Live Blog – 18 January 2010

Monday 18 January 2010

(There was one evidence session today, scheduled for 14:00 – 17:00.)

Topic: (The inquiry now only lists witnesses by relevant role, rather than by topic area.)

Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, 2001 – 2007

This afternoon’s hearing, as it happened

Today’s witness is Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff to Tony Blair, 2001 – 2007, speaking from 2pm – 5pm.

17.21 Chairman closes session.

17.20 BP – Blair/Bush commitment – why Fern interview? No conflict between positions. JC – is it possible to measure success by views of the public? Again it will take 10-15 years but it is Iraqi opinion that will count.

17.15 RL – re breakdown of order etc – if strategy had been subjected to more stress testing would we have been able to anticipate this better? JP – Different opinions were evident, but it wasn’t foreseen on the scale that occurred.

17.09 Final qns. JC – legality – previous answer repeated. LF – troop numbers? JP – Rumsfeld wanted minimum numbers. LF – Fallujah? PM was concerned and didn’t want it doing that way. Abu Ghraib – Any awareness that this was going to hit headlines? JP – No – was horrified by it. It undermined what we trying to achieve. PM demanded to go back on war footing to resolve these issues.

17.02 JC – were violent scenarios not foreseeable? JP – politicians are not in a position to judge troop numbers to maintain security. There were overly optimistic individuals both in US and UK. Bremer had right objectives but it was a mistake to go so far with de-Ba’athification. It terms of the Iraqi army, it largely ran away, but salaries should have been maintained.

16.54 MG – public opinion? JP – they thought it was hopeless because it had taken so long. MG – later period – relative priority between Afghanistan and Iraq? JP – important not to take eyes of Afghanistan. We did our best in Basra but this was a different problem to Baghdad. Assesses as too early to know overall success – will take 10 or 15 years to judge.

16.48 JP – US was reluctant to talk with those who had “blood on hands”, but NI showed that this was necessary. Final success only came later with the ‘charge of the knights’.

16.45 JP – it was a mistake to leave the planning with DoD. MG – what could you do to take planning mechanism forwards? JP – Machinery could have been better but security in Iraq was the main problem. Papers show frustration with situation. The scale of violence was not anticipated. Al Q and Iran made things much worse.

16.39 MG – re aftermath planning. JP – planning was for various scenarios which didn’t occur, apart from uprisings.

16.37 Full version was not debated, nor was it for the Iraq 98/Kosovo situations.

16.36 JP – AG asked for definitive view on 11 Mar (if not before). Cannot recall content of earlier meetings. JC – emphasises strength of burden. JP – agrees. Was present at Cabinet meeting. Recalls simply being able to read advise rather than discuss.

16.32 JP – PM set out reasons for politically wide UN coalition for support of R.1441. These were set out in writing. JC – 7 March advise was for “reasonable case”.

16.27 JC – Qns on legal advice. JP – I’m no lawyer but happy to answer qns. This was uppermost in minds. 19 July prep for 23 July meeting – Attorney General set out advice. No base without UN track.

(Andrew Mason taking over blog)

16.10 Freedman how importance military concerns were to timetable/deadline? It was certainly a factor Bush put to us on 5 March when we were asking for 9 more weeks. Freedman asks if it was linked with clusters? It was linked with diplomatic efforts we were pursuing full tilt. What advice were you getting from British military. Cannot recall.

Another 10 minute break.

16.03 Freedman asks about cost considerations. Powell says these were discussed but not important consideration. Fireman’s strike was a problem also. Freedman refers to desire of military to be involved as much as possible. Is that fair? yes, and natural. How realistic was northern route through Turkey? Powell says it was seen as realistic. Freedman asks if it was always seen as inevitable that there would be a part of Iraq for which UK would be responsible. Powell says that is his recollection but cannot find reference. Freedman says that would have meant Tikrit, SH’s home town. Powell says we were good at counter insurgency. We found out 3 January that we were going in through Kuwait. Military very flexible. Freedman asks about consequence of this change giving greater influence on US planning. Powell does not remember. Freedman refers to sphere of influence and “box” in south to look after. “Having read the evidence to your committee, I do not remember. Freedman: in terms of consequences quite important. Discussion of responsibility for a part of Iraq. Powell says we had a duty for the whole of Iraq, having invaded. Doesn’t agree with “exemplary”. Had responsibility for whole of Iraq.

