by Chris Ames
Mark Sedwill, the Home Office permanent secretary who is to appear before a parliamentary committee over his department’s somewhat careless handling of allegations of child abuse by politicians, is an important figure in the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq, in his role as foreign secretary Jack Straw’s private secretary. However, although a number of documents from or to Sedwill have been published by both the Hutton Inquiry and the Iraq Inquiry, he was not asked to give evidence to either. This contrasts with Tony Blair’s private secretary for foreign affairs, Matthew Rycroft, who did give secret evidence, of which a redacted version was subsequently published in which Rycroft effectively called Blair a liar.
It was Sedwill who circulated to the Cabinet the briefing paper that had been produced for the Parliamentary Labour Party in March 2002. As the Inquiry has noted, Blair and Straw conspired to give MPs a propaganda document while concealing from them the formal Options paper that the Cabinet Office had drawn up. Here is the relevant bit of Straw’s statement to the Inquiry, in which Straw typically avoids the Inquiry’s question about this concealment:
h) Why did you think it important that the policy should be circulation to Cabinet members but you did not submit a formal paper on Iraq policy?
1.26 I was aware that Iraq was down to be discussed in Cabinet on Thursday 7th March 2002 and I therefore forwarded them the brief.
1.27 I felt the brief would be helpful for fellow ministers in preparation for discussion of the topic in Cabinet.
Sedwill also sent a briefing document to the Tony Blair in September 2002, which, as the Inquiry has noted, set out an unequivocal claim that Iraq had WMD, which did not match JIC assessments. Essentially though, this was intended as a Q&A for Blair to use when launching the September dossier.
And during the drafting of the dossier, Sedwill passed on both his own comments and those of Straw. Having been a weapons inspector in Iraq, he obviously felt qualified to comment in his own right. Both Sedwill and Straw liked the dossier’s executive summary, which presented claims as if they came from the JIC, but which Straw’s spin doctor John Williams has now admitted creating.
A good establishment figure to get to the bottom of claims of an establishment cover-up.
by Andrew Mason
The House of Lords yesterday held a short debate on the delays being experienced by the Iraq Inquiry, following a question by Lord Dykes, who asked Her Majesty’s Government on “what date they expect to agree with the Chilcot Inquiry for the publication of the Inquiry report.”
The full transcript can be read here.
Whilst no direct answer to the question was given, a small number of interesting points were aired.
Read the rest of this entry »
by Chris Ames
The Inquiry has published its costs for the last financial year. Rather embarrassingly, this has gone unnoticed by this website and the media generally for a few days, until this story in the Sunday Telegraph.
The Sunday Telegraph points out that a lot of money has been spent paying people not to do very much and that compared with the figures with the previous year:
There was also a big increase in spending on IT and website development – from £71,000 to £196,100 – as the inquiry prepares to publish hundreds of thousands of pages of its findings online.
It’s a good point, based on the inclusion on “website development” in this category, although of course there will not be hundreds of thousands of pages of findings, and probably not hundreds of thousands of pages of supporting documents either.
by Chris Ames
The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor reports that:
The Chilcot inquiry, which is expected to contain damning criticism of the way Tony Blair and his close advisers led Britain into war against Iraq, is unlikely to be published until next year, the Guardian has learned.
A further delay in the report on the 2003 invasion, due to have been published three years ago, could mean the issue will continue to haunt British politics in the runup to next year’s general election.
Whitehall sources suggest the latest delay in the long-awaited report is the result of continuing disputes over criticisms the Chilcot panel plan to make of Blair and other ministers and advisers involved in the decision to invade Iraq.
It’s not entirely clear what the connection is between the planned criticisms and this new delay, or even whether this is a new delay. It isn’t being said here, as has been said before, that the knock-on effect will be to postpone the report beyond the election.
by Andrew Mason
This Friday, 27 June, will mark the seven-year anniversary of Tony Blair’s appointment as the Quartet representative to the Middle East. We, the undersigned, urge you to remove him with immediate effect as a result of his poor performance in the role, and his legacy in the region as a whole.
We, like many, are appalled by Iraq’s descent into a sectarian conflict that threatens its very existence as a nation, as well as the security of its neighbours. We are also dismayed, however, at Tony Blair’s recent attempts to absolve himself of any responsibility for the current crisis by isolating it from the legacy of the Iraq war.
In reality, the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been a disaster long before the recent gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The sectarian conflict responsible for much of the war’s reprehensible human cost was caused in part by the occupying forces’ division of the country’s political system along sectarian lines.
In order to justify the invasion, Tony Blair misled the British people by claiming that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaida. In the wake of recent events it is a cruel irony for the people of Iraq that perhaps the invasion’s most enduring legacy has been the rise of fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously.
We believe that Mr Blair, as a vociferous advocate of the invasion, must accept a degree of responsibility for its consequences. Read the rest of this entry »
by Andrew Mason
In a letter to the Observer published yesterday, John Morrison wrote:
You quoted Tony Blair last week as saying: “What we now know from Syria is that Assad, without any detection from the west, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them.” He (Blair) adds: “We also know, from the final weapons inspectors’ reports, that though it is true that Saddam got rid of the physical weapons, he retained the expertise and capability to manufacture them.”
