Thursday, January 21, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces a death, the VA does another song and dance before Congress (as approximately 1,000 veterans still wait for their FALL 2009 checks), the Senate explores the Fort Hood shootings (in which 13 people died and over forty were wounded), the Iraq election 'process' remains in crisis, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- A U.S. Soldier assigned to United States Forces - Iraq died of non-combat related injuries as a result of a vehicle accident, Jan. 20. The Soldier's name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website [. . .] The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." The announcement brings to 4374 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
RTE News is the only one filing on violence today and they note a Kirkuk bombing targeting the Health Dept director general (who survived) today and, dropping back to yesterday, they note that 1 Iraqi colonel was shot dead in Mosul, while 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul and a third was killed in a Mosul bombing.
In DC today, US Senator Carl Levin declared, "Today's open hearing is on the panel's unrestricted report. A restricted annex to their report entitled 'Oversight of the Alleged Perpetrator' focuses on information which, in the judgment of the Department of Defense could prejudice a criminal prosecution if it was discussed in public. So our committee will have a closed session after this open hearing is concluded." Levin is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee which was hearing from former Secretary of the Army Togo West and retired Adm Vernon Clark, both of whom were tasked by US Secretary of the Defense Robert Gates to examine procedures and policies leading up to the November 5th Fort Hood shootings. John McCain is the Ranking Member on the committee and he noted, in his opening remarks, that "your report is devoted to personnel policies and emergency shooting response procedures. The report concentrates on actions and effects rather than the motivations but it was motives that led to the Fort Hood killings and that should have been examined." McCain called it an "omission" to not identify specific threats of potential violence to servicemembers.
In reading his opening remarks, Clark broke away to insist that "behaviors" were addressed in the report ("that's what we're talking about") and "self-radicalization" was in there. He also broke away to say there was "no single" answer to ensuring the protection of servicemembers from these threats but the threats really weren't identified in the public report. I'm less interested in West and Clark's opening remarks today because we covered them in yesterday's snapshot when they appeared before the House and the basics remained the same. One difference was Clark's delivery which was brusque at best and defensive in regards to issues McCain raised. His irritation was also noted by his repeated praise for "Mr. Chairman" and his pointed refusal to praise the "Ranking Member" or "Senator McCain." He offered praise for Levin not once but mulitple times and there were several times when he offered an "I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman" for something that Levin had noted in his opening remarks . . . but it had also been noted by McCain who, again, was pointedly not mentioned. (At one point he did thank "Mr. Chairman and all the members".)
Chair Carl Levin: The panel found that: "Department of Defense policy regarding religious accomodation lacks the clarity necessary to help commanders distinguish appropriate religious practices from those that might indicate a potential for violence or self-radicalization." And I think what you're saying is that obviously this country believes in religious tolerance, tolerance of others' religions, but it can never be tolerant of violent, radical views that are dressed up in religious garb. I think that's that point reworded. I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes the views that are clearly inherently violent, promote violence are dressed up in religious clothing and that automatically means that people who are sensitive to others' religious views then are kind of put on the defensive right away or reluctant right away to point out what is underneath the claim of religion. So the line has got to be there obviously. We want to continue our tolerance but we've got to be much harder and much more intolerant of views that are radical, promote violence, or encourage violence. And so my first question to you is that the policy of the Department which is limited to and addresses only active participation in groups that pose threats to good order and discipline is far too narrow a policy because of the self-radicalization point. You don't have to participate in a group that poses that kind of a threat to be a threat yourself. And so I guess my first quesiton is: How would you -- and I know you're not here to provide remedies and that wasn't your job -- but I assume that you agree that it's not just that that policy should be examined but that in your judgment, at least, it's simply too limited a policy. And I'm wondering whether or not for instance, you would agree that communication with a radical cleric who promotes violence is the kind of conduct that should raise real questions? Would you agree with that? Even though it's not active participation at that point it's just simply communication -- asking someone for their recommendations and views. Would you agree that that ought to be raising great suspicion without getting into this particular case?