16.01 Freedman asks how important UK support was to US? Good but not essential. Freedman asks what sort of contribution was necessary. Powell refers to previous US plans for “running start”. Generated start (period of mobilisation) became accepted wisdom. 3 options under discussion until late October 2002. Freedman asks political perspective on this? It was not essential to go with that option or other options. Would have been difficult if we didn’t allow use of bases. Two reasons for our level of involvement. 1) Attitude of military, that we should stand with military 2) Pm thought if we were going to do it, we should do it properly. Freedman refers to larger force the greater the influence. Powell disagrees with this.

16.00 Gilbert asks about what discussion there was about danger of UN route failing to disarm Saddam. Powell says they were more concerned with threat of US acting unilaterally and some US attempts to overload UN resolution. Says US would have hoped we would be with them if exhausted UN route.

15.56 Freedman asks about trap which depended on Blix saying that Iraq was not complying. In January, that is what he was saying. In February he was saying something different. Was that not a turning point? Powell says it was not true that Blix was saying that Iraq was co-operating. Mentions external interview. Freedman says that he trend was pretty clear that the expectation of a smoking gun was not going to be met? I guess you are suggesting that action was taken because things were running away from us at the UN… Freedman says it doesn’t seem wholly likely that another few months of inspections would have left you in the same position as in march. Powell says he doubts if anything would have changes. SH was clear that he was not co-operating. There was another argument that there was more time for diplomacy which we got but at the end we ran out of time. Freedman points out that Cheney even disputed the conclusion that there was no active nuclear programme…. Powell says you would not have been able to satisfy some but that isn’t the same as saying you couldn’t satisfy anyone….

15.49 Had diplomacy failed in March 2003? Powell says it had definitively failed by 14 March. Particularly strong effort into getting support around clusters document. French pulled plug when Chirac said he would veto the resolution. Lyne refers to Manning’s and Greenstock’s view that they should have more time. Powell says Bush wasn’t going to give us more time. Lyne asks if more diplomacy would have worked if given more time. Powell points out that Iraq did not have wmd so more time would have achieved nothing.

15.46 Lyne asks about Meyer’s evidence that Blair had committed himself. Was that a false reading? yes, we were setting out the conditions!!!!, we were setting out a framework. The US didn’t need us. Lyne asks if the US found us quite useful. Discussion of whether the US wanted us for military reasons. Lyne asks if it appears from correspondence that Blair had committed at an early stage to go along with US whatever. Powell says this is what you do when you are trying to influence. Was it tactical? could we have go out of it? yes

15.45 Lyne goes back to important issues. Were these expressed as pre-conditions? Powell says that that it was not right to talk about conditions. Setting those sort of conditions is a mistake if you are trying to influence people. Lyne asks if Powell recalls Blair being advised to avoid committing himself fully… Powell says that what has been said about conditions is wrong. Clearly Lyne has seen something here.

15.43 Lyne disputes the claim that the September dossier was not important, if discussed between Bush and Blair. What about Campbell and why Iraq and why now? Powell says it goes back to Crawford. Lyne says the dossier was part of an effort to get a view across. Lyne refers to Blair’s claim that Iraq’s wmd was active and growing. Powell refuses to answer question. Says you have your answer. Lyne says we are struggling to square this. Powell disagrees, says too much textual analysis. Agrees “growing” is important. Powell says his email made clear it was not right to claim an imminent threat.

15.39 Lyne asks if the UK was pursuing two policies by pursuing smart sanctions while having another discussion in private. Powell says he cannot remember.

15.35 Lyne asks about Colin Powell not agreeing with prevailing policy in summer 2002?. J Powell says he was more concerned with day after. Lyne asks if Powell was arguing that containment could be made to work? Powell goes back to 2001 and Jack Straw. Lyne asks about 2002. “it is difficult for me to answer for C Powell” but he saw the way the wind was going. Lyne asks if he was not happy? Powell says he was not happy feeding back through Straw. Was he arguing for containment? Powell says was arguing for UN route.

15.34 Lyne refers to leaked Straw note. Powell forges timing of all these notes. I cannot remember I am afraid the specific wording of that note. Lyne says by the meeting of 23 of July, was Jack Straw arguing for changing regime in Iraq or alternative options. Powell doesn’t recall but says you need to look at record of that meeting.

