Friday, January 22, 2010

Gordon Brown ready to testify . . . why?

Gordon Brown will give evidence to the Iraq inquiry before the general election, it emerged last night. The surprise development could increase the electoral damage to Labour from the independent investigation into the war, chaired by the former Whitehall mandarin Sir John Chilcot.

The above is from Andrew Grice's "Gordon Brown to give evidence 'before General Election'" (Independent of London)and we noted it in yesterday's snapshot. If I say, "This a p.r. effort to improve Labour's standings," will community members grasp why I say that? If I point out I'm watching someone's child this week for a reason, will that help any still confused? If you got it, I'll now say I won't offer anything else on it (other than I did not hear about it from her, I have my own friends in the Labour Party leadership). Patrick Wintour and Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) explain, "In a brief statement at the start of today's hearing, Chilcot did not give a full explanation as to why he had changed his mind. But the opposition parties have insisted that Brown should give evidence before the election and Brown has said that he is willing to appear before polling day, and the inquiry appears to have concluded that postponing the session could give an advantage to Brown's opponents." Because Gordon Brown has always done whatever the opposition parties have asked him to, right? (Wrong.) James Macintyre (New Statesman) walks you through two possibilities:

As to the implications of Brown's appearance: on the one hand this could damage Brown, reminding voters that this was a "Labour war", even though it was unwisely backed by the Tories and no matter how much Brown tries personally to disasssociate from it.
On the other hand, Brown strategists believe, there is a chance that -- along with the debates -- this could be a chance for Brown to level with the British people and even thrive under pressure.

The second is the hoped for outcome and Brown's polling is in the tank. It's not as bad as it's been reported -- it's far worse. Labour polled immediately following Alastair Campbell's testimony last week. Campbell hurt the party and he hurt Gordon Brown who is too tied with Tony Blair in the minds of most British citizens. (Repeating, Rebecca has not told me any of this. I've spoken to her twice each day but really only to say, "Hey, hold on," then handing the phone to her daughter. She -- Rebecca -- is too busy to talk on the phone. This is not a pleasure trip for her.) Why would people tie Brown to Tony Blair? Brown and Blair had their succession plan as far back as the 90s and, as Bob Roberts and Jason Beattie (Daily Mirror) remind this morning, "In the past, Brown said he backed all decisions taken by Tony Blair in the run-up to the invasion." By leaking the news late yesterday, Brown has angered some. Graeme Wilson (The Sun) explains, "The inquiry is believed to be furious that the move was revealed by No 10 sources before a planned announcement today." David Brown (Times of London) also notes the anger, "An exact date for the Prime Minister’s appearance is yet to be set and sources said that members of the inquiry were absolutely furious that the information was released by No 10 before its planned announcement today. They complain that Downing Street is turning the invitation, which was extended by the inquiry in a letter last night, into a political issue." James Kirkup (Telegraph of London) interprets the move as a sign of the Iraq Inquiry's weakness, explaining how at first John Chilcot, chair of the Inquiry, insisted that Brown would testify after the Parliamentary elections but now that's changed and he doesn't buy that it was changed by Chilcot:

So look again at that original decision to defer Mr Brown's evidence. All that has changed between then and now is Mr Brown's public attitude on the timing. How can we avoid the conclusion that the original decision was affected by Mr Brown's attitude?
I've no doubt that Sir John will say his decision reflects the wider political context and not simply Mr Brown's preference. But the reality is that the idea of his inquiry’s independence has taken a heavy blow.

The Iraq Inquiry issued the following today:

The Iraq Inquiry committee has offered Prime Minister Gordon Brown and two Cabinet ministers the chance to give evidence to the Inquiry before the election. In a letter sent to Mr Brown last night (21 January 2010) [PDF 344KB, 2 pages], Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot said that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband and the International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander should all be offered the opportunity to appear at the Inquiry before the General Election if they wished.

The committee previously decided not to call ministers before the election if they were still in roles which the Inquiry wished to question them about. This was to ensure that Inquiry was kept out of party politics.

However, following a letter from the Prime Minister on January 19th [PDF 26KB, 1 page], the Committee discussed the issue again and concluded that it was only fair that Mr Brown, Mr Miliband and Mr Alexander be given the option of appearing before the election.

At the start of today's hearing, Iraq Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot made the following statement;

"The Iraq Inquiry that sits before you is an independent committee, dedicated to establishing a account of the UK's involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and learning lessons for governments facing similar circumstances in the future. From the outset we have made it clear that we wish to stay outside party politics. Ours is a serious task and we wish to collect our evidence in a way in which our witnesses will be open about what happened and give their evidence fully without the hearings being used as a platform for political advantage by any party. It was for this reason that my colleagues and I made a decision announced before Christmas, that we would not call ministers currently serving in posts relevant to Iraq until after the election.

