More from: Hearings

The FAC also want answers?

by Andrew Mason

From the Guardian ticker-tape:

Breaking news: Sir John Chilcot, chairman of Iraq war inquiry, to be summoned before the Commons foreign affairs committee to explain delay to report. More details soon…

Now updated:

Chilcot is to be summoned before MPs at Westminster to explain the delay to the publication, which has been denounced by senior politicians as “incomprehensible”.

Sir Richard Ottaway, chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, said there could be “no justification whatsoever” for the process dragging on as long as it has..

Ottoway said he had called Chilcot before the committee to “give him an opportunity to explain what stage of preparation of the report had reached and what obstacles remain before he can submit the report”. He has suggested that Chilcot appear before the committee within the next two weeks.


Ye ancient ghoste of impeachment

by Andrew Mason

Quite possibly, the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, read Simon Heffer’s Daily Mail piece published yesterday. Today, Sir Peter raised the same issue at Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons.

The process for impeachment of a high official (be they a peer or a commoner) has long been a statutory tool. First used in the Parliament of England in 1376 against William Latimer, 4th Baron Latimer, for the long string of crimes, this legal remedy fell out of use beyond the unsuccessful trial of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, the first Secretary of State for War, in 1806. According to the book ‘Royal Dukes’ by Roger Fulford (1933), it was said that Dundas was “so profoundly ignorant of war that he was not even conscious of his own ignorance.” One further attempt at impeachment was made in 1848, when Lord Palmerston was accused of having signed a secret treaty with Imperial Russia and of receiving monies from the Tsar.

However, Palmerston survived a vote in the House of Commons and the Lords did not hear the case.

In recent times (1967 and 1999) the question of the obsolescence of the impeachment procedure has been discussed. Despite this, in 2004 Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price attempted to move for the impeachment of Tony Blair for his role in involving Britain in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

At this time, Price consulted with the then Leader of the House of Commons, Peter Hain, as to whether the power to impeach was still available. Hain informed him that, based on the 1999 Joint Committee’s report, and with the advice of the Clerk of the House of Commons, that impeachment “effectively died with the advent of full responsible Parliamentary government.”

This situation arises because it is normally in the House of Lords that the case would be heard. The procedure used to be that the Lord Chancellor presided (or the Lord High Steward if the defendant was a peer) – but this was when the Lord Chancellor was both the Lords’ presiding officer and head of the judiciary of England and Wales.

Since both these roles were removed from that office by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which created the Lord Speaker to preside over the Lords and made the Lord Chief Justice head of the judiciary, it is not certain who would preside over an impeachment trial today.

If Parliament was not in session, then the trial could be conducted by a “Court of the Lord High Steward” instead of the House of Lords (even if the defendant was not a peer).

(The technical and legal differences between this court and the House of Lords are that in the House all of the peers are judges of both law and fact, whereas in the Court the Lord High Steward is the sole judge of law and the peers decide the facts only – this bearing in mind that the bishops are not entitled to sit and vote in the Court.)

Whilst no legislation has been produced to abolish the remedy of impeachment, and it is argued by some that it remains as part of British constitutional law, it would appear that other (quite likely considerably time-consuming) legislation would be required to bring this power into the modern age. In particular this could possibly require the re-establishment of a formal “Court of the Lord High Steward”; also the election of a suitable Lord High Steward in person. Alternately, a new mechanism in the House of Lords would have to be established whereby more than one judge could oversee the proceeding, namely the Lord Speaker and the Lord Chief Justice plus necessarily one other high-ranking Lord in order to form a decisive quorum.

Primary references:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Latimer,_4th_Baron_Latimer

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Dundas,_1st_Viscount_Melville


Francis Maude MP to appear before PASC

by Andrew Mason

As was recently reported here on the Digest in the posting Committee to ask questions, Bernard Jenkin MP, the chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, was quoted as stating (with regard to the delays that have beset the Iraq Inquiry) that:

“We may well call for the minister or indeed for the cabinet secretary to come and give us evidence to explain how they’re going to sort this out.”

The PASC has now announced that Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, will be appearing to give evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into Civil Service impartiality tomorrow morning, 11 June 2014, at 9:30 AM. The hearing is likely to be recorded and televised by the Parliament TV service, I will add a link in due course.

Update:

The link for viewing the hearing is as follows:

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15503

By default, the Parliament TV service uses the Microsoft Silverlight media player, there is a link to a Windows Media Player version on the same page.


The next big inquiry?