15.33 Lyne asks what the government’s policy was when containment ceased to be viable? Powell says it was about it being sustainable. Lyne asks what did you put in its place? Well, hence the idea of going back to the UN. Same as policy on Afghanistan. Put Saddam under pressure. Lyne says shifting to policy of disarmament through coercive action? Powell says through UN. Lyne says threatening regime change. Powell says if that was what was necessary.

15.31 Lyne goes back to Powell’s comments on his role as a progressive and socialist. To what extent was Iraq a political issue as opposed to defence and foreign policy? Powell says hard to distinguish. Opposition agreed. Lyne says intelligence was not political… Powell says it is a decision for a leader.

15.30 Freedman puts it to Powell again that emphasis on urgency was misleading. Asks if Powell understood difference between munitions and missiles re 45 minutes. Can’t remember. Powell says its importance has been exaggerated.

15.28 Freedman asks about what his reaction was to newspapers picking up on Cyprus point. Says he can’t remember and evening standard point was a dig at Campbell.

15.27 Freedman asks about Powell’s 19 sept email on there being no threat if Saddam is not attacked. That bit was removed from final draft. Why were you concerned about this argument that regime would only use wmd if under threat. Powell says that he was trying to catch what the intelligence was. Discussion of Macintyre argument. Freedman: to be clear, your concern was that over the long term this was an issue that had to be dealt with but there was a degree of urgency. Powell says his view was to go down UN route.

15.24 Powell agrees that foreword is separate from main text. Freedman refers to intelligence not being hard evidence vs beyond doubt. Was that a wise phrase. Powell ducks question. I think you can subject documents to more analysis than valid… Danger of dancing a head of a pin. Freedman refers to email from Powell saying that email did not convey a sense of threat. Campbell reassures him that the preface/foreword did. Powell says he thought his email was referring to a danger of overclaim. Hasn’t got email in front of me so not sure. Freedman refers to removal of point about Saddam not being a threat. Powell says too much can be read into a few emails. Says he may not have read foreword. Freedman says he did. Asks if we are making too much about “beyond doubt”? Powell says preface has been given too much importance. Freedman says we are concerned about how intelligence that its patchy sporadic and limited is being used to make a case…. how that is presented to the public by the PM is a matter of legitimate concern. If it is presented in very dogmatic terms, isn’t that an issue? Powell says that in retrospect it might have been an idea to put out the JIC assessments. There was a case for showing people what was coming across our desks. No national security reason not too.

15.16 They’re back. Freedman asks what role Powell played in decision to produce dossier and its actual production. Powell says very little apart from well publicised emails. Asked to get to European leaders. Freedman refers to Rycroft plan to brief rather than give document.

15.05 Freedman refers to Campbell’s “step change” claim. Powell has no recollection of this! Freeman refers to quote from Butler report (one of the Downing St documents!). What has changed is our tolerance…. Powell says that is correct. American tolerance in particular. Freedman refers back to intelligence that programme had been set back. This nonetheless had been turned into something else after 9/11? Yes 9/11 did change everything. When we have heard about “sporadic and patchy” intelligence. Were you concerned that intelligence was based on past experience rather than hard information. Powell says intel is not hard evidence. Our view was based on previous experience. Logically, if he had go rid of them. Much too much was put on intelligence and dossier. Freedman says this may be true but it is one thing to step up diplomacy based on hard evidence and another thing to say we don’t know. If PM had said we don’t know would that have made a difference. Powell says we bombed him in 98 because he had wmd. Freedman says that wmd were being dismantled throughout 1990’s, to say that because of the past, you could assume it was still there doesn’t give too much credit to what happened in 1990s… Powell says that it was concluded that Iraq had not disarmed. Refers to Blix saying in Sept 02 SH had not met obligations for full and frank disarmament. He is clearly making too much of language from Blix that said Saddam’s disarmament was in doubt because of a lack of evidence and making it look as if he was saying that Blix said Iraq still had wmd. Freedman says that it was said that Saddam had got rid of wmd but destroyed evidence. Powell does not engage with this. Freedman says it is about quality of intelligence/evidence on which an approach was based. Powell says that there was obstruction. we were confidence. We were amazed when there were none.

Ten minute break. This is amazing stuff. Powell has said that the decision to go after Saddam was not really about intelligence on wmd but assumptions based on his past concealment. Freedman is distinguishing between a “perfectly good working” hypothesis and the type of “hard evidence” that is needed to embark on a strategy that will ultimately lead to war.

