Tuesday, January 12, 2010








"Today, we are moving on to hear from Ministers and the most senior decision-makers over the next four weeks," chair John Chilcot declared in London. "We will then take a break over the period of the general election, before resuming public hearings in the summer." Chilcot is the chair of Iraq Inquiry and Tony Blair's spokesperson Alastair Campbell (link goes to video and transcript options) was today's witnesses and the press -- the world press with the exception of the US -- has turned out. In the US, George W. Bush sold the illegal war on a number of false claims. In England, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair used the lie that Iraq could attack England with WMD within 45 minutes. It was a lie, the Iraq Inquiry (chaired by John Chilcot) has established that. Tony Blair will appear before them in the near future and, at that time presumably, he will explain whether or not he learned before the start of the war that his claim was false. What is known is that his staff was informed, days before the start of the Iraq War, that his claim was false and, if procedure was followed, that fact should have reached Blair. Along with Blair, current Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to testify. Among the commentaries on Campbell's testimony today, the most interesting is probably that of Ibrahim al-Marashi. He wrote the 'intel' for the Iraq War. He wrote it for his PhD and the British government stole it without attribution (as did Collie Powell who used it in his UN 'testimony' before the start of the Iraq War). al-Marashi writes in the Times of London:

What actually happened was this: the British Government took my material, then added pages that argued for military action against Iraq and changed key words to suggest that Iraq had supported al-Qaeda. This formed part of what became known as the "Dodgy Dossier", published in February 2003.
It followed a report released in September 2002, detailing Iraq's WMD programme and including the 45-minute figure four times. The BBC's assertion that Mr Campbell had inserted the 45-minute figure to "sex up" the document led to it being known as the "Sexed-up Dossier".
Sir John Scarlett, the intelligence chief, told the Chilcot inquiry that some of the facts he presented to the Government were "lost in translation". I would say that what got lost in translation is that governments have been spinning wars since the US Government set up the Creel Commission in the First World War.

John Scarlett, in the lead up to the Iraq War, was the chair of Tony Blair's Joint Intelligence Committee. He's already appeared before the committee. We'll note this section from today's hearing.

Committee Lawrence Freedman: On 5 and 9 September you chaired two meetings in the Cabinet Office with senior officials, including John Scarlett, to discuss the dossier. Why were you chairing these meetings?

Alastair Campbell: Because John Scarlett, having done what he considered to be a pretty advanced draft of the dossier, then said to me, I think quite rightly, "It is going to be a document the Prime Minister presents to Parliament. There are massive global expectations around it and I need a bit of presentational support," and that's what I gave him.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Can I just clairfy something you said there? You said Scarlett had already done a draft. I didn't think a draft had been done.

Alastair Campbell: There came a point where he said, "I have now reached a point where I need presentational advice on this". So we met on the 5th and the 9th. As a result of those meetings, a process was set out by me, in writing, around the system, which made clear what the dossier, in terms of its overall structure and contents, was going to be, but also emphasising to everybody within the system that this was now John Scarlett's work and anything that had gone before was redundant and irrelevant. Then, when he came back to me, it was to say, "I have now reached a position where I need presentational advice". I was chairing those meetings because the Prime Minister was going to be presenting the paper that John Was working on to Parliament, massive media interest right around the world, and I think it was entirely, not just appropriate, it was absolutely necessary that I should have done that.

Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: But in most organisations chairing a meeting confers authority and accountability. So basically you are saying you are a customer of this process as well as giving help with the presentation.

Alastair Campbell: I mean, look, in terms of the -- just as a point of accuracy by the way, the meetings were in Downing Street, not the Cabinet Office. Look, within the context of that meeting, I was the person who was charged by the Prime Minister to advise him on all the presentational aspects to do with the dossier, and indeed its production, which was going to be enormous. I think on the day that the dossier was published, the website sort of crashed and the interest was absolutely huge. So John's role within that, which was clearly understood by everybody -- and I think also in a way it hopefully was of assistance to John Scarlett and the JIC, that, in a sense, we were so clearly having that relationship, because to the rest of government it was sending very, very clearly the message: this is now the document that the Prime Minister is going to present to Parliament and that guy over there, John Scarlett, is the man in charge of it.

David Brown (Times of London) reports, "He rejected Sir John's evidence to the inquiry that he could not have altered Mr Balir's foreword -- in which he claimed that the intelligence showed 'beyond doubt' that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) -- as it was a political statement" and quotes Campbell stating, "If John Scarlett or any of his team had had any concerns of real substance about the foreword then they know they could have raised those directly with the Prime Minister."

Campbell was an ass throughout. He whined like a baby about the BBC and claimed it turned on Blair & Company and wouldn't report any good news from Iraq. He was and remains in a bubble, completely untouched by reality.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: You have expressed today your support for the policy that was followed on Iraq with very great conviction. Do you consider now that it has been a success and, looking back on it, what lessons would you draw from it beyond the points that have already been made, for example, just now, about the aftermath, and what regrets, if any, do you have?

