Who is to blame then?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, April 16, 2014

by Chris Ames

I’ve posted a piece for Comment is Free covering this week’s back and forth over what might be holding up the Inquiry report. It starts by asking

Who wants to see the Iraq inquiry report published sometime soon? And who doesn’t?

and concludes

So maybe it is only Clegg who is in a hurry to see the Chilcot inquiry published, which is why no one should hold their breath.

Filed in Coverage

Blair: not me guv

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, April 14, 2014

by Chris Ames

The BBC has reported this evening that Nick Clegg has said that it is time to get on with publishing the Inquiry’s findings. Meanwhile, Tony Blair has taken some of Clegg’s comments as an attack on him and has had a go back.

This is what Clegg said, according to the BBC report, at his monthly press conference today:

 ”I can’t comment on exactly the reasons why, given that there was a lot of toing and froing about what is finally produced in published form in the report, exactly what the hold-up now is.

“This involves a lot of people, it involves a lot of legalities and of course deals with a very, very sensitive issue.

“But I really do hope now that everybody involved, including those who know they will be subject to renewed scrutiny within the Chilcot report, that they will now accept that it is just time to get this report published so that the record can be scrutinised in the most objective way possible.”

Mr Clegg also said: “This was one of the most momentous, in my view one of the most catastrophic decisions in British foreign policy – I would say the most catastrophic decision – since Suez.

“It is quite right that as a country we learn the lessons, we understand the truth and that those who might not like to be subject to further scrutiny subject themselves to the further scrutiny which will be included in the Chilcot report.”

Note that he has suggested twice, while claiming not to know “exactly what the hold-up now is”, that people who might be trying to avoid scrutiny are responsible for said hold-up. This could be a reference to Blair, or it could be a reference to the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood. But, according to a further report from the Independent, Blair has gone for the former interpretation:

In an angry response, a spokesman for Mr Blair said: “If Nick Clegg is implying Tony Blair is the reason for the delay that is completely wrong. Tony Blair has as much reason as anyone for wanting the report published.

“Not least because it gives him a chance to defend himself against Nick Clegg’s assertion that removing Saddam Hussein from power was ‘the most catastrophic decision since Suez’, whilst daily the consequences of inaction over Syria become ever more apparent.”

Returning to this morning’s Independent story, which very much looked at the ongoing delay from the point of view of the current Labour leadership, it says that:

Claims that a “compromise agreement” had been reached have proved to be mere optimism.

Or it may have been the Cabinet Office putting a positive spin on it, as it continues to do:

 ”The Cabinet Office has been in a constructive dialogue with the inquiry team over recent months, with a clear view to meeting their declassification requests.

“This has involved several thousand documents, subject only to ensuring that national security and foreign policy objectives are not compromised as provided for in the protocol agreed at the outset of the inquiry. That process should be concluded shortly.”

A classic use of the word should there, which as we all know, does not mean yes. But the Cabinet Office is partly right, Chilcot did at the outset give it complete control over what he could publish, as I noted at the time:

[the protocol] gives a long list of reasons why publication might be refused, the majority of which have nothing to do with “national security”. As with the Freedom of Information Act, if ministers and officials want to suppress something, they are spoilt for choice. And they have an absolute veto. In the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved, “the inquiry shall not release that information into the public domain.”

There does seem to be a wide gap between the Cabinet Office saying that things are progressing and the Inquiry sources quoted in the Independent as saying that the process remains stalled. Who knows what the truth is?




Filed in Process, Secrecy

No report for another year?

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Monday, April 14, 2014

by Andrew Mason

The Independent is this morning reporting that the Iraq Inquiry may not be able to report for another year.

The Independent has been told that discussions between the inquiry and the Cabinet Office remain deadlocked, and a year-long stand-off is now unlikely to be resolved before the current parliamentary session ends. Even if a deal were reached over the summer recess, legal protocols and procedures would push the Iraq report’s publication into the spring of next year.


A spokesman for the Chilcot inquiry confirmed that progress on disclosure and discussions aimed at declassifying “sensitive categories of material” remained stalled. He also confirmed that the “Maxwellisation phase” had yet to begin.

