out.
Kampfner appears to be of the opinion that it is the Syrian regime who are the guilty party in the escalation towards the apparent larger deployment of non-conventional weaponry:
President Bashar al-Assad is likely to have calculated that he can get away with gassing his civilian population, because of what happened a decade ago with Saddam Hussein and his elusive weapons of mass destruction.
Binoy Kampmark, writing for Counterpunch, adopts a more neutral stance:
An empirical approach is required as to whether chemical weapons were used, and by whom. It was precisely that which proved conspicuously absent when it came to finding “evidence” of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. War is undesirable; war by fraud, even more so.
The Independent’s Patrick Cockburn acknowledges that the case against the Syrian government is now stronger than ever before, but also carefully notes that other involved parties all have considerable vested interests in unseating al-Assad’s regime.
The action by the Syrian government most likely to push an unwilling White House into military involvement has been the open use of chemical weapons against civilians. Damascus has furiously denied in the past that it had done so and proof has been lacking. Rebel accusations might have been fabricated and claims by Western governments were tainted by propaganda…
…So it is difficult to think of any action by the Damascus government more self-destructive than the Syrian army launching a massive chemical-weapons attack on rebel-held districts in its own capital. Yet the evidence is piling up that this is exactly what happened last Wednesday and that the Syrian army fired rockets or shells containing poison gas which killed hundreds of people in the east of the city. The opposition may be capable of manufacturing evidence of government atrocities, but it is highly unlikely it could do so on such a large scale as this.