Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's powerful communications and strategy director up until 2004, is the biggest name yet to testify at the independent inquiry into the causes of the Iraq conflict. Mr Blair will appear before Sir John Chilcot's panel at a later date, as will Gordon Brown - whom Mr Campbell said today had been part of Mr Blair's "inner circle" on Iraq.
The above is from Philippe Naughton's "Alastair Campbell: Blair pledged UK to war in notes to Bush" (Times of London -- link has text and video) and we'll short hand that as Tony Blair sang "I'll Be There" to Bully Boy Bush. What really did go down in Crawford all those years ago?
In London, the Iraq Inquiry continues its public hearings today. (It's actually on an afternoon recess as I type, remember the time difference.) Tony Blair's spokesperson Alastair Campbell is one of 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. ITN reports Brown's name came up in Campbell's testimony:
Gordon Brown was a key member of Tony Blair's "inner circle" involved in decision-making on Iraq, according to a former No 10 communications director.
Alastair Campbell has told the Iraq Inquiry the then prime minister regularly consulted Mr Brown, who was chancellor at the time, in the build-up to the invasion in 2003.
Asked if Mr Brown had been part of Mr Blair's "private circle of consultation" on Iraq, Mr Campbell replied: "I would say so."
Al Jazeera reminds that Campbell is the one accused of having "sexed up" the pre-war 'intelligence': "Campbell, Downing Street's former director of communications and strategy, resigned in August 2003, the month after Dr David Kelly, a ministry of defence weapons expert was found dead near his home with slashed wrists. Earlier that year, he fiercely denied a BBC report that he "sexed up" a dossier claiming Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes to help justify the war."
The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow is live blogging the hearing (presumably will continue at 2:00 pm London time) today and notes:
12.43pm: Freedman suggests Campbell urged Scarlett to take out a "may" in relation to the 45-minute claim. He is referring to emails that came out during the Hutton inquiry.
Campbell says that he was pointing out an inconsistency between different parts of the document. It was up to Scarlett to decide how to resolve that, he says.
Freedman asks if Campbell knew that some intelligence professionals, like Brian Jones, were concerned about the way the language was being tightened up.
Campbell says that Scarlett and others made it clear to him that that was not the view of the senior people at the top of the intelligence agencies.
Freedman suggests the 45-minute claim attracted lots of attention because there was little that was new in the document.
We did not plan our communications around that particular point.
Freedman quotes from an email sent to Campbell asking him what headline he wanted following the publication of the dossier.
Campbell asks how he replied. Freedman says he doesn't know. Campbell says he cannot remember how he replied, or if he replied. He was not overly concerned with headlines, he says.
Emma Griffiths is live blogging for BBC News. Channel 4 News' Iraq Inquiry Blogger live blogs the hearing at Twitter and notes:
# Several satellite trucks parked outside QE2 centre. Two protestors, one billboard saying Campbell, Blair, Scarlett should be tried at Hague 3 minutes ago from TweetDeck
Of the hearing, Iraq Inquiry Blogger observes:
The questioning styles of the two interrogators thusfar are markedly different. As throughout the Inquiry Lyne’s not afraid to interrupt, to stop Campbell and say ‘That’s not my question’ – four times in one exchange by my reckoning.
It was notable that when the two men started talking at the same time at one point it was Campbell who eventually gave way, perhaps not something he’s accustomed to doing. Prashar’s questions on the other hand are by-and-large simpler and she breaks into Campbell less.
Glen Oglaza continues live blogging for Sky News and here's a sample:
CNN is covering the hearing today and provides this background for those late to the Inquiry:
The inquiry, which began hearings in late November, is the most thorough investigation yet into the decisions that led up to the war.
It cannot find anyone criminally responsible, and it cannot even apportion blame, but inquiry members will be able to judge the legality of the conflict and identify lessons learned from Britain's involvement.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised last year that the committee would have access to the full range of information about the war and the lead-up to it, including secret documents.
Inquiry Chairman John Chilcot has said Blair will be called to testify, and Blair has said he will appear.
Back to Andrew Sparrow who joins Haroon Siddique in reporting these observations of the hearing thus far:
When Sir Roderic Lyne, who began the questioning, put it to Campbell that Blair had talked about regime change in a speech at Crawford, the former No 10 director of communications said that the then-prime minister had talked about the subject previously in the US and maintained it did not indicate any "significant shift" on Iraq.
However, when pressed, he admitted that the "context" was different, given the situation in Iraq, and that Blair's position was that he would support the US militarily when "push came to shove" if other means of disarming Saddam Hussein failed.
"When the diplomatic process clearly was not going to resolve the issue ... and when the French pulled the plug [on a second UN resolution] military action became the only means possible," he said.