Filed in Issues, Process

Still no wiser about knowing the unknowns

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Sunday, April 13, 2014

by Andrew Mason

Most regular readers here will be aware of the recent wider US and international release of documentary maker Errol Morris’ film “The Unknown Known”. This production, filmed in 2013 partly by means of the director’s own ‘Interrotron’ projection technique, is largely an extended interview with former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The movie was constructed around 30+ hours of conversation, conducted over the course of 11 days.

This work has already met with fairly critical reviews mostly due to Rumsfeld’s seemingly simplistic, or perhaps somewhat slippery, evasiveness. Rupert Cornwell, writing today for Independent Voices, continues this analysis, variously describing the film as “fascinating stuff” whilst also calling it “unsatisfying and ultimately disappointing”. He continues his appraisal by writing that: “The end product is an old emptiness”.

The following is an insightful interview with the director, conducted by Homi Bhahba of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, following an early November 2013 US screening:

Continuing UK screening of the film are listed on documentary distributor Dogwoof’s website at the following link:


A short trailer for the production is also available at the same link.

Filed in Evidence, Iraq Planning, Issues, Process

The next big inquiry?

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014

by Andrew Mason

In response to a recent comment in another thread with regard to Afghanistan being added to the Chilcot ‘lessons learned’ probe, I wrote:

“There will have to be (probably will be) another inquiry for that one.”

A quick search for any significant official suggestion of a more wide-ranging inquiry into British participation in the Afghanistan theatre of operations reveals the following from the transcripts of the Defence Select Committee’s recent hearings in connection with its own ongoing Afghanistan inquiry, which is currently looking at progress towards withdrawal of UK troops and post-2014 involvement in Afghanistan.

From the second witness session, which took place on Wednesday 12 March this year, when evidence was given by the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP (Secretary of State for Defence) and Lieutenant-General James Everard CBE (Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (Military Strategy and Operations) Ministry of Defence):

(N.B. my highlighting)

(Members present: Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair); Mr Julian Brazier; Mr James Gray; Mr Dai Havard; Mrs Madeleine Moon; Bob Stewart; Ms Gisela Stuart; Derek Twigg; John Woodcock.)

Chair: The final set of questions is by no means the least important. You could say that, at his stage of the campaign, these questions are the most important because they are about lessons and history.

Q187 Mr Brazier: In your response to our last report, you assured us that you will always seek to learn and capture lessons from current operations. What plans do you have for a comprehensive review of our involvement in Afghanistan?

Mr Hammond: First of all, as I think we said when we discussed this before, the military constantly seeks to learn lessons. As has become clear from the review of the Bastion attack, lessons are learned through a variety of methods. Some of those methods are designed to deliver very quick and dirty conclusions that can be acted on pretty much immediately; and other methods are longer processes that are designed to deliver medium-term solutions and responses. Once the campaign is over, it will clearly be appropriate to look at a strategic level across the campaign as a whole to see what lessons need to be learned in addition to those thrown up by the short-term and medium-term processes. I would expect that we would do that, but the time to do it will be when the campaign is completed.

Q188 Mr Brazier: Understood. I will come back in a second to the short to medium-term stuff. The Chilcot inquiry has been looking in Iraq at the question of how we got the story about weapons of mass destruction. Looking for a moment at the strategic level and the decision to go into Helmand, are we actually going to ask whether there really was an al-Qaeda threat when we went in? We see all these allegations from some very well-informed sources that the main source of manpower for the Taliban were the people who worked for the governor whom we sacked when we arrived.

In an earlier report, we commented on the curious way in which we went, in 2006, from a relatively modest involvement in a campaign which appeared to have been a success—it certainly got rid of the immediate Taliban presence in the capital and surroundings—to suddenly a major war on the ground in a province for which we clearly were not equipped or trained. You were not Secretary of State then, but are we going to be looking at the big picture? Will we be asking the difficult questions on this?

Mr Hammond: We have not yet, unless someone tells me to the contrary, scoped any terms of reference for any future review of the campaign. This would be a matter that needed to be scoped as terms of reference.