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)


Howard shoots Blair down under

by Chris Ames

In the ongoing debate in Australia about whether there should be an inquiry into that country’s participation in the invasion of Iraq, former PM John Howard is to make a speech defending his actions. A version of the speech is online on theaustralian.com website, with the predictable title Errors were made but we did not go to war on a lie.

The gist of Howard’s defence is this passage:

After the fall of Saddam, and when it became apparent that stockpiles of WMDs had not been found in Iraq, it was all too easy for certain people, who only months earlier has said Iraq had the weapons, to begin claiming that Australia had gone to war based on a lie.

That claim merits the most emphatic rejection. Not only does it impugn the integrity of the decision-making process at the highest level but also the professionalism and integrity of intelligence agencies here and elsewhere.

Some of their key assessments proved to be wrong, but that is a world away from those assessments being the product of deceit and/or political manipulation.

Intelligence assessments never produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. To illustrate, in his book The Finish, which deals with the killing of Osama bin Laden, Mark Bowden quotes CIA deputy director Michael Morell telling Barack Obama that he had spent a lot of time on both WMDs and the tracing of bin Laden to Abbottabad, “and I am telling you the case for WMDs wasn’t just stronger, it was much stronger”.

I’m not by any means familiar with what Howard’s government said about the certainty with which intelligence was said to show that Iraq had WMD but his line that “Intelligence assessments never produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” is a real shot somewhere painful for Tony Blair. Blair’s assertion in the September 2002 dossier that “assessed intelligence” had “established beyond doubt” that Iraq had WMD came in for criticism early in the Inquiry’s hearings from Sir John Chilcot, who said that the Butler review, of which he had been a member, “came to a view that it was not a statement it was possible to make on the basis of intelligence”.

The question that comes to mind is not so much why Howard believed this as a general rule while Blair didn’t, but why no-one told Blair that it wasn’t true in relation to Iraq, if indeed no-one did. When the issue was raised at JIC chairman John Scarlett’s first appearance at the Inquiry, Scarlett seemed to dodge the the issue, which wasn’t put to him directly anyway:

I’m not able to completely reconstruct the thought process, but my memory at the time quite clearly was this was something which was the Prime Minister’s and it was going out under his signature. So it was different from the attention that I paid to the wording of the dossier.

It’s worth recalling here that the main function of the JIC chairman is to make sure that ministers and the prime minister in particular have a good understanding of intelligence. Scarlett seems to be implying that he didn’t really notice what Blair was saying sufficiently to correct him, either for the sake of being accurate in public statements or so that he didn’t base his policy on a complete misconception. It says a lot about the Inquiry that this point wasn’t pressed. But then it says a lot about the Inquiry that Scarlett was never asked about his comment in March 2002 that having a dossier about Iraq only, as opposed to four countries with WMD programmes of concern, would  have “the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional”. Once you know that Scarlett said that, you know that from the outset he was happy for the dossier to mislead people about Iraq’s WMD.


Old evidence prompts new story

by Chris Ames

The story in today’s Independent on Sunday, Tony Blair and Iraq: The damning evidence is another one of those where it’s very difficult to know what is new and what isn’t. The main gist of the story, that

Hitherto unseen evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry by British intelligence has revealed that former prime minister Tony Blair was told that Iraq had, at most, only a trivial amount of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that Libya was in this respect a far greater threat.

is based on transcripts that have been on the Inquiry website for a long time and have been discussed on this website and elsewhere. In this piece in the Guardian Ian Black names witness SIS4 as Sir Mark Allen. Strangely, the Indy story does not identify SIS4, although it says that:

“Chilcot has the full story and it’s a very complex one,” a former senior MI6 officer, who would not be named, told The IoS.

The story also says of the Inquiry’s report that:

“This report will be absolutely damning on Blair’s style of government, the decision-making process and the planning and execution for its aftermath,” said a source close to the inquiry, speaking before the 10th anniversary on Tuesday of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue.


Statement on Blair/Bush FOI request status

by Andrew Mason

Whilst researching for a new post about Stephen Plowden’s FOIA first-tier tribunal appeal decision, which itself now appears to be the subject of a further appeal process by the FCO, I have just come across the following, which was published on 24 July:

Statement by Stephen Plowden

If the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) had not put in an application to appeal, they would have had to disclose the information to me by 20 June. They put in their application on 18 June, which was turned down on 26 June. However the FCO can make another application to appeal, this time by applying to a higher court, by 26 July. I am sure the FCO will make this application and will delay making it to the last possible moment.