Sec Togo West: Yeah. Mr. Chairman, I would certainly agree -- I think we both would. And I think your larger point that this is an example of, we would agree with as well. And that is: Yes, in the past perhaps, membership alone in a group may have been less looked upon than the actual act of doing things but, in this environment, we have to look at the group, we have to understand its purposes. And it is already considered by some that there is a tool that enables a commander to declare certain kinds of action including that a threat to his immediate area'ss order and discpline. But we think the Department of Defense can just simply strengthen the ability of commanders to look at and examine exactly what kind of activity they are permitting and whether or not we can better define it. Group membership in a group of that sort that has a record of active advocation of violence and as well as your point communication --especially repeated communication -- again, not referring to any particular case -- with those who advocate violence? Those are all signals that we need to be able to indicate in our publications and in our regulations commanders are authorized to look and be react to.
Chair Carl Levin: And even if there weren't active communication, excuse me, active participation or communication, with radical persons who are promoting violence, even if there's simply the expression of views which promote violence without any information about participation in a group or communication with radical extremists -- if somebody gets up and says, 'I believe that the Constitution comes in second and that my religious views come in first,' would that not be that kind of a signal which ought to indicate some real genuine concern? Would you agree with that?
Adm Vernon Clark: I certainly do agree with it and it goes without saying that where we draw our redlines is a very, very important point. But if you look at our history, we as a people, as Americans have always been very careful working about where we draw those lines. I so appreciate, your introduction to this question by your [. . .]
And we're done. Salem Witch trials are only one historical example in the US of religious intolerance. That is a flavor of the hearing a number of service members are concerned with what is going on in these hearings and wanting to be sure that care is being taken. Levin covered that at the top. Whether you think it is or is not will be your call but the issue was raised and those are some of the responses. Due to space limitations and too much else to cover, that's it on that.
Yesterday the US House Armed Services Committee heard from West and Clark. Last night Kat weighed in on US House Rep Loretta Sanchez' exchange. Sanchez noted a colonel who called into a radio program that she happened to catch and how he stated that there were warning signs and he just wanted to retire before the guy 'blew'. West told Sanchez he believed they spoke to the (left unnamed) colonel but they never heard the radio broadcast or of it. Kat: "How does that inspire confidence? You've got a public conversation out there that you can now apply to the testimony a colonel is giving you. Shouldn't you have made the comparison? Shouldn't you have been aware of the radio broadcast?" Filling in for Rebecca last night, Wally noted US House Rep Todd Akin was the one to ask a question about the issue of the suspect being Muslim and he also noted that although over sixty representatives serve on the committee, he counted 14 at one point and one of those wasn't on the committee, US House Rep Michael Burgess who was allowed to sit in.
And we're back to service members. Today the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing. We'll start by noting some of the chair's opening remarks (as delivered, slightly different from the prepared text).
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Some of those in attendance may recall that our first hearing of 2009 was on the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill. This was followed up by supplemental hearings that sought to ensure VA's progress on the short and long-term information techonology solutions. I hope that it is clear to our panelists before us today that by making this our first hearing of 2010, we demonstrate the continued importance of the subject at hand. I'm sure my colleagues will agree that the current delays in processing education claims are simply unacceptable. A number of my colleagues not on this committee have spoken to me directly or have written to me documenting experiences of student veterans that they represent who have suffered some of the consequences of the delays in processing these claims. While the administration, I know, shares my concerns regarding these shortcomings,more has to be done. However, the blame doesn't rest solely with the VA. The processing of a single claim requires multiple steps involving multiple parties and computer systems, all of which must work in-sync with one another in order for a veteran to receive his or her benefits in a timely manner. These computer difficulties demonstrate the need for a fully-functional long-term solution.
The Chair then noted that the Subcommittee staff had visited Muskogee, Oklahoma's VA Regional Processing Center and Education Call Center wher ethey discovered the Education Call Center was being shut down on Thursdays and Fridays. Veterans calling were not able to speak to anyone and the staff was working on claims. It was noted by Herseth Sandlin that the Call Center can and should be open five days via better time management. Ranking Member John Boozman noted the visit as well and how the staff were the ones who told them time could be better managed and that, "As a result of that discussion, local VA management forwarded a request to the VA's Office of Field Operations to make the changes suggested and therein lies my concer: Why does it take a suggestion from Congressional staff to raise such a common sense issue and why do those responsible at the local level need to get permission from central office?" He furher noted that seven a.m. to five p.m. on the call center (from Monday through Friday) limits the opportunities for those "living outside the continental US" to speak to someone.