Alastair Campbell: Do I support it? Yes. I think that, as I said to you just before the break -- I think that Britain, far from beating ourselves up about this, should be really proud of the role that we played in changing Iraq from what it was to what it is now becoming and the potential impact that that has on the region. I think, for example that Libya and the moves that it made in relation to WMD, I think -- I don't know because I wasn't involved in those discussions, but I wouldn't be surprised if that wasn't in part driven by them seeing these guys are serious now about this issue. I think that the -- when -- I saw the Prime Minister as closely and probably as often as anybody else, and I saw somebody of really deep conviction and integrity, who was making, without doubt, the most difficult decision of his premiership, knowing there were going to be consequences, but also understanding there are "what if" questions, had he taken another decision. Again, I thought Chris Meyer was really glib about the pontential impact on the transatlantic relationship in relation to that.

Did he just accuse someone else of being glib? Asked of regrets, he doesn't once note loss of life and he wants to call someone else glib? Really? It gets worse. Watch what happens when he's prompted about loss of life.

Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Looking at the huge cost in loss of life over, now, six and a half years, at the effects on the stability of the Middle Eastern region, at the development of international terrorism within Iraq, do you consider that, overall, the policy has succeeded?

Alastair Campbell: I do, but not without reflecting often and realising the import of the ccaveats that you have just put into that. I think, in relation to the Middle East peace process -- and bear in mind the road map is still -- the outline -- and the Prime Minister did get the Americans to go down there. I don't think they can solely be blamed for the fact that there has been such little process. I think, in terms of security, yes, the death toll has been high in terms of Iraqis, and obviously any loss of any British soldier's life is not just tragic but it obviously weighs heavily on anybody who was involved in that process, most particularly, obviously, the Prime Minister.

He yammers away but, note, he never mentions American lives. And, no, his being British is not an excuse. Every military officer testifying to the committee -- everyone -- mentioning loss of life has noted the US death toll. Campbell couldn't shut up about America or the United States when it was time to share blame. But here he notes the Iraqi death toll (he should, he's responsible for those deaths) and then pointedly declares "any loss of any British soldier's life is not just tragic but it . . ."

Let's go to the stats. The death toll for the UK forces in Iraq? 179. For the US? 4373. Repeating, every British officer appearing before the committee who has noted the death toll has been sure to include the US death toll. 4373 is not a minor number. (139 is the number of service members killed from foreign countries other than the US or the UK -- "foreign countries" means "not Iraq.")

But only some numbers matter to Campbell. Some numbers including thousands and hundreds of thousands don't matter to Campbell and never did. Wait. Let's let him explain it.

Committee Member Martin Gilbert: My last question on this relates to the extraordinary demonstration, on 15 February 2003, in which vast numbers of people, including two of my three children walked through the streets of London protesting about the Iraq war, and it was said to be one of the largest demonstrations of recent times. What account did you take of this strength of public opinion and how did it inform the Prime Minister's preparation for what was going to be this very important Parliamentary debate?

Alastair Campbell: In one very specific way -- I think the day before the march, I think I'm right that we were in Scotland. I can't remember that precisely. The march was getting huge publicity in the build-up. It was clearly going to be an enormous event, and you have got to remember this is a democracy, the Prime Minister was intending to stand for re-election, he knew that this was a deeply unpopular policy with an awful lot of people and not just unpopular, tuition fees or whatever it might have been; this was deep. I always have a rule of thumb that, if somebody goes on a march, there are probably ten others who thought about it. So there were a lot of people who were opposed. I think, what it definitely -- look, there was the political consideration. That was a big protest and he was -- he thought about it a lot and he was seized of its significance. But ultimately, I think it just made him think more deeply about the issue. The day before -- I will check the chronology on this -- he did a speech. We met some Iraqi exiles in a hotel in Scotland, who had got in touch with me actually and said -- because they sensed the UN thing going wrong, and they just came and said, "Look, he has got to see this through. He has got to see this through. We have got family back there, we know what Iraq is like. You have got all these people on the march, no doubt well-meaning, but they just do not understand the reality of this regime. Please." I took some of them to see the Prime Minister and he then made a speech where I think the line that was taken out of it by the media, he made what he called the moral case for war, becuase people were talking about the moral case, those on the march, the moral case for inaction, and the Prime Minister really just set out that there is a different view to take here and, ultimately, he didn't -- he always uwed this word. He said, "I don't disrespect those who have come to a different conclusion."

After a break, Campbell corrected his timeline, "Can I just say that the moral case speech was the day of the march?" So thousands and thousands of people march -- and Campbell believes each marcher represents ten people -- and Campbell wants to pretend that people are being respected.

Which people?

