Wednesday, January 13, 2010







Starting in London with the Iraq Inquiry. For any who missed yesterday's hearing and to give credit to an outlet for covering the events, we'll note this from yesterday's Pacifica Evening News (broadcast on KPFA and KPFK -- as well as other stations -- KPFA archives for 14 days, KPFK for 59):'s

John Hamilton: Prime Minister Tony Blair told then-president George W. Bush in 2002 that Britain would back military action if diplomatic efforts to disarm Iraq's Saddam Hussein failed. That's according to testimony today by Blair's former communications chief as he appeared before a public inquiry into the Iraq War in London. Alastair Campbell said there never was a precipitant rush to war despite the close ties between Blair and Bush; however, Campbell said that Blair wrote personally to Bush to offer his support for military action if Saddam did not accede to the United Nations demands on disarmament before the March 2003 invasion. Here he describes the content of secret letters from Blair to the former president pledging British support for an invasion as early as 2002.Alastair Campbell: We share the analysis. We share the concern. We're absolutely with you in making sure that Saddam Hussein is -- face up to his obligations and Iraq is disarmed. If that cannot be done diplomatically, it has to be done mila-militarily. Britain will be there. That will definitely be the tenor of his communications to the president.John Hamilton: Campbell is a former journalist who was one of Blair's closest advisers from 1994 to 2003. He insisted today that Blair tried all along to disarm Saddam by diplomatic means. His testimony conflicted with widespread reports that a British intelligence dossier on Iraq's pre-war capabilities to produce Weapons of Mass Destruction was "sexed up" on Campbell's orders to make Saddam Hussein appear to be more of a threat to national security. Those reports were reinforced this week when the British Guardian newspaper reported that those who drafted the dossier were immediately asked to compare British claims against a 2002 speech to the United Nations by then-president George W. Bush. In that speech, the former president claimed Iraq would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within a year. The next day, the [British] dossier's timeline was halved to claimed Iraq could get the bomb within a year. Campbell today dismissed such reports.Alastair Campbell: But at no point did anybody from the prime minister down say to anybody within intelligence services, 'Look, you've got to sort of tailor it to fit this argument.' I defend every single word of the dossier I defend every single part of the process.John Hamilton: The five-person Iraq Inquiry also known as the Chilcot Inquiry was called by current Prime Minister Gordon Brown to examine the run up to the 2003 invasion. Critics point out that witness are not sworn to testify under oath. And others have criticized the panel's members for their lack of prosecutorial skills.

Jason Beattie (Daily Mirror) observes of Capmbell's testimony, "The Godfather of Spin bobbed and weaved his way through a five-hour long grilling without once displaying a hint of humility or a glimmer of self-doubt." Tom Newton Dunn (The Sun) zooms in on this detail, "Mr Campbell revealed Gordon Brown was in Tony Blair's 'inner circle' when the decision was made to go to war. The revelation is an embarrassment to the then-Chancellor who has long tried to distance himself." Before we get to today's hearing, we're going to stay with Gordon Brown and today's news. Brown came under pressure today regarding the Iraq Inquiry. Andrew Porter (Telegraph of London) reports, "Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, used Prime Minister's Questions to demand that the Prime Minister face questions from Sir John Chilcot's inquiry team in the coming weeks." Porter quotes Clegg stating, "Given everything that has come to light in the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War, will you now do the decent thing and volunteer to give evidence to the inquiry before people decide how to vote? When the decisions were taken to launch this illegal war, you weren't only in the room - you were the one who signed the cheques. People are entitled to know, before they decide how to vote in a general election, what your role was in this Government's most disastrous decision. What have you got to hide?" The Guardian of England has a web poll on the issue currently and, as this is dictated, the non-scientific results are 15% say that Brown shouldn't testify before the election and 85% say, "Yes. Voters hvae a right to know his responsibility." Tim Castle (Reuters) reports that Gordon Brown danced around the issue today declaring, "I have nothing to hide on this matter, I am happy to give eivdence." But that's not saying, "Fine, I'll do it." Helene Mulhooland (Guardian) adds, "Brown was also asked if he had any regrets regarding the war, and said he had already put on the record that he felt that the reconstruction of the country had been mismanaged. But he said he stood by all the decisions he was involved in during the run-up to the invasion in 2003."

The Liberal Democrats issued the following:

Following today's Prime Minister's Questions, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg is writing to Gordon Brown, urging him to indicate to the Chilcot Inquiry that he would prefer to appear before it ahead of the election.
The text of the letter is as follows: Dear Gordon,
I am writing to urge you to indicate immediately to Sir John Chilcot that it is your
strong preference to go before the Iraq Inquiry ahead of the General Election.

Follwoing developments yesterday at Alastair Campbell's hearing, your personal
role in decisions that led to the war in Iraq has now come under the spotlight. The
notion that you hearing should take place after the election in order that the Inquiry
remains outside of party politics therefore no longer holds. On the contrary, the
sense that you have been granted special treatment because of your position as
Prime Minister will only serve to undermine the perceived independence of the

As I said to you across the floor of the Commons today, people have a right
to know the truth about the part you played in this war before they cast their
verdict on your Government's record. I urge you to confirm publicly that should Sir
John Chilcot invite you to give evidence to the Inquiry ahead of the election you
will agree to do so.