I don’t know how long it will take for the application to be considered – perhaps a week or so as last time? My guess is that it will be turned down (I don’t think the FCO expect to succeed – they simply want to be able to say to the Americans “we tried our hardest”).

If I’m right, the document may be disclosed in early August. If I’m wrong and the appeal is heard, it will take months. I don’t have the right to appeal, since the appeal has to be on legal grounds and my arguments were on points of fact not law.

Perhaps all this will lead to a big row, which in turn will lead to a more comprehensive reform in the end.

I don’t think there would be any appetite for a truth committee at this point, but I do hope Parliament can be persuaded to reprimand Blair and Straw when we finally have the Chilcot report.

Stephen Plowden

As of last Friday (27th), Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian quietly – only 7 comments were made – reported that:

“The Foreign Office (FCO) is appealing against a judge’s ruling that extracts of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed.”

“The FCO has now sought leave to appeal against the decision with an “upper tribunal” made up of more senior judges, officials have told the Guardian.


Calls for Inquiry recall over Campbell claim

by Chris Ames

The Independent on Sunday reports that:

MPs demanded an emergency recall of the Chilcot inquiry last night after new revelations that Tony Blair blocked the Government’s most senior lawyer from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq.

The story is based on the new version of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, which apparently record that in March 2003:

 

TB also made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet, though it would have to happen at some time, and ministers would want to cross-examine. With the mood as it was, and with Robin [Cook] and Clare [Short] operating as they were, he knew if there was any nuance at all, they would be straight out saying the advice was that it was not legal, the AG was casting doubt on the legal basis for war. Peter Goldsmith was clear that though a lot depended on what happened, he was casting doubt in some circumstances and if Cabinet had to approve the policy of going to war, he had to be able to put the reality to them.

I haven’t bought or otherwise looked at Campbell’s latest moneyspinner and it is difficult to work out the context. The point is of course that this sort of revelation/claim should not be coming out now, given that the Inquiry should have got to the bottom of it. The IoS points out that at the Inquiry Goldsmith expressly denied that anyone had put such pressure on him. Here is the relevant extract:

SIR RODERIC LYNE: Before you went to Cabinet — I know I’m  going ahead a bit here — how was it decided that you would present the advice to Cabinet in the way that you presented it to Cabinet? Was it solely by you or was it by you in discussion with the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary or others?
RT HON LORD GOLDSMITH QC: No, this was really my decision, and the point for me was to decide what the — determine how to express my view to Parliament, and the Parliamentary answer then seemed to be a convenient way, as a framework really, for what I would then say to Cabinet about my view on legality.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: So no one at any stage asked you to restrict what you said to Cabinet to the fairly limited terms in which you presented this to Cabinet?
RT HON LORD GOLDSMITH QC: No

Amazingly, Campbell told the IoS that the two accounts were “entirely consistent”.  We already know that Goldsmith’s  account is untrue, a note of a meeting between Goldsmith and Straw on 13 March 2003 records that Goldsmith told Straw:

that he thought he might need to tell the Cabinet when it met on 17 March that the legal issues were finely balanced. The Foreign Secretary said that he needed to be aware of the problem of leaks from that Cabinet .

If the Inquiry does not address this, it will have no credibility at all.

 

 


Countdown to Iraq

by Andrew Mason

Alastair Campbell is scheduled to release Volume Four of his diaries on 20 June. This further edition, entitled ‘The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq’, is the final planned part of his series, although this new volume apparently indicates that he continued to keep a diary beyond 2003, the entries from which may be published at some point in the future.

The earlier volumes were ‘Prelude to Power: 1994-1997′; ‘Power and the People: May 1997 to June 1999′; and ‘Power and Responsibility: 1999 to (September 11) 2001′.

The official launch will be hosting by the Mile End Group at the Queen Mary University of London.

The publication of this part of the diaries was originally expected to have taken place at the end of last year. Whether or not the delays currently being experienced by the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry have also affected the timing of the release of this volume remains to be seen.


Reconstruction goes Pear Shaped in Iraq

Those Pear Shaped Comedy people have done another of their pages on the Inquiry, with some animations of transcripts – this time on the post-invasion situation and reconstruction efforts – and some commentary on the Inquiry’s policy of holding on to any newly declassified documents so that it can control what we learn when and contrive to make its own narrative or the Iraq story the dominant one.

More on that last point soon. In the meantime, here is the new Pear Shaped page.