14.52 Moving onto wmd, what was the main concern? Blair was concerned about this for a long time. Freedman says there were concerns about wmd and terrorism and not evidence of links. Powell: No evidence of links between two. Freedman says that link was a hypothetical one in Iraq’s case. Powell says that concern that Iraq could get wmd quicker after end of sanctions. Freedman says that other countries were more immediate questions. Powell says it was in the eye of the beholder. Powell says that issue is that Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions. Provided legal base. Send an important message. Libya decided to give up wmd after invasion. No dispute that was link. Freeman disputes link.

14.49 Freedman asks how we would know if Saddam had complied. Powell says that this became live in 2003. Blix was saying something different from what he say now. Freedman brings it back to principle that Saddam could never be believed. Was that UK view? No, going to “five tests”. Freedman points out that even at this stage there is a potential divergence over what compliance meant. Powell says that there was a divergence with parts of UN but Bush was clear about UN route and if Saddam complied…

14.46 Discussion of trade of between indicating that you are with someone and indicating that you are going down a particular route. Freedman asks about what happens to your influence after that. Red Lines? Powell says the point of these notes is to set out the right way to do it. Conditions is the right way to do it. Not about ticking boxes. Being with the Americans doesn’t mean going to war. Blair said this repeatedly. I noted down three occasions. 6 April 02. Sept 02 March 2003

14.44 Freedman asks about Blair’s message to Bush and Campbell’s account of it. Powell says Blair had a habit of writing notes to put something in writing. That note was a follow-up to Crawford. Put forward worries about unintended consequences. Clearly reading selectively from note, which is unpublished. HOW DOES HE GET AWAY WITH THAT?

14.41 Powell is now backing away from the idea that the policy was driven by a wish for regime change. Freedman asks why Blair highlighted Milosovic as a model. Powell says that Saddam clearly got a message from Afghanistan. Freedman asks if there was a way of following up Saddam’s desire to avoid a war. Powell says that they thought that Saddam could not be trusted to agree a diplomatic solution other than through UN route.

14.39 Freedman asks about how wmd relates to wmd. Powell says you can believe it is a good thing to get with of a dictator. Freedman refers to post Crawford speech and Blair’s reference to regime change 3 times previously. Powell says that there was not intention to change policy with that speech. Says it was an attempt to disguise difference between US and UK policy.

14.37 Bizarre discussion of 1999 Chicago speech with Freedman! Powell says the two main issues were means and long term. Freeman(!) says the first condition was sure of case. Were you sure of case on wmd? No, I had no doubt about our case on wmd. Too much emphasis has been put on intelligence. Going back, we were dealing with Iraqi regime that had wmd and had lied, been caught out. The reason we bombed in 1998 was because be believed he had wmd.

14.36 Freedman asks about Crawford. Was Blair keen on the objective? Yes, he was always clear that the world would be better off without Saddam. Thought the best way to pursue this would be through the UN route, give Saddam opportunity to comply. IS POWELL SAYING IT WAS ABOUT REGIME CHANGE FROM BLAIR’S POINT OF VIEW?

14.35 Freedman asks about what sort of things were thought about in March 2002. Powell says he jotted down some things he would rather forget.

14.31 Freedman asks about discussions with Cheney. Discussion of unintended consequences. Cheney optimistic. Cheney went to ME and got mixed messages but not a wave of opposition.

14.30 Puts declassified diplomatic telegram into perspective. Was “lines to take”. Not comprehensive. Full account set out in note from Manning. Powell now gives his version of a document that has not been published!!!! Prashar asks if Blair’s questions were registered. Yes but not necessarily implemented. Prashar asks about what was said if second hand? Moves forward to July documents from Cabinet Office. Wanted to be clear what to say to Bush before military plans on 4 August.

Prashar asks who was involved in discussions. Who saw note of Crawford? Only Straw etc. Why? To avoid leaks.

14.27 Powell says his note did not deal with sanctions. Were trying to influence Americans not to rush into action. Says they were listening. Fast forward end of July when Bush said would consider UN route. Agreed in August that would go UN route. Prashar talks about “unconditional pledge”. Powell says this was a misunderstanding from Meyer, who was not there. There was no undertaking in blood to go into war. There was not form decision to go to war. Looks at Meyer’s evidence. Says it was absolutely clear we were not signing up to war, signing up to UN route. There was agreement to join in at CENTCOM. Blair’s message was if you are going to do it, you are going to do it in a clever way.