The VA sent Capt Mark Krause (Program Manager) and Roger W. Baker (Asst Sec for Information and Technology) to testify. I'm really not interested in their excuses or self-strokes. Nor are the service members complaining that they still haven't received their fall 2009 checks. So I'm not interested in Rober Baker's bulls**t for example where he refers (past tense) to 2009 enrollees that did not receive their checks and "I believe it is important to convey, on behalf of Secretary Shinseki and every member of the VA team, our apologies for those delays and our understanding that the impacts of those delays on Veterans are unaccpetable."
It's nonsense. And the committe heard "accountability" from Shinseki and others who followed him in October. Someone needs to explain to the VA that merely tossing around the word "accountability" (while the cameras are rolling) is not demonstrating "accountability." And the VA has yet to demonstrate that it has taken any accountability for its poor job. A congo lline of VA employees have repeatedly appeared before the committee all claiming that the delays were "unacceptable" but the VA has shown no improvements. Following a lengthy slideshow, this exchange took place.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Let me start with a statement, Mr. Wilson, that you made. On slide four, the long-term release II scheduled for June 30, 2010 that sort of allows for the automated data feeds for the schools, DoD, that this is a game changer from the user point of view. You know, for Mr. Baker, Mr. Wilson, I assume that the goal for the long-term release II is to have that operatational for processing fall 2010 semester claims. Is that correct?
Keith Wilson: Yes, that's correct.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: That being the case, Mr. Baker, according to your testimony, release I has been modified to reduce its functionality because of this software requirement that you recently --
Roger Baker: Yes. The increased complexity, yes.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So why did it take until just recently to identify the need for the new software requirement?
Roger Baker: Actually . . . uhm . .. what-what occured is as the subject matter experts and the software people were sitting down together to walk through what does an amended reward really mean? What are the intracricies, the decision trees required for an amended reward . . . uhm . . . They kept uncovering , if you will, more and more depth of what was required on software of amended awards and it went beyond the estimates they had originally had for what it was going to take to do amended awards. Uh, so as we determined that the amount of work to make that March 31st date exceeded the amount possible to accomplish, we had to determine what would come out of that release?
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And how confident are you then that the June 30th deadline can be met --
Roger Baker: We're --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: In light of how important that deadline is to the fall semester?
Roger Baker: We're -- we're pretty confident in that. We-we, as you can imagine, we've had some significant focus on that as well. And we've talked about what is it possible to do in the June 30th timeframe. We know that we can get everything in that was originally scheduled for release I and release I was intended to be the replacement for the current system so -- functional replacement. If we had delayed release I until about mid-May , we'd have had a fully functional release. There's about that much additional work that was added. Uh, so we know that will come in. And we will be releasing that functionality in incremental pieces along the way to mid-May and if VBA determines it's appropriate allowing the users to work with the increased functionality in that time frame. And then adding those automated feeds that are critical as we ramp up to June 30th. So we-we have a reasonably good confidence in the June 30th -- and if you don't mind, I'll elaborate on that just a little bit further. The-the thing that I have to tell you that I'm pleased with in the slip -- and I know this is going to sound a little strange -- is that in December, this project team was able to tell us that they had a problem with meeting the March 31st date. That's not a usual thing inside of VA projects. Usually, you hear about it March 30th. Uh, you know, that's going to happen on March 31st. That gave us time to make rational decisions about: Do we want to allow the slip or do we want to force the delivery date so that we see the software and what is the impact of that on subsequent releases? And so that's why we have a reasonable degree of confidence that we're going to have what we need on June 30th for a more automated system going into the fall semester. That's exactly been our focus with that June 30th release.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well I would just request that as that team -- you know, you've got a lot of internal milestones you're trying to meet and you've been very helpful to our committee and our committee staff in sharing information at every step of this process but in light of the problems that we've had with the interum solution, in light of the importance of this long-term solution, we-we need to stay on top of this, day-by-day, week-by-week. And if there is any other problem that is revealed to your project team, uh, we just need to be made aware of some of that ongoing work because of the importance of these deadlines in meeting the benefits for these students and-and understanding what more you might need from us because it's a high priority not only among this committee but the colleagues we hear from who have student veterans who are experiencing problems. You know, we want to make sure that we're able to answer questions immediately.