"The Prime Minister wrote to me earlier this week to say that he was prepared to give evidence whenever we saw fit. In my reply to the Prime Minister yesterday evening, I said that, as a matter of fairness, the committee concluded we should offer the Prime Minister, if he wished to take it up, the opportunity for him, for David Miliband, Foreign Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, International Development Secretary, to attend hearings before the general election.

"The Prime Minister replied to me this morning to say that he will be happy to agree dates from a range we have proposed over the next two months and this correspondence is now being published on our website." [PDF 90KB, 1 page]

Public hearings continue today with the Inquiry hearing from Suma Chakrabarti and Nicholas Macpherson. Yesterday's witness was Jack Straw.

In "A bit late, Mr Straw," the Daily Mail observes, "Day by day, witness by witness, a deeply shocking picture is emerging from the Chilcot Inquiry, a picture of Tony Blair dragging this country into a damaging and unpopular war, while his advisors doctored evidence and ministers allowed ambition to override their principles." Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) reports of Straw's testimony:

Legally, he said, the case for invasion "stood or fell on whether Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security, by reasons of its weapons . . . not whether it had an . . . unpleasant authoritarian regime . . . butchering its own people."
Straw said the conviction that Iraq could unleash weapons of mass destruction on short notice as outlined in a September 2002 government dossier was "an error . . . which has haunted us ever since."
In his memo, however, he summed up that if inspections had proceeded without an ultimatum, "the unresolved disarmament questions would have remained unresolved, and the Iraqi regime would have been re-emboldened."

Ann Treneman (Times of London) offers
her impressions of Straw's testimony:

The thing about Jack Straw that fascinated me and everyone else in the public gallery yesterday was whether the man before us was for or against the Iraq war.
It was quite hard to figure out: until the end that is, Agatha Christie could not have plotted it better. But what we could all see from the beginning was that Jack Straw was very pro all things Jack Straw.
Mr Straw is neat, pin-striped, eager to be noticed. He is not so much pompous as nerdily self-important. Thus he had submitted a memo on Iraq to the Chilcot committee, limiting himself to a mere 8,000 words (25 pages, 78 paragraphs). He then quoted himself often, via numbered paragraph reference.
His almost obsessive use of references is coupled with a true love of reflection. Thus yesterday we got his thoughts on bees, Suez, the Falklands, John Maynard Keynes, the American Civil War, Bill Clinton and, yes, Monica Lewinsky, whose name was transcribed as Liewn ski, which seemed right. Intriguingly, interlaced with all of this other stuff -- a technical term but accurate -- were his thoughts on the war and the man who was Foreign Secretary did, actually, seem to be against it.

Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogs at Twitter.

TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on many PBS stations (check local listings):

The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five American soldiers are coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, many of which require round-the-clock attention.
But lost in the reports of these returning soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice everything to care for them.
This week, NOW reveals how little has been done to help these family caregivers, and reports on dedicated efforts to support them.

Staying with TV notes, Washington Week begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen are Joan Biskupic (USA Today), John Harwood (CNBC, New York Times), Martha Raddatz (ABC News) and Alexis Simendinger (National Journal). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Linda Chavez, Bernadine Healy, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Patricia Sosa to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:

60 Minutes Pre-empted
60 Minutes will be pre-empted this week for a special edition of "60 Minutes Presents: a Tribute to Don Hewitt." This hour pays tribute to the news magazine's creator and former executive producer, Don Hewitt, who passed away last August at the age of 86.

60 Minutes Presents: a Tribute to Don Hewitt, Sunday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Radio notes. The Diane Rehm Show begins airing on most NPR stations (and begins streaming online live) at 10:00 am EST. The first hour, domestic hour, Diane's panelists are Naftali Bendavid (Wall St. Journal), Jackie Calmes (New York Times) and Susan Milligan (Boston Globe). The second hour, international hour, her panelists are Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), David Sanger (New York Times) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy Newspapers). Remember that Diane's show is also archived and you can stream for free. (Today's show will be archived around 1:30 this afternoon -- EST.)

Last night's "I Hate The War" mentioned a John V. Walsh column and I noted I was blanking on where it appeared. John Walsh's column is "Lying on Air America to Support the War" and I've added it to last night's entry (at the original site, not at the mirror site).

The e-mail address for this site is

60 minutes
cbs news
now on pbs
to the contrary
bonnie erbe
the diane rehm show