The combative former director of communications gave an assured performance and in an apparent attempt to show that he had not come to the inquiry to be bullied Campbell told Lady Prashar: "You seem to be wanting me to say, regardless of the facts, regardless of the WMDs [Blair was saying] 'We're going to get rid of the guy.'"
In July the KRG held elections and one winner was Barham Saleh. As such he left his position as Nouri al-Maliki's deputy prime minister. AFP reports Roz Nuri Shawis has been made the new deputy prime minister. Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports today: "Iraqi MP Izzat Al Shabandar escaped an assassination attempt in Al Jadriya District near the bridge leading to the presidential palace and Baghdad University Compound." They also note that 1 Iraqi Christian -- 50-year-old Hikamt Elias -- was shot dead in Mosul. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a suicide car bombing outside Baquba which claimed the lives of 3 guards of "The manager of the economic security Directorate Captain Raid Akram" and the life of Akram as well. Waleed Ibrahim, Jim Loney and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report Baghdad is under curfew with at least 25 people arrested.
Canwest News Service notes that The Hurt Locker is out on DVD this morning:
Arguably the best film of the year, Kathryn Bigelow's story of explosives experts in Iraq brings home the reality of modern war in an emotionally– and entirely physically– gripping experience that leaves you drained. This is a key victory for Bigelow and her writing partner Mark Boal because this isn't just a movie about the generic horrors of war, or even the tragic loss of young lives. The Hurt Locker explores the fundamental notion of survival, and how people in the middle of the combat vortex learn to cope with intense stress. It's not heroic. It's just human, which makes it all the more compassionate, and compelling. Special features include additional footage, director commentary, behind the scenes and more.
Bruce Dancis (McClatchy Newspapers) offers:
Director/producer Kathyrn Bigelow's remarkable "The Hurt Locker" (Summit Entertainment, $26.99/$34.99 Blu-ray, rated R) places a viewer on the ground in Baghdad, c. 2004, at the height of the insurgency against foreign troops. Her film, written and coproduced by Mark Boal, a journalist who was embedded with a U.S. Army bomb detection unit in Baghdad in 2004, follows three members of such a unit in their incredibly dangerous work.
Traveling together in their Humvee, they are Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner), an arrogant, highly skilled, but reckless EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) specialist; Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), a brave but realistic soldier who wants to do his job without taking any unnecessary risks, and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), the youngest of the group and the one most conflicted about his assignment. These relatively unknown actors are all terrific, and they're aided by Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes and Evangeline Lilly in supporting roles.
As Bigelow explains in the DVD's short behind-the-scenes documentary, "My intention was to put the audience into the soldiers' shoes, into the Humvee, (and) almost ask them to be the fourth man on the team and have them experience what those soldiers experience."
"The Hurt Locker" was shot in and around Assam, Jordan, Iraq's neighbor, because, says Boal in an audio commentary he shares with Bigelow, the Jordanian capital "looks a lot like Baghdad - both in the wideness of the boulevards and the texture and tone of the buildings."
Bigelow and Boal have made a realistic and incredibly intense film that honors the warrior, but not necessarily the war. Although in both the film itself and in their commentary they avoid any direct references to either the wisdom or the idiocy of President George W. Bush's policy, "The Hurt Locker" clearly shows the difficulty facing U.S. troops. As the soldiers drive in their armored Humvee through the crowded streets of Baghdad, everyone - every car passenger, street bystander, apartment dweller or rooftop observer - looks like a potential insurgent.
Kathryn Bigelow's directed an amazing film and, if you doubt it, note how the lessers come out to attack it -- you know, the types who have one of the most overly known books -- a book that really didn't qualify as a bestseller. When a book with that level of awareness can't move copies, it's a failure in the publishing world. So maybe it's sour grapes, maybe it's just their own sickness that makes them attack? Who knows and, honestly, who cares? She directed an amazing film. (As disclosed before, I know and like Kathryn.)
We'll close with this from Debra Sweet's "8 Years of Torture – Shut Down Guantanamo, Now!" (World Can't Wait):
Eight years ago today the Bush regime opened their detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It went on to become a notorious symbol of the torture and racism that people the world over associated with the U.S. "war on terror."
As we mark this anniversary, many people hoped Barack Obama's promise to close Guantánamo by Jan 22, 2010 would close that chapter. But there are 2 things in the way of that... (more on this and coverage on Guantánamo all week at debra.worldcantwait.net).
This week: Protests of John Yoo on both ends of the country Tuesday, Jan. 12th! Fire, Disbar, and Prosecute War Criminal John Yoo! John Yoo, principal author of the "torture memos" justifying the Bush torture enterprise, is on a book tour, appearing on John Stewart's show (!) Monday night.
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