Herseth Sandlin wanted to know how long it will take to train the veterans claims examiners in each of the releases?
"We haven't done this before," said Krause. "I don't know that we have a feel for it," he added after some stumbling and hand gesturing. Wilson stated the training would be different blah blah blah. Which means, we don't know. But Wilson couldn't tell the truth and instead went into "that will be a more efficient process." The chair noted that after release one, the committee needed to be informed of what the time figure for training was.
Wilson stated approximately 1,000 veterans are still waiting for their fall 2009 checks ("no payments have gone out on those"). Wilson also insisted that the VA is in contact with all veterans who are waiting. No, they aren't. And as the chair pointed out, service verification from DoD is not the student's responsibility. That's the government's issue and that's their delay.
If it seemed to repeat from past hearings, that's because it did. Boozman repeated that the committee needed to know when there was a problem and that they needed to know if additional resources were need: "We have to understand what's going on." And the Ranking Member and the Chair both care about this issue but this is getting to be a joke where the committee gets informed of a problem in the midst of hearing or right before a scheduled hearing. The VA did not, DID NOT, inform Congress, that over a thousand veterans were still waiting for fall checks. That broke right before Christmas -- AP's Kimberly Hefling broke that story. Now grasp that this might have been tuition and/or housing checks. Tuition? You may say, "Well the college can wait." Many veterans -- talk to them, not the VA -- will tell you they had to take short-term loans. With interest rates. In order to cover the VA's delayed tuition payment, they had to take out short-term loans. I think the issue of money that would have gone to housing is self-explantory but I do know there is a perception (a mistaken one) that if the veteran's just waiting for a tuition check, it's no big deal. It is a big deal. And it's really past time that the committees in Congress started hearing from veterans in a public form so that all the citizens can know what they've had to go through as they've waited and waited for this promised benefit. They've waited and waited. And then, when problems emerged, they were treated rude. "It was," to quote one attending today's hearing, "as if the attitude was, 'Well we're giving it to you so you should just be grateful and stop complaining about it being late. We'll get to you when we have time.'" It has been offensive and it's been awkward. And especially so for those veterans with children. Whether they are the primary caregiver or not, many had to juggle money that was not there -- because the VA couldn't get the checks out -- to try to pull off a Christmas for their children. There's no excuse for that. There is no excuse for months and months of delays and it is very upsetting to veterans to continue to see Congress ask, "What do you need? Now you're going to tell us -- this time -- when a problem comes up, right?" Veterans at the hearing today felt like if they made that kind of mistake it would be all on them but when the VA makes it, the VA gets patted on the back and told, "Just try next time." It needs to stop and there needs to be accountabilty, There is none now and that goes to a lack of real leadership at the VA currently.
Let's move to Iraq quickly. Nizar Latif (The National) notes Iraq is now "locked in a deep constiutional crisis" as a result of the continued targeting of Iraqi politicians who might prove popular with voters. The banning is being done through a post-legal (or pre-legal) body. Jason Ditz (Antiwar) adds, "The bannings effectively destroy the third largest political alliance in Iraq just months ahead of the election, and are seen by many as an attempt by the Maliki government to cement its hold on power." Robert Dreyfuss (The Nation) explains of the body:
The Justice and Accountability Commission is heir to the old, circa-2003 de-Baathification Commission, a McCarthyite blacklisting body set up by the neocon-domination occupation authorities after the US invasion of Iraq and headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the wheeler-dealer who was the chief proponent of the war in the 1990s and beyond and who was an intimate confidante of leading neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and various American Enterprise Institute apparatchiks such as Michael Rubin, Danielle Pletka, et al. Today, Chalabi -- who spends a lot of his time in Iran, and who US military authorities believe is essentially an agent of Tehran -- is still the titular leader of the Justice and Accountability Commission, which is run day-to-day by Ali Faysal al-Lami. Lami is a sectarian Shiite politician who is running on the same Shiite religious alliance in the March 7 election that was put together by Chalabi, with the support of Iran and the backing of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Iran's chief Iraqi ally.