As well as being DCDI from 1994 to 1999, Morrison had been head of the intelligence analytical staff and the secretary to the JIC. He was also the founder and head of the ‘Rockingham cell’, a small intelligence unit set up within DIS which coordinated with UNSCOM personnel, Dr David Kelly and quite likely Charles Duelfer amongst them. After leaving the civil service in 1999, Morrison became the ISC’s first formal ‘investigator’. His contract was ended in 2004 after he told the BBC’s Panorama programme that he “could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall”, after Blair had asserted that the threat from Iraq’s WMD was “current and serious”.
As holder of these various positions within the intelligence community, Morrison would have been well aware of the Iraqi ‘Air Force document’. This had a fairly long history, going back to July 1998, when it had been initially discovered during an UNSCOM inspection of the operations room at the Iraqi Air Force headquarters building in Baghdad.
by Chris Ames
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has already said that, although he supported the invasion of Iraq at the time, he no longer believes it can be justified. Now, writing in the Mirror, he admits that, despite what Tony Blair said at the time, it was all about regime change.
As Tony’s Deputy Prime Minister at the time, I know I must carry my share of responsibility.
His recent statements on Iraq have clearly increased the demand for the early publication of the Chilcot Report into the war.
That’s something I totally support.
At the Iraq Inquiry I made clear Tony always told us the invasion was not about regime change and he was determined to push US President George W Bush down the UN route, rather than rush to war. To his credit, that’s what he tried to do.
But it’s clear now, from his recent statements, it was all about regime change.
For the former deputy prime minister to say that Blair lied to him is pretty significant. Given all the statements Blair has made since and the extensive documentation available, it’s surprising it has taken him so long.
Prescott’s main point is in fact that, despite what Blair has said recently, the invasion did bring Iraq to where it is now.
I cannot agree our invasion of Iraq did not contribute to the chaos and violence we see in the Middle East today.
The truth is it did.
So let’s learn from the past and leave Iraq and its neighbours to sort out this mess.
The current condition of Iraq will clearly be a relevant issue when the Inquiry finally reports. Who knows what that will be?
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.
by Andrew Mason
According to the Mirror, a source has (presumably) told the paper that “the official verdict on the 2003 invasion will find that failure to plan for the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s regime led to horrific insurgency.”
The source said: “They (the Chilcot team) see the failure to plan for the aftermath as the biggest failing.
“The question of what Blair told Bush is a bit of a diversion and the intelligence failings have already been exposed.
“But having decided to go in they should have planned properly for what came next. The inquiry think thousands of lives were needlessly lost because that did not happen.”
by Andrew Mason
Consummate blairite John Rentoul has published a new post at his regular haunt this afternoon entitled ‘RIP the Iraq dossier distinction’. He opens the piece by writing:
All right, I’ll admit defeat. In debating the Iraq war I can no longer hold the line. I shall have to give up trying to maintain the distinction between the main dossier of September 2002 and the “dodgy” dossier of February 2003.
Some of us who were paying attention at the time and who think that facts and details matter have sought to keep the two separate.
In fact Brendan O’Neill first coined the phrase ‘dodgy dossier’, using it as the title of his article ‘Blair’s dodgy dossier’, which was first published at Spiked on the same day as the 24 September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s WMD was itself presented.
This article is still available here.
Mr Rentoul then goes on to claim with reference to the second dossier:
…it was discovered that six paragraphs had been copied and pasted without attribution from an article by Ibrahim al-Marashi, a California graduate student.
A quick recap of Glen Rangwala’s 5 February 2003 Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq posting reveals:
For reference, here are a few other summary comments on the British document.
Official authors are (in Word > Properties) P. Hamill, J. Pratt, A. Blackshaw, and M. Khan.
p.1 is the summary.
pp.2-5 are a repetition of Blix’s comments to the Security Council on the difficulties they were encountering, with further claims about the activities of al-Mukhabarat. These are not backed up, eg the claim that car crashes are organised to prevent the speedy arrival of inspectors.
p.6 is a simplified version of Marashi’s diagram at:
p.7 is copied (top) from Gause (on the Presidential Secretariat), and (middle and bottom) from Boyne (on the National Security Council).
p.8 is entirely copied from Boyne (on the National Security Council).
p.9 is copied from Marashi (on al-Mukhabarat), except for the final section, which is insubstantial.
p.10 is entirely copied from Marashi (on General Security), except for the final section, which is insubstantial.
p.11 is entirely copied from Marashi (on Special Security), except for the top section (on General Security), which is insubstantial.
p.12 is entirely copied from Marashi (on Special Security).
p.13 is copied from Gause (on Special Protection) and Marashi (Military Intelligence).
p.14 is wrongly copied from Boyne (on Military Security) and from Marashi (on the Special Republican Guard).
p.15 is copied from Gause and Boyne (on al-Hadi project / project 858).
pp.15-16 is copied from Boyne (on Fedayeen Saddam).
A final section, on the Tribal Chiefs’ Bureau, seems to be copied from a different piece by Cordesman.