Q189 Mr Brazier: Do you think that we will look at what happened in 2006 and how we got involved in the fighting in Helmand?

Mr Hammond: Can I suggest that perhaps the Committee might like to make recommendations about what it thinks should be covered in a post-campaign review? I am sure that such recommendations would be very much welcomed.

Mr Brazier: Thank you. That is a constructive point. Coming on to—

Q190 Chair: Before you do, why do you think it is inappropriate to learn lessons or to set in place a mechanism for learning lessons as you go along?

Mr Hammond: I don’t. We have mechanisms for learning lessons as we go along, both very short, reactive lessons—post the Bastion attack and things that can be done in a matter of days—and more medium-term lesson learning from the campaign as it is in progress. I thought the question I was being asked was whether we have a plan for a more strategic, Chilcot-style review of the big strategic decisions that took place in the campaign. My answer to that is that no decision has been made, but I assume that we will want to look at those things, and the scope of exactly what we will look at has not yet been defined.

(© Crown)

Filed in Hearings, Process

Ukrainian parallels with the earlier Iraq situation

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Sunday, March 2, 2014

by Dr Christopher Lamb

The following are two substantive viewpoints by regular contributor Dr Chris Lamb concerning the present situation in the Ukraine, which had previously been posted in the comment section of the last thread. Given the potential severity of this crisis, we have brought these forward to form a new topic here at the Digest.

As the crisis deepens in the Ukraine, a few observations might be made concerning developments. The warning from earlier in the week by Sue Rice of the Obama administration and by Barack Obama yesterday that Russia should respect the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine (Article 2 of the UN Charter) displays a fair amount of hypocrisy from a power which breached precisely that Article in invading Iraq in 2003. The UK has made similar noises and is open to charges of hypocrisy for the same reasons. It seems that to some state powers international law can be applied selectively and be observed by other powers in their dealings with critical situations and not themselves.

The precedent laid by the 2003 Iraq invasion whereby international law was breached and state leaders concerned seem to have got away with it increases the difficulty of insisting that these laws should be obeyed in future by state powers.

Another issue concerns the capacity of the UN Security Council in this crisis to be a strictly impartial mediator given that at least three of the Permanent Five members have preconceived positions and/or direct interests in the confrontation, how it came about and, no doubt, how it should be resolved.

There is no doubt that the US has played an overt and covert role in provoking the movement to cede from the Russian Federation and join the EU. (Witness the involvement of neo-con Senator John McCain). The UK has also played a role.

Here is a link to an event of last September sponsored by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation (a funder of the Tony Blair Foundation) that looks forward to Ukraine splitting off from Russia:


Russia also has an interest in what the outcome of the crisis should be. At the recent crisis session called of the UN, Russia has come out against a forced mediation of what should happen in the Crimea, probably for the reason that the impartiality of the Security Council cannot be relied upon.

The most recent developments concerning the Ukraine cast the 2003 invasion of Iraq in an even more ironic perspective. Obama has accused the Russians of a ‘crime of aggression’ in invading Ukraine and calls upon Putin to withdrawal Russian forces while Putin appears to be invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter as justification for Russian actions in defending the ethnic Russian interest in the Crimea. The leader of the ‘Autonomous Republic of the Crimea’ (recognized in the 2004 Ukrainian constitution) has called upon Russia for assistance.

It becomes more untenable for the US to claim the high moral ground about a ‘crime of aggression’ without an admission that the 2003 Iraq invasion constituted just such a ‘crime of aggression’ as adjudged under the terms of the UN Charter.

The question also needs to be raised about the legitimacy of the government now sitting in Kiev in terms of the Ukrainian constitution. On the eve of the ousting of Yanukovych an Accord was agreed – mediators including Russia, France, Germany and Poland as well as Ukraine – and signed that there would be a swift return to the 2004 constitution with amendments severely restricting powers of the President and establish within ten days a ‘government of national trust’. That seems to have been jettisoned. The role of the Ukrainian extreme right both in the coup against Yanukovych and in the current Kiev government needs serious examination.