The commission is no more. Iraq is supposed to have implemented de-de-Ba'athification measures and, in addition, the Parliament refused to appoint people to the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission. The presidency council didn't sign off on the committee. It has no power, it has no authority. So why is it being listened to?
On the most recent Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera -- excerpt in Tuesday's snapshot), a supporter explained that it exists in bits and pieces stitched together. That's what his meandering response stated and, for those paying attention, this is the same lie/excuse supporters use to justify Parliament being cut out of the process for awarding oil contracts. Nouri's people pick and choose which laws to listen to and which laws not to, ignore this aspect or that, ignore the Constitution and do Nouri's bidding. The two situations really are identical. In both cases the Constituion is being ignored as are other laws. In both cases, a cobble together pre- or post-legal argument is being made -- one with no actual legal foundation -- to justify doing what Nouri wants done. Al Arabiya reports on a document Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi, has passed to Jalal Talabani, current president of Iraq which goes to the lack of authority for the commission, noting it's not been "approved by the presidency, cabinet, and paliamentary councils." Waleed Ibrahim, Khalid Al-Ansary, Muhanad Mohammed, Michael Christie and Ralph Boulton (Reuters) report the presidency council is asking for a court ruling on whether or not the committee making these decisions is even legitimate and quotes Talabani stating, "We have asked our brother Medhat al-Mahmoud (head of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council) whether the commission called justice and accountability really exists. As we know, parliament has not voted it into existence yet." Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reports US Vice President Joe Biden is being dispatched to Iraq and quotes Talabani stating, "We are an independent country and will not receive orders from anyone, whether it is a brotherly Arab country, a neibhoring country or a friend. Mr. Biden made proposals, but we are committed to safeguard and uphold this constitution."
In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues and today's witness was Jack Straw (link goes to video and transcript options) who was the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2001 to 2006. In the lead up to his testimony, correspondence and family drew press attention. Starting with the latter, the Daily Mirror quotes his son Will Straw stating, "My father's eventual support for Tony Blair over the war was the biggest mistake of his political life." David Cohen profiles Will Straw for London's Evening Standard: and quotes him stating, "Gordon Brown and Tony Blair have been a huge disappointment and let down the Laobur Party. I am especially deeply angry with Blair for being duplicitous about his reasons for taking us to war with Iraq, hiding behind WMDs when he was content to prosecute a war for regime change. And also for the unbelievably shoddy way he betrayed my father, demoting him from Foreign Secretary to Leader of the House, especially after my dad had been so loyal." Now to the correspondence issue, Sunday Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian of London) reports on a letter Straw wrote Blair ten days before Blair met with Bush at the latter's Crawford ranch (April 2002): "Jack Straw privately warned Tony Blair that an invasion of Iraq was legally dubious, questioned what such action would achieve, and challenged US claims about the threat from Saddam Hussein, it was revealed today ." Let's note this excerpt from today's hearing:
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: Let's just go through the very interesting issues you have raised there. Let's go through a couple of them. First, the missiles, and this had always been the strongest part of the intelligence picture, and the missiles were found. The point Mr Blix made was that it was destroying -- that is, here was something that could be found and there was a way of dealing with them through the provisions of UNMOVIC. You didn't need to do anything else thereafter. He had found them. He had made the point. He dealt with them. The other question on the intelligence was that the issue that you were saying about going to war, not going to war, depended very much on a political understanding in the Security Council, indeed in this country, so that, though you may well have been right about what the resolution required and what was needed, nonetheless you were dealing with a political perception, within the Security Council, that something more was required and this was a difficulty all the way through, that the people were expecting to see more.
Jack Straw: Sir Lawrence, everybody was expecting to see more. Leave President Putin out of it, but the level of the international consensus that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was very broad, and as I record in my memorandum, Dr Blix himself says after the war that he thought they continued to have stocks -- his assumption all the way through had been that. But there was a -- there was no war party on the Security Council -- I mean, we can say maybe on the part of the United States administration, but I certainly, in the UK government -- I certainly didn't want war and I say, if Dr Blix had said -- and Dr El-Baradei, but if Dr Blix -- because this was where the focus was -- "This regime is complying with and it fulfils, as it were, the test in OP4", that would be the end of it from our point of view. I don't know what the United States would have done, but there would have been no case whatever for us taking part in any military action, and the strategy of 1441, which was to resolve this by peaceful means would have succeeded.
