Watching Blair answering questions of the Iraq public inquiry commission was fascinating for the same reason it was frustrating. It's British.
Fascinating, because of the precise and disciplined way the five member commission probed the former prime minister about the way in which he arrived at the decision to go to war along side the United States and how he co-managed it with President Bush.
Frustrating, because the commission is an internal British inquiry with limited mandate - not an international court of justice - one that is commissioned to review and reconstruct the political process behind the war, or the politics behind the policy.
The above is from Marwan Bishara's "Tony Blair: Poodle or Bulldog?" (Al Jazeera) and yesterday War Criminal Tony Blair gave testimony to the Iraq Inquiry in London. While Blair was spinning and lying, the people were gathered outside. Henry Chu (Los Angeles Times) reports, "Even as he spoke in a hearing room across from the imposing Westminster Abbey, dozens of protesters outside called Blair a murderous liar who deserved to be tried for war crimes. Many Britons believe he dragged their country into an unpopular and unnecessary war under false pretenses, a conflict in which 179 British service personnel have died." The UK's Stop The War offers this photo of some of the demonstrators.
Mick Brown (Telegraph of London) reports:
It was 7.30am, the rain was falling, the groups of protesters decanting from rental vans bearing their banners of judgment: "Bliar Lied Thousands Died".
A man grabbed a megaphone, with a let's-get- down-to-business manner. "Tony Blair ..." he shouted. The crowd answered, like the response in a Pentecostalist church. "War criminal!"
Against a barrier, Ernest Rodker, a 72-year-old furniture maker from London, methodically assembled a facsimile of a jail cell from slatted wood, "to put Tony Blair in before the end of the day". And what did Mr Rodker think were the chances of that? "Pretty good. I'm an optimist. I think he'll be so ashamed of what he's done that he'll walk in himself.
"To be truthful, I don't think he has any shame."
For a moment, the shouting stopped and the growing silence seemed even more condemnatory. Now a man moved through the crowd, grim-faced, smartly suited, a row of medals pinned to his chest. John Brown's son, Nicholas, a 34-year-old SAS trooper, had died in Tikrit. Mr Brown, himself a former SAS officer, was among the families of Servicemen allocated a ticket for the hearing. He said he came in the hope of meeting Mr Blair.
What would he tell him? "I don't think there'd be a lot of talking." He had fashioned a small badge from cardboard: "Nicholas James Brown: Blair The Liar. Victim 176." There was a moment's deference. "I don't know if they'll let me wear it inside."
Of the hearing, Michael Goldfarb (Global Policy) noted Committee Member Usha Prashar's questioning of Blair on the issue of the Crawford meetup between Bully Boy Bush and Blair in April 2002: "She asked him if he had given a private undertaking then to overthrow Saddam. Blair avoided a direct answer, she interrupted and asked him again. 'I said nothing in private that I wouldn't say in public.' She pressed him again. 'Look,' Blair said. 'This is an alliance we have with the U.S. not a contract,' with everything clearly delineated by lawyers. When he finished that answer he nodded his head firmly ... it was the one moment so far when the certainty and self-righteousness that makes him so unshakeable really bubbled up." Ann Treneman (Times of London) offers this view, "Tony Blair arrived on the huge screen before us in the public viewing gallery looking extremely tense. I have watched the Tanned One for what must be hundreds of hours but I have never seen him this nervous, taut, defensive. His hands trembled, even shook at times, hovering over his two indexed notebooks. He didn't, as he always does, take off his jacket to dazzle us with the whiteness of his shirt. Nor did he flash that smile. Instead he sat looking serious if not grim, skin stretched over cheekbones." Andrew Gilligan (Telegraph of London) emphasizes the first and only resolution, "When the inquiry returned to the point - asking the pertinent question of why, if the first UN resolution legalised the war, did Mr Blair need to get a second one? - he appeared rattled for the first time. They pressed hard - surely the UN timetable was subordinate to the military one? How could he claim to be enforcing the UN's wishes by going to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their work?" AA Gill (Times of London) notes the mismash of 'facts' Blair offered, "Blair now makes sandwiches of many unlikely ingredients: regime change and weapons of mass destruction become the same thing with a threadbare piece of sophistry. One United Nations resolution becomes the same as two UN resolutions and possibly as efficient as no UN resolutions. They're produced with a sleight of hand like a card trick: 'Pick a resolution, any resolution -- don’t let me see it. Is this the resolution you first thought of?'" British Gen Richard Dannatt (Telegraph of London) offers his opinion of the biggest cost of the Iraq War as trust: "I am afraid there is only one word, and that is trust. When the British soldier fixes his bayonet and goes forward in battle, he must believe that what he is doing is absolutely in the national interest. There can be no equivocation. The generals tell the officers, who tell the soldiers, that this is what we are doing and why – and that what we are doing is really important. And, as an Army, we trust each other, because we all know that our personal liability is unlimited. The ultimate risk is a flag-draped coffin, and now a few minutes' recognition in Wootton Bassett." Richard Woods (Times of London) offers key points here. Michael Holden, Keith Ware and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) offer highlights here.