Here is an interesting link on that question:


If Putin is invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter for Russia’s actions, this needs serious examination by the UN. Article 138 Section 7 of the 2004 Ukraine constitution, specifying powers of the ‘Autonomous Republic of Crimea’, gives it the competence of ‘participating in ensuring the rights and freedoms of citizens, national harmony and promotion of the protection of legal order and public security’. If ethnic Russians feel threatened an appeal to Russia for help would seem legitimate under that competence.

The international community also needs to examine the tenability of Ukraine’s expanded borders since 1954 given the critical circumstances that have arisen. The Crimea was given to the Ukraine as a (possibly impulsive) gift by Khrushchev in 1954 without evidence of consulting its majority Russian population beforehand. We have seen with Syria and Iraq how the imposition of entirely arbitrary and inappropriate borders to these countries by outside forces have strongly contributed to a history of ethnic and sectarian unrest and conflict unresolved even after a century.

Filed in Opinion

Lord Owen on hubris

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Saturday, February 22, 2014

by Andrew Mason

An interesting interview with Lord (David) Owen was published just over a week ago on The Conversation website. The main theme is about the effects of power on personality. As a case-in-point he discusses Tony Blair’s susceptibility to what he personally terms to be a “Hubris Syndrome”.

Blair and the Iraq disaster

Owen is at pains to point out that these are not pre-existing personality problems, genetically endowed, which have caused hubris.

“These are changes in behaviour and demeanour,” he tells me. “Take Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, both of whom won three elections in a row before being thrown out by their own MPs. Every person you talk to involved with them point to a change in personality which happened after they had held power for several years. Thatcher was not always hubristic.”

A gently spoken and warm man, Owen’s voice sharpens when he talks about former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“Blair’s personality change came with Kosovo – all these television pictures of him surrounded by cheering troops …”

I ask what the greatest disaster caused by this hubris syndrome was in recent times.

“The Iraq War … I think Bush in a way got hubris too – I mean he used to write about a ‘modest foreign policy’. We don’t know what will happen but if it is the nexus for a Sunni-Shiite war – which might be the history of the next 100 years … it’s far worse than Suez as a foreign policy mistake.”

“I supported it …” he adds quickly. “This guy lied to me. I had two meetings with Blair in identical circumstances. It was in Downing Street, with our wives, the four of us. The second was in June 2002 and it was clear he had decided to go to war. I asked him whether in Iraq nuclear weapons were being built and he replied ‘yes’; Chemical weapons? – ‘Yes,’ he told me. No qualification or doubt. I now know what he had been told in intelligence reports in the weeks before he met me and that he should have told me that the intelligence was far from conclusive.”

Owen continues: “Lloyd George and Neville Chamberlain both had hubris syndrome, as did Generals Patton and McArthur … McArthur lied about the intelligence, claiming the Chinese were already in North Korea because he wanted to use nuclear weapons.”

“Contempt is the classic sign of hubris – like Patton kicking up the arse the two soldiers in hospital in Sicily … and the total contempt which both Thatcher and Blair had for their cabinets.”

“If people say, ‘it takes one to know one’, I don’t dispute that. I believe that I have hubris in my own character and I think many politicians do. But I believe it is in every walk of life and the general public have a way of knowing it.”

(The interview was conducted by Ian H Robertson, Professor of Psychology at Trinity College, Dublin.)
(CC BY-ND 4.0)

Filed in Issues, Opinion

The Lords in Waiting

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

by Chris Ames

Yesterday’s House of Lords debate on the reasons for the delay to the Inquiry threw up some interesting comments, some of them better informed than others. It may have ended with a promise from a government whip that he would try to move things along.

The debate was initiated by Lord Morris, a former Labour attorney general. His contribution was pretty perceptive, including the ability to spot the sort of non answers that ministers frequently think it clever to give, even in 2014:

Public inquiries are set up to deal with public disquiet, to establish facts and to learn lessons. Not to publish is to undermine the whole object. Delay is unjust and justice to the public is denied. In January, in a Written Answer, Francis Maude said that,

“the completion of its report is a matter for the Inquiry Committee”.