That's reflective of all the jumble of distortions that came out of Straw's mouth. Let's deal with the above. 1441 is the first UN resolution. There was no second resolution. There was no UN resolution giving the go-ahead for the invasion of Iraq. 1441 was about weapons inspectors going into Iraq and searching for weapons. Does Straw think the whole world is stupid? He wants to say that if the weapons inspectors had said Iraq was in compliance that there would have been no war. At least not for England, he quickly added.
2003 was some time ago, it was not, however, before the advent of recorded history. Click here for AP's real time story where the inspectors have to flee Iraq -- before finishing their mission -- because Bully Boy Bush is declaring war. Everything Straw stated was questionable. Including that he went to Tony Blair and stated the UN had to mediate or be given the chance to because otherwise the war would be illegal -- if England and the US just invaded, it would be illegal. But that's exactly what happened. Chris Ames (Iraq Inquiry Digest) attempts to travel through the maze of Straw's making. Louise Nousratpour (Morning Star) notes the vanity in Straw's statements as he declared if he'd told Blair he wouldn't support the war, it wouldn't have taken place. Well there you go. Now we know who to blame. As soon as he climbs off the cross, we can all proceed to the Hague.
Straw also attempted to insist that the 45-minute claim used to sell the illegal war in England (Iraq has WMD! and Iraq can attack England with them in 45 minutes!) was a mistake -- not because it was a lie (it was a lie) but, golly, that wasn't WMD, that was missiles. Missiles, Straw insisted, was what Tony Blair meant with the 45-minute claim. Not that WMD would hit England in 45 minutes, but missiles. Straw really thinks the world is stupid. The man appears unhinged when speaking, whether he was that nervous or suffering from some mental or physical issue, I have no idea. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger best captured one of the strangest moments, "Odd too when Straw appeared to suggest that the panel take evidence from the late Robin Cook to confirm how he -- Straw -- had always insisted the war only proceed after parliamentary debate." At the Guardian, Chris Ames has a detailed analysis of Straw's testimony and we'll note the opening:
Thanks to Gordon Brown, the Iraq inquiry has become largely an exercise in reading between the lines against a government strategy of the selective release of information and selective quotation. From that perspective, we learnt this afternoon, in spite of Jack Straw's best efforts, that in a letter to George Bush in July 2002, Tony Blair gave a pretty unconditional undertaking that Britain would join in the US-led invasion of Iraq. The government has blocked publication of that letter. Jack Straw, who also blocked publication of the pre-war cabinet minutes, agrees with that suppression.
The reason you have to read between the lines is that – as I first wrote in November – by virtue of the Cabinet Office protocol on information, the government can control both what the inquiry can publish and what it can directly quote in public sessions. The inquiry is increasingly kicking against this restriction and today said out loud that it is being restricted.
But, as I have also observed, government witnesses have also learnt to play the game of putting their own spin on the evidence we have not been allowed to see. In pursuit of this strategy, Straw today submitted a lengthy memorandum justifying his approach to a war that he says he never wanted. The inquiry dutifully published it on its website.
In response to Straw's testimony today, the Liberal Democrats issued the following statements:
"Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary.
Commenting on Jack Straw's appearance at the Iraq Inquiry, Edward Davey said:
"Jack Straw's insistence that he used his 'judgement' rather than solid proof of the existence of WMD is a weak defence of his role in this disastrous war.
"Given his central role and all we know about Blair's support for Bush's regime change plans, Straw's claim seems implausible.
"It is clear that he is desperate to distance himself from Tony Blair's unrepentant belief that he would have got rid of Saddam whatever it took.
"Jack Straw's testimony today also shows that there is no problem with serving Cabinet ministers appearing before the Iraq Inquiry. There is no obstacle to Gordon Brown appearing before the General Election to talk about his role as Chancellor in the run up to and during the Iraq War."
Finally, BBC News is reporting that Gordon Brown will testify to the Iraq Inquiry before elections are held.