14.25 Prashar asks about containment. Powell says it was dying in 2001. Back to 1998 bombing. Long wrangle. Looking at smart sanctions because sanctions not working. No way we could continue containment on same basis as before. Containment didn’t look to us as if it was going to survive in 2001. By the time 9/11 happened, it really wasn’t going to work anymore. THE AMERICANS HAD MOVED OFF IT. Chilcot refers to R Cook’s view that containment was not dead. Powell says no-one in those govt permissions at the time thought it was viable.

14.23 Powell refers to April meeting with CDS etc. Says he put note to PM saying that Iraq was not Kosovo etc, trying to help him focus. Refers to Straw letter. Thought needed as wide a range of views as possible.

14.19 Asks about 9/11. Powell says it changed everything. He still sounds like he has prepared all his answers. On two occasions after 9/11 Bush raised Iraq. Both times Blair said focus on Al Qaeda. Discussion of change of focus. Pressure from senators. Started sensing that something was happening. Manning went to US. Told that only considering options. Same in January. Only in Feb/March did it appear that things were being planned. Manning met Rice 14 March said don’t do anything before Crawford. Cheney came to No 10 1 March. Blair warned of unintended consequences. Cheney was planning to go to ME leaders to consult on “replacing Saddam”. At end of meeting said coalition nice but not essential.

14.17 Prashar asks about Powell’s role in Iraq policy from 2001. Asks about visit with Sawers during transition January 2001.

14.15 Discussion of whether role of chief of staff would be done the same way again. Some problems. What about principal private secretary role? Powell says that there is a role but this cannot bring together the political and government issues.

14.12 Chilcot asks about tensions between planning for a war and diplomatic efforts. Powell says that there was a tension. Should head of defence logistics office been brought in? Not really the problem. Powell sounds as if he has rehearsed and prepared his answers very carefully.

14.11 The Inquiry has published a diplomatic telegram on Crawford April 2002.

14.10 Discussion of sofa government. Powell says criticism was misplaced.

14.08 Chilcot asks about the Monday morning notes that Campbell referred to. Powell says it was his job to make sure things were being followed up. Discussion of what happened when Iraq was at the forefront.

14.06 Did Blair want you to give him advice on Iraq? Manning was chief adviser on foreign policy/Iraq? It was my role to make things happen.. Chilcot says that implies he was not giving advice but Powell says he bounced ideas off PM. Discussion of political input.

14.05 Re the cabinet secretary, did you see a responsibility for cabinet decision making. No, that was the cabinet secretary’s job. What about your relationship with Manning? I had my own contacts. Discussion of relationship with Bush chief of staff.

14.04 Did one person at the centre have the responsibility that the PM got the right advice etc? Powell says it was my job.

14.02 Sir John asks Powell to describe his new role as chief of staff. Powell says the idea was to bring together different parts of Downing Street. Our analysis was that the absence under previous No 10’s was a problem.

14.02 They’re off. Sir John announces that the ballot will take place this afternoon. Successful applicants will be notified asap. This afternoon’s objectives are to find out discussions and decisions up to 2007.

14.00 The Guardian’s Andrew Sparrow has an entertaining introduction to this afternoon’s hearing, suggesting that there may be revelations…

Archived Comments

By Iain Paton

Submitted on 2010/01/18 at 5:50pm

So the legality of the war under UK domestic law was (apparently) never considered by Goldsmith or sought by Cabinet. UK troops (etc) operate under rules of engagement (ROE). The Chief of Defence Staff sought an opinion from Goldsmith. Was he given complete advice? Has this been considered in past actions (ie Gulf War 1)?

Perhaps not so much an issue “on the ground” as military commanders have legal advisers from the various legal branches of the Armed Forces. But worrying if the legality of the war in terms of domestic law was not seen as a potential concern. One that Goldsmith should be pressed on (in addition to his view on 1441!)

By john

Submitted on 2010/01/22 at 11:42am

Powell states clearly that when he and the others were discussing the immediacy of the threat from Iraq they knew that “..he wasn’t about to send a missile to Cyprus, but, if we left him alone, he would be able to develop these weapons and use them.” In other words they knew that the 45 minute claim was wrong. (Chilcot Inquiry Transcript p61, line 18)

This undermines the conclusion of the Hutton Inquiry that Gilligan and the BBC were wrong to say that the government had deliberately exaggerated the risk from Iraq.

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