Later in the month, he said:

“The Iraq Inquiry has been provided with all of the documents it has requested”.

Your Lordships may consider, from the very tight drafting of both answers, that they are less than frank.

There was then a less than helpful contribution from Lord (Donald) Anderson, the man who fixed the 2003 Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry on behalf of the Labour Government and allowed Jack Straw to conceal the involvement of four government spin doctors in the drafting of the September 2002 dossier. Anderson’s most insightful comment was that:

The inquiry is unlikely to find a smoking gun and it has said in terms that it will not apportion blame.

It’s a fascinating comment on the determination of an establishment enquiry to see no evil. Although the Inquiry has not said in terms that it will not apportion blame.

A particularly ill-informed comment came from former No 10 apparatchik Lord (Roger) Liddle, who said:

I think one of these questions has already been sorted out: the question about dealing with the use of intelligence, and the worries as to whether disclosure of anything to do with intelligence compromises sources. I should like the Government to confirm what I think to be the position: that in the case of Iraq those questions were sorted out in the Butler inquiry in 2004, and that there are no new intelligence issues arising in the case of Chilcot.

Liddle doesn’t appear to have noticed that Lord Butler told BBC’s Panorama last year that his inquiry was not told about two intelligence reports from high ranking Iraqi officials, both stating that Iraq no longer had WMD. Or rather, that inquiry was given paperwork about one of them but failed to notice.

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government was whip Lord (William) Wallace, who has the laughable but perhaps appropriate title of Lord in Waiting, although his final comment suggested that he may have rather less patience than that would suggest:

I assure the House that a large number of officials are working through those issues. The Chilcot inquiry and its four active members are still at work, and we very much hope to publish the final report within the foreseeable future. I will be pushing for that future to be as foreseeable as it can be.

Filed in Coverage, Issues

Seeing is believing

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014

by Chris Ames

In the Sunday Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan uses the recent failed attempt at a citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair to argue that the Inquiry could slap metaphorical “cuffs” on Tony Blair:

as Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq inquiry shows signs of at last creaking to a close, could it be the former civil servant who finally slaps the metaphorical cuffs on Mr Blair? Ten years to the week after the first official Iraq investigation, by Lord Hutton, was published, it seems clear that this one will be more critical. Key figures in the debacle are showing distinct signs of nervousness.

Gilligan’s argument, supported by a quote (“I’ll believe it when I see it”) from myself at the bottom of the piece, is that criticism from former cabinet secretaries Lord Turnbull and Lord Wilson of the way that Blair left his cabinet almost as much in the dark as the rest of us could allow Chilcot to be very critical.

Wilson was the Cabinet Secretary when Blair sent his much discussed but still suppressed note to George Bush in July 2002. Here is what Turnbull told the Inquiry about Wilson’s comment that Blair had a gleam in his eye at the time.

What Richard Wilson said — this is the phrase he in his valedictory meeting, bilateral with the Prime Minister said, “I can see there is a gleam in your eye”. What I think he meant was there was rather more than a gleam in his eye. Had Richard known now, for example, about the Note on Iraq, “You can count on us whatever”, and the subsequent telephone call with Bush,  I don’t think he would have described it as a gleam.

Filed in Coverage, Opinion

More spin from Blair

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014

By Chris Ames

When Tony Blair was in power, no journalist was better at disseminating his spin than the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour. In a piece in today’s paper by Wintour, Blair again has a free hit at damage limitation in advance of the inquiry report.

Ministers are also bracing themselves for strong criticism, probably this summer, by the marathon inquiry conducted by Sir John Chilcott (sic) over the UK’s conduct in the run- up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Tony Blair has admitted to political allies that he expects it to be revealed that he gave George W Bush strong unequivocal support at a private summit in Texas in April 2002, well before the attack on Iraq, but will point to the fact that he was given an opportunity to draw back from the invasion.

Is this the first hint from Blair that he will reject the Inquiry’s findings?

The main thrust of the piece is that senior military figures say the British public no longer has the appetite for foreign wars on the scale of the Iraq invasion, which makes you wonder how useful the Inquiry’s lessons learned will be.

Filed in Coverage, Uncategorized