Nick Clegg

Along with Brown's testimony, there is great interest around Tony Blair's testimony (Blair is scheduled to testify later this month). Catherine Mayer (Time magazine) notes:Blair's star turn is expected to be so heavily subscribed that the inquiry has launched a public ballot for seats. A key question will be at what point the British government gave pledges to Washington about taking part in military action. The inquiry panel's questions to Campbell revealed for the first time the existence of private letters in 2002 from Blair to U.S. President George W. Bush. The "tenor" of these letters, said Campbell, was "We are going to be with you making sure that Saddam Hussein faces up to his obligations and that Iraq is disarmed. If that cannot be done diplomatically and it is to be done militarily, Britain will be there."

The Daily Mirror offers, "A little humility might have been appropriate when considering the dire situation Iraq is now in but perhaps we're expecting too much." Campbell has no humility. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger notes that Campbell insists he ignored the morning papers in which case he might wish to know that BBC News offers a press roundup of coverage (with links). Meanwhile Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) notes Campbell's taken to blog to toss out the Bible to hide behind. The Guardian's Nicholas Watt also caught Campbell's self-dramatizing posts:

So, once again, we are treated to some "unadulterated, bilious shite" on Alastair Campbell's blog today.
OK, that language is a bit over the top. But those are the exact words Campbell once used in public to dismiss a Guardian piece I had written.
Now Tony Blair's former communications director is denouncing the media in general for its coverage of his appearance before the Iraq inquiry yesterday. He has taken exception to the way the press highlighted a series of notes Blair wrote to George Bush in the run-up to the war in 2003.

Campbell's post is rather amazing for its inability to grasp reality and for little tidbits that say so much. An example of the latter, Campbell spent last night seeing The Misanthrope. But possibly Campbell's really not familiar with Moliere and missed those points. (In his post, he's obssessed with Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis.)

Today the Inquiry heard from Nemat Shafik and Andrew Turnbull (link goes to video and transcript options). Turnbull was Tony Blair's Cabinet Secretary (September 2002 to 2005).

Chair John Chilcot: I think we are coming to the end of this session. We have learned from this session a number of lessons and you may have others to suggest and certainly some last reflections.

Andrew Turnbull: Well, I have got one in particular. That is -- the perception in the British public is, we said he had weapons of mass destruction and we went to war in order to find them and disarm them, and we didn't find them. Thererfore, the 179 people [British troops] who died, many more injured, their sacrfice is in vain. That's a very kind of popular view. What I find extraordinary is that -- how little knowledge there is of what the answer to this story is, and I hope that this Inquiry will devote some time to explaining what we now know about what actually happened, the two main sources being the Iraq Survey Group and the debriefing of Saddam Hussein. If I said to people, "Who is George Piro?", I don't think one in 60 million would know -- do you know who George Piro is? George Piro is the FBI agent who debriefed Saddam Hussein over a perid of five months. So there is a sense that we do know the answer, and --

We stop there. We're not interested in garbage and it's a damn shame the Inquiry let him yammer on. Saddam Hussein was crossed or felt crossed by the George H.W. Bush administration (when H.W. Bush was president). He's captured by US forces after the illegal war has started. You think he's going to tell the truth? He's got a good guess he's going to be dying (he was executed). You think he's not going to taunt his interrogators?

While the Inquiry does not swear anyone in (or make them affirm to tell the truth), witnesses need to offer testimony on what they observed. Turnbull was not present for the interrogation. He's referring to an American FBI agent's observations. Bring that FBI agent forward if you want to hear what the FBI heard from Saddam. But don't let witnesses continue this crap. There was a passage last week, of testimony, that was so tempting to use because it would be perfect for the snapshot and back up several assertions we've long made. It never made it in the snapshot because the witness 'testifying' wasn't present for what he was describing. The committee doesn't need to be composed of attorneys to grasp that you don't rely on hearsay evidence.

They need to put their foot down on this because it's happening more and more as the Inquiry goes on and you better believe those who are coming in know it. Turnbull knew it. He knew he could go on (and on and on -- from where we cut him off he speaks for another page and six more lines before being interrupted). He offered nothing of value. What he didn't witness, he didn't witness. Early in his testimony, he told Chilcot, "I thought Alastair Campbell's description of Clare Short as untrustworthy was very poor. I didn't agree with that." Fine. That's his observation. He's making that call based on what he saw. He did not see Saddam Hussein interrogated and he doesn't need to be pinning his hopes that the illegal war was 'good' onto testimony he can't back up because he didn't witness it.

Andrew Turnbull: I think there were two problems. One was the US. The other is we made -- along with that -- when we allocated, we made some incorrect assumptions. There was a belief that we would succeed in persuading -- since we had persuaded the US to go the UN route on the confrontation of Saddam Hussein, they would buy into the UN route for the post-crisis. I think Bush -- when Bush said the UN will have a vital role (inaudible), he was fobbing us off, and he meant the UN agencies would have a vital role, but he was absolutely resistant. So we took false comfort from that. We took false comfort from the fact that there are papers which say, "This is a well-educated socity" and there were words around in the papers which say "with a functioning, public -- relatively functioning public sector". It turned out that it partly collapsed of its own accord and then Bremer destroyed what was left. We had underestimated the discord that would arise. In a sense, we were preparing, but we didn't -- there were lots of things we didn't forsee and it was getting the -- an arrangment with US apparatus that was the thing that was realy difficult. [. . .] No, what we did not get were large numbers of internal displaced people and we did not get hunger, and I have come to the view that the UN, when they said they were feeding 60 per cent of the population, they were boasting. Valerie Amos went to Basra in June/early Jule and reported that the markets were simply flowing with produce. So I don't think we were looking at a much, much worse scenario on those two fronts. What we did not anticipate was the collapse of civil order, and you could say this comes back to the fact that the one assumption that was absolutely correct in this whol thing was that Saddam Hussein could be toppled very quickly with a surprisingly small number of people, but the number of people required to topple him in three weeks was far les than the number required to occupy what was left. That was a major strategic miscalculation, not principally of our doing.

Turnbull stated that if they'd gone with another war option, the British could have utilized "warships and airships" but far less boots on the ground.

Andrew Turnbull: Whether people really understood that significance, I don't know. Maybe they did, but they understimated just how difficult it was going to be, and one of the reasons we underestimated it was, in my view, that the emigre groups had the ear of the people that mattered in the Pentago who said, once you have decapitated the Saddam regime, it will not be difficult to create a functioning Iraqi society. We were overconfident in that and didn't forsee -- this whole idea -- we didn't forsee that we would be in the midst of an extreme security problem. We didn't foresee that the Iranians would meddle as much as they meddled. It goes back almost to that point, but I think we seriously failed to see what was the real problem. The real problem was security and we probably spent too much time on humanitarian -- the movement of people, refugee camps, safe havens and the food supply issues, and we didn't catch this other issue that, if we didn't establish security, nothing else counted for anything.

This is in contrast to Shafik's earlier testimony and Chilcot pointed that out to Turnbull before noting that Shafik wasn't there (and Turnbull was) so obviously on some level John Chilcott does grasp that people need to be testifying to what they witnessed. I was not impressed with Shafik's testimony and we're not emphasizing it. Iraq Inquiry Blogger weighs in on Turnbull's testimony:

In the event it was a fascinating session. He attacked Alastair Campbell for describing Clare Short as untrustworthy ("very poor"), criticised Blair for allowing the 'culture of challenge' to ebb from Cabinet life and introduced the new (to me) phrase "granny's footsteps" to describe the troubling way the September dossier was pieced together by No 10 and the spooks.
How was Middle East security ever going to be improved, he asked, by taking out Saddam Hussein and leaving Iran with a neighbour newly run by 15 million Shia?
Perhaps most moving were his remarks about the late Robin Cook. A number of commentators have said the former Foreign Secretary wasn't always the easiest of people to get on with; I interviewed him once and was left with the distinct impression that mine were by some considerable degree by far the stupidest questions he'd ever been asked (then again maybe they were).
But Turnbull's description of the "quite remarkable" man was highly affectionate. Alone in a Cabinet that had bought the case for war, Cook was the only person who wasn't convinced about WMD or the failure of containment "and I'm sorry he isn't around to take the credit for that".

Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) focuses on the legal opinion given the Cabinet before the start of the illegal war:

Lord Turnbull, the cabinet secretary at the time, who gave the inquiry unprecedented insights into how the Blair government took the country to war in 2003, said there were significant differences between the final legal opinion Lord Goldsmith presented to the cabinet, and an earlier version he gave privately to Tony Blair.
"It was not, in my view, a summary of what had been produced 10 days earlier. It was materially different in some respects because of the passage of time. Certain things had changed," he said.
Blair has argued that the short statement Goldsmith subsequently gave the cabinet on the eve of the invasion was a "fair summary" of the attorney general's latest legal advice. However, it is now known that the only official legal opinion Goldsmith drew up was the one dated 7 March, which contained serious caveats about the lawfulness of an invasion.

David Brown (Times of London) adds, "Lord Turnbull said that the final legal opinion presented to the Cabinet 'was not, in my view, a summary of what had been produced ten days earlier. It was materially different in some respects because of the passage of time. Certain things had changed'." For Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry) the most telling moment of the hearing was that Turnbull became yet another who had faith in Blair early on but now didn't know what to make (he told the Inquiry he was confused by Tony Blair's recent claims that he would have invaded Iraq whether or not he thought it had WMD) and, "The trouble for Blair is that if the cabinet secretary didn't know what the true aim of his policy was, the evidence of all of the officials further away from him who have sworn that the objective of the policy was disarmament becomes worthless."

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