Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Iraq Inquiry

In London today, the Iraq Inquiry resumes public hearings. Their last public hearing was March 8th when they heard from David Miliband among others (as noted before, I know David and have for many years -- check the snapshot, you'll see I didn't hold back -- though I was surprised others did but was told by two that their editors thought David would be the next P.M. -- they overestimated Labour's popularity for now -- and didn't want too much on his testimony). (See, David Sirota, that's how you do a disclosure.)

John Chilcot is the chair (for those late to the party, this site originates in the US and we don't use titles like "Sir" in the US, we will call him "Chair Chilcot" because he chairs the Inquiry) and he issued the following statement this morning:

Good morning and welcome to the QEII Conference Centre for the first day of this phase of the Iraq Inquiry’s public hearings. At the Inquiry’s launch on 30 July last year, we took on the task of establishing a reliable account of the UK’s involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009, and to identify lessons for British governments facing similar circumstances. In the last 11 months, we have covered a great deal of ground. One of our first priorities was to meet, and listen to, the families of British citizens and members of the armed forces who died in Iraq. 48 families came to talk to us. We learned much from them. Their sacrifice and concerns remain in our thoughts, and inform our approach. Between 24 November last year and 8 March, we heard from more than 80 witnesses in public sessions. We heard first hand from senior military personnel and officials involved in providing advice on the policy in Iraq or responsible for its implementation; and from senior Ministers, including the then Prime Minister, Mr Brown, and the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair. Our purpose was to establish a broad chronology of what had happened from 2001 to the withdrawal of combat forces in 2009. Those hearings gave us a complementary perspective to the papers which the Government has provided. We have received many thousands of documents and that process is continuing. A number of documents were declassified and published on our website to provide relevant context in the earlier hearings. We will continue to take that approach. Accordingly, further documents are being released to support this morning's hearing. As we made clear at the launch, the Inquiry is independent. We have made a deliberate choice to conduct our work in a way which seeks to remain outside Party politics. That is why we ended the first round of public hearings before the launch of the general election campaign. In May, the Inquiry held private discussions in France and the USA. Details of those visits can be found on our website. We have also held hearings in private with British officials, diplomats and military officers to take evidence on those issues, such as intelligence, which cannot be heard in public. Details about whom we have seen in those hearings will be published in the next week or so. We have also held meetings with less senior service personnel, civil servants and diplomats who have served in Iraq. They too have given us very helpful insights into both their achievements, and the challenges they faced, whilst serving in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. The Inquiry has issued an open invitation to international lawyers to comment on the grounds relied on by the British Government in undertaking military action in Iraq.2 The Inquiry also continues to receive, and welcomes, submissions from the public on all matters relevant to its terms of reference. These hearings which begin today will cover a range of issues. In some cases, they will be complementing evidence we have already heard. In others, we will be pursuing issues which have only been touched on in earlier evidence. This morning we will be hearing our first witness from the police. Other areas we will be covering in detail for the first time include military equipment and personnel issues. The Inquiry may hold a further round of public hearings in the Autumn. We will take a final decision on that later. As we have said before, we intend to complete our report around the turn of the year. We remain committed to a transparent, open, thorough and fair process and conducting the Inquiry in a cost effective way. We intend to deliver a reliable and authoritative report about the UK’s decision to take military action in Iraq and the events that followed; and to identify lessons for the future.

As was the case in 2009 and earlier this year, we will cover every public hearing of the Inquiry. As noted before, I will be working from the transcripts the Inquiry publishes and from friends attending and following the inquiry (press and attorneys -- I doubt I'll be discussing it with friends in the Labour Party because they're focused on their own election for party leader at present). Based on all of that, we'll emphasize -- day of -- what I think stands out most. Or -- as happened and was noted last go round -- what