War Criminal Blair used his time to try to sell war on Iran. Sean Rayment (Telegraph of London) observes, "Sir Richard Dalton, a former British ambassador to Tehran, dismissed the former prime minister's claims and added that future government leaders should show much greater integrity when dealing with global security issues." Iran's Press TV also emphasizes that section, "However, the highlight of the night came as Mr. Blair forced the testimony, which was being aired on national television, in a new direction by taking advantage of the platform and pitched for opening a new battlefield as he mentioned Iran 58 times."
The Inquiry continues with public hearings scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in which Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup, Bill Jeffrey and others will testify. Hilary Been will get significant press attention and Peter Ricketts may as well but the one that will probably attract the most attention will be Clare Short who was against the Iraq War, remained in the cabinet for a short while after the illegal war started and then stepped down due to the war. The Inquiry has already heard that she was kept out of many key meetings due to her being against the proposed war and they've also heard her slandered by Alastair Campbell (a slander other witnesses have called out). The week after next, the witnesses will include Jack Straw (Straw will be making a second appearance). And the big-big now that Tony Blair has testified (he may be recalled) is Gordon Brown, the current prime minister of England. Clare Short is already in the news. Jonathan Oliver and Richard Woods (Times of London) report, "CLARE SHORT, the former minister, will this week disclose that Gordon Brown feared that Tony Blair planned to exploit the Iraq war to remove him from the cabinet. Short is expected to tell the Chilcot inquiry into the conflict about private conversations she had with Brown in which he expressed anxiety at the potential personal consequences of an invasion."
Toby Helm (Guardian of London) offers this on Brown's impending testimony:
The prime minister will come before the inquiry only weeks before a general election. During the inquiry, he has been accused by some of having, as chancellor, failed to provide funds for British soldiers to ensure they were properly equipped. It has also become increasingly clear that he was fully signed up to the overall project, even if he was not as closely involved in the key decisions as some. Brown will have awkward question to answer. He will also, for political reasons, need to be more aware of how he comes over to the public.
So will he offer just a little of the contrition that Blair failed to show? Will he try to empathise where Blair refused to do so?
One Labour source said the aim would be to appear more reflective than Blair and to talk more of how he respected those with different views, and felt the pain of those who had lost loved ones. But to offer any form of apology would be a mistake. "If you apologise in politics, it never puts you in a better place. In this business, it is really about conveying conviction." Another disagreed, saying Brown had to show contrition. "I think it will show strength if he does. It will be cathartic."
John Kampfner (Times of London) adds:
Brown stalled for as long as he could before convening the inquiry on Iraq. He then tried to limit its remit as much as possible. To the fury of Sir John Chilcot and his team, key documents remain classified.
Yet for all the obstacles, for all the frustration about the panel’s soft questioning of its witnesses, the committee has brought Iraq back into the public eye. The hearings will harm Labour’s already dim prospects at the forthcoming general election. The only question is by how much.
To close, we'll return to Tony Blair's testimony yesterday by noting this from Chris Marsden's report (WSWS):
Regarding the issue of UN authorisation and the requirement for a second UN resolution, he baldly insisted that Resolution 1441 -- passed in 2002 -- gave war legitimacy. But he was forced to acknowledge that the US was always ready to act unilaterally. He too eventually gave up on a second UN resolution because it was "very clear" that France and Russia would not agree to such a resolution, which had "disintegrated" the possibility of securing a majority on the Security Council. This was an admission that Britain had also acted unilaterally because it could not get what it wanted from the UN, which is in contravention of the UN Charter.
Blair was left to fall back on the fact that he had secured the approval of the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith for war on the basis of 1441, repeatedly dismissing the fact that this was only at the eleventh hour and was against what was put to him as the "consistent and united advice" of the Foreign Office legal team that fresh UN authorisation was required.
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