Not the marchers. They don't get a private audience with Tony Blair. Iraqi exiles -- most of whom are now KNOWN LIARS -- get to meet with Blair. Blair's moving towards war, according to Campbell, and the world sees its largest demonstration and Blair responds by? Meeting with the ones demanding the war. Not with the ones opposed.

He meets with the CHICKEN HAWKS who are TOO DAMN CHICKEN to FIGHT THEIR OWN BATTLES. The trashy exiles who sought refuge in another country and then used those countries as an operating base to drag the world into war. These trashy disgusting people, too scared to fight Saddam so they ran from their own country, demanding now that the US, the UK, Australia and other countries send in soldiers to do the job that the CHICKEN HAWKS were too scared to do themselves.

Many of the exiles were on the CIA payroll throughout their period of exile. These weren't refugees. These were thugs like the ones in Florida who plot to overthrow Cuba. No country should grant asylum to any person who doesn't agree that the host country will not be used as a staging platform for war with the country they hail from.

The exiles lived it up. And got special access. The people protesting? They got nothing. Oh, some of them were 'lucky' enough to see their sons or daughters, husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, friends sent off to fight in this illegal war. And of course the exiles returned to Iraq. Whisked back in. For photo ops. And installed into the puppet government.

Tony Blair's apology to the British should include putting them second to please a bunch of spoiled, cowardly exiles.

Iain Martin (Wall St. Journal) observes, "But there is something strange about the unyielding nature of their responses and their lack of willingness to reflect meaningfully. Almost seven years since the invasion, it is disappointing that those who drove such an important decision are not more insightful about what went wrong and right." Today was probably the most media covered day of the hearing thus far (January 29th will be the big media day if Tony Blair appears then as scheduled). Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogged the hearing at Twitter and noted of the media, "Several satellite trucks praked outside QE2 centre. Two protestors, one billboard saying Campbell, Blair, Scarlett should be tried at Hague." Tom Baldwin (Times of London) makes this call: "Indeed, the blanket news coverage his appearance generated, showed that the passions that burned so hot over the invasion have not been cooled by either global recession or regime change in Washington and a new leader in London, as well as Baghdad." Iraq Inquiry Blogger was not the only live blogger -- Emma Griffiths live blogged for BBC News.Glen Oglaza continued live blogging for Sky News and the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow live blogged. In addition, Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) -- long on this story -- live blogged and his strongest post was probably the fact checking one:

Mr Campbell's claims:
1. In evidence (Q1092) to the Commons' foreign affairs committee (FAC), he claimed: "The entire document was the product of the pen of the Joint Intelligence Committee chairman [John Scarlett]."
2. Campbell also claimed: "The allegation… that I, or anyone in Downing Street, exaggerated and distorted intelligence…is totally untrue." (para 9 of his memo to the FAC.)
3. Campbell or his deputy, Godric Smith, repeatedly claimed that there had been no political interference whatever in the dossier. For instance, at the Downing Street press briefing of 4 June 2003 (on page 6 of this PDF): "The dossier was entirely the work of the intelligence agencies… Suggestions that any pressure was put on the intelligence services by No 10 or anyone else to change the document were entirely false."
The reality:
1. The foreword of the dossier was written by Campbell, as this memo of 17 September 2002, a week before publication, makes clear. In his own evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry a few weeks ago, Scarlett himself belatedly admitted this too. The foreword was where the dossier's most incendiary statements appeared, such as the claim that the intelligence on Saddam's WMD was "beyond doubt."
2. The 17 September memo also shows that Campbell suggested 15 changes to the executive summary and main body of the document to Scarlett. Most were accepted and their effect was to harden up the document's language from possibility to probability, or probability to certainty.
3. Among the most serious: following Campbell's suggestion in the memo, a false statement, unsupported by intelligence reporting, was inserted in the dossier that Saddam had continued to "make progress" with his illicit weapons programmes.

Note that the above is an excerpt, Gilligan's fact check continues at the link. David Brown (Times of London) zooms in on the testimony regarding communications between Blair and Bully Boy Bush, "Tony Blair promised George Bush that Britain would support military action by the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein in a series of secret notes written a year before the invasion of Iraq." Philippe Naughton (Times of London) also zooms in on the notes, "Tony Blair's chief spin doctor revealed today that the former Prime Minister sent a series of notes to President Bush in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in which he made clear that Britain would 'be there' if it came to military action against Saddam Hussein." Campbell actually stated a bit more than that. He declared that, before 9-11, Blair -- who made his desire for regime change clear in the 90s -- told Bush the Middle East would be the big focus. Richard Norton-Taylor and Afua Hirsh (Guardian) go for the notes as well, "Blair was determined to disarm Saddam, Campbell said. Blair's message to the US in April 2002 was he would try to do it through UN resolutions. ­However, 'if the only way is regime change through military action then the British government will support the American government', Campbell said, describing Blair's view."

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