The US five-year rule

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Monday, January 20, 2014

by Andrew Mason

Today is the fifth anniversary of US President Barack Obama first taking the oath of office to assume ultimate responsibility for the well-being of his nation – put another way it is also exactly five years since the end of George W. Bush’s presidential administration.

This means that it is now possible for anyone, anywhere in the world, to request the records from the second President Bush’s term in office.

The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum has now marked this occasion with the following statement:

Bush Library to Begin Accepting FOIA Requests January 20

DALLAS (1/17/14) – The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will begin accepting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for presidential records from the Bush presidency beginning at 12:01 a.m. CST on January 20.

Access to the Bush presidential records is governed by the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978 which says, among other provisions, that records may be requested by the public five years after the end of a presidential administration – for the administration of George W. Bush, that date is January 20, 2014.

Any individual – regardless of citizenship – as well as organizations, companies, and state and local governments will be able to submit FOIA requests.

All requests must be in a written format (e-mail, mail, or fax) and must state that the records are being requested under the “Freedom of Information Act” or “FOIA.” If you are e-mailing your request please include your name in the subject line.

The contact information is as follows:

E-mail: gwbush.library@nara.gov

Address:

George W. Bush Presidential Library c/o FOIA Coordinator
2943 SMU BLVD
Dallas, Texas 75205

FAX: 214-346-1558 (please include cover sheet if possible)

January 20 will be the first day the Bush Library can accept FOIA requests for records pertaining to the Bush presidency and all FOIA requests will be processed in the order in which they are received.

Incoming requests will be placed in a queue – and requestors should note that, given the laws and regulations, the volume and complexity of presidential records, and the process of making materials available, the process will take time.

“Still, the Library remains committed to providing access to our holdings and will make every effort to provide records in a timely manner,” said Alan Lowe, the director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

“This is an exciting and important event in the life of the Bush Presidential Library and Museum,” he added. “Our dedicated staff stands ready to respond to requests and to provide our customers with invaluable information about a tremendously consequential time in our nation’s history.”

Located on the campus of SMU – which is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas enrolling nearly 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students from throughout the world in seven degree-granting schools – the facility is the 13th Presidential Library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

To learn more about the Freedom of Information Act and the Presidential Records Act of 1978 please go to www.archives.gov, and for more information on this story please e-mail bush43media@nara.gov.

If anyone would now care to attempt to obtain under the US FOIA laws, say for example, the transcripts of conversations between Tony Blair and George Bush in 2001/2/3 from the American end of affairs, they are now perfectly at liberty to do so. Please form an orderly queue!

Filed in Evidence, Issues, Process

Inquiry could lead to war crimes case

By chrislamb - Last updated: Monday, January 20, 2014

by Chris Lamb

With the recent submission of a substantial legal writ to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by Public Interest Lawyers and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights concerning the alleged systematic abuse of civilian detainees during the invasion and occupation of Iraq between 2003-08, the question of whether Tony Blair (and potentially George W Bush) can be brought before the ICC for directing a “crime of aggression” in mounting the invasion of Iraq becomes more pressing.

Article 5 of the 1998 Statute of Rome identifies the “crime of aggression” as one of the core crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction. However, the Court has been unable to exercise its jurisdiction because the Rome Statute did not define the substance of the crime or set out the conditions for prosecution.

This changed on 11 June 2010 when amendments were adopted to the Rome Statute arising from legal research into aggression in Kampala, Uganda.

The amendments provide the groundwork for a definition of the crime of aggression and a jurisdictional framework. The definition has two key component:

a) the planning, preparation, initiation or execution by a person in a position to effectively exercise control over, or to direct the political or military action of a State in an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations;

b)  the use of armed force by one State against another State without the justification of self defence or authorization by the UN Security Council.

A strong legal case can be built that the invasion of Iraq qualifies as “aggression” under both definitions. The Blair government followed the US “revival” legal argument that UN authorization was implicit in a 1991 UN Security council resolution (SCR678) following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. An explicit UN Security Council vote on the use of military force was, therefore, not required. This doctrine of “implicit authorization” has been subjected to withering criticism by international lawyers.

This is what Matthew Gillett, Legal Officer at the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, The Hague, has to say about “implicit authorization” used by the US and UK on the UN Security Council  to initiate the 2003 invasion of Iraq;

The strenuous efforts made by the US and its allies in 2003 to obtain a new UNSC resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq significantly weakened the argument that authorization was already implicit in pre-existing resolutions. Most commentators concluded that the argument was legally unsustainable in relation to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  The “implicit authorization” argument in the context of the Iraq invasion should be seen for what it was – an attempt to justify the use of force on the basis of UNSC consent when there was no such consent.

The Kampala amendments come into force within the jurisdiction of the ICC in January 2017. By then, the Iraq Inquiry should have reported. The question must be seriously posed whether interested international lawyers will sift through the evidence and conclusions of the report to build a legal case for challenging the legality of the invasion as a “crime of aggression” and thus bring Tony Blair, Jack Straw and other leading figures of the invasion before the International Criminal Court.

Filed in Legality

Chilcot compromises, Guardian claims

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, December 30, 2013

by Chris Ames

Today’s Guardian says that:

Tony Blair is preparing himself for the defining moment of his post-prime ministerial career as Whitehall sources confirmed that Sir John Chilcot will publish his report into the handling of the Iraq war in the new year.

A compromise agreement between Chilcot and the cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who had been resisting calls for the publication of correspondence between Blair and George Bush, is understood to mean that the final stages of the inquiry can be started in the new year.

What exactly “the new year” means is not clear. It clearly isn’t imminent as the inquiry has to pick up where it left of with the “Maxwellisation” process of writing to Blair and others to tell them what the proposed findings are so that they can have them watered down.

It’s a badly mangled report that describes this process, and then says at the end of the same paragraph:

Extracts of the correspondence are now expected to be published in the report in redacted form.

Presumably, despite its context, this refers to the correspondence between Blair and Bush. Given that it’s an establishment inquiry and is reported to have reached a compromise with the establishment, the redacted versions will go something like: “Dear George…. yours ever, Tony”.

The spinning has already started of course.  It’s pretty obvious that this is coming from Nick Clegg:

A senior Whitehall source told the Guardian: “In the new year it seems the Chilcot inquiry is going to be published. Everyone will be assuming: bad hair day for Tony Blair and Jack Straw. The Conservatives can’t say or do very much given that Iain Duncan Smith was further ahead than Blair. But the Conservatives are irrelevant to it.”

And then there is this:

Blair’s office and the Iraq inquiry declined last night to comment on the timing of the publication of the report. But it is understood that the former prime minister is relaxed about the publication of his correspondence with Bush. Some friends of Blair say that the report would lack credibility unless the correspondence is published.

In his evidence to the inquiry Blair said it was important to protect the confidentiality of correspondence between a prime minister and a president. But friends point out that Blair went out of his way to explain the correspondence without breaking confidences.

So the tactic of putting your spin on something that other people haven’t seen is spun as going out of your way to explain the correspondence. Classic Blair.

 

Filed in Coverage, Secrecy

Closure and disclosure

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, December 19, 2013

by Chris Ames

In a leader today the Guardian contrasts the publication of the Gibson Inquiry, with the sad sorry state of suppression that is the Iraq Inquiry.

Forty-two months after being charged with laying the demons to rest, Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry has no end date. Britain does not need an official inquiry to tell it what to think. Leaked papers have already revealed that London knew that “facts were being fixed” by Washington, and tasked a press officer with the first draft of an “intelligence” dossier that warped perceptions. We know, too, that No 10 fed journalists with old information about weapons Saddam Hussein was known to have destroyed, a campaign of misinformation to support a misadventure that led to military humiliation in Basra.

But an inquiry could mark the moment when the British state officially accepts how wrong things went, and could educate future administrations in doing things differently. The guardian of good governance is supposed to be the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. But, as Sir John’s testy correspondence with No 10 implies, Sir Jeremy has become the roadblock to progress. He is barring publication of the records of cabinet-level and White House discussions on which Sir John insists he needs to rest his conclusion.

Digest readers will note that one of the references is to this site’s page on the John Williams draft dossier.

The Guardian suggests that Heywood may be blocking publication of documents because he is a stickler for secrecy or, as has been widely suggested,  because as Tony Blair’s principal private secretary during this time, he “has particular secrets to withhold”. It concludes:

Let us hope that he will soon rethink, publish the documents and let the inquiry conclude. Otherwise, a darker third reading comes to the fore – the possibility that Sir John is being strung along to report closer to the general election in order to do maximum damage to Sir Jeremy’s old political masters at the behest of his new overlords.

Filed in Coverage, Opinion, Secrecy

What can Dearlove possibly be hiding?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, December 11, 2013

by Chris Ames

The Telegraph has run another story reminding us that Richard Dearlove, who was head of MI6/SIS at the time of the Iraq Dossier and the invasion, has threatened to spill the beans if he is criticised by the Inquiry. The story is based on the announcement that Dearlove is to leave his role as Master of Pembroke College Cambridge.

An honourable man, Sir Richard has been bound by official secrecy rules from defending himself from the suggestion that Tony Blair’s government was misinformed by the intelligence services about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction ahead of the war.

Sir Richard has spent the last year on sabattical (sic), writing a detailed account of the events leading up to the war, which, if he faces censure by the Chilcot Inquiry, he may place in the public domain. He had previously intended to make the work available to academics only posthumously. Sir Richard, 68, who became Master of Pembroke at the start of the Michaelmas Term, 2004, will retire in 2015.

[...]

Sources close to Dearlove have spoken about how he feels Chilcot should recognise the role played by Blair and his spokesman Alastair Campbell in the reports which suggested Saddam could use chemical weapons to target British troops in Cyprus – a claim which put Britain on a path to war in Iraq.

The story is so sympathetic to Dearlove, you wonder if he wrote it himself. I don’t think anyone can be in any doubt who those “sources close to Dearlove” are. But why, you have to ask again, can Dearlove have anything to say about the dossier or anything else that he didn’t say to the Inquiry? If his main revelation is that he told Blair and Campbell that there were doubts that Iraq had wmd but they told the public a different story, why would “official secrecy rules” stop him?

Filed in Coverage, Intelligence

Has Rentoul put his finger on it?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Friday, November 15, 2013

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.

Filed in Opinion, Secrecy

Is the US to blame?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, November 14, 2013

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.”

The Independent also has an analysis of what it thinks is in some of the documents and another interesting story reporting that:

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 paper rightly credits Civil Service World with the story. Of course, the majority of those very good papers remain unpublished by the Inquiry, for reasons that are far from clear.

Filed in Coverage, Process, Secrecy

Is Heywood to blame – or Chilcot?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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.

As I have been pointing out for a while, the Inquiry is in a hole of its own making – or more precisely made by its Secretary Margaret Aldred, who was deliberately chosen for her previous involvement in Iraq policy.

Of course, in the never never land of the establishment, no-one ever has a conflict of interest. Not never.

Filed in Coverage, Evidence

Is this the way forward?

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, November 10, 2013

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”.

Filed in Coverage, Opinion, Process, Secrecy

Heywood in the firing line

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, November 7, 2013

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.

Filed in Opinion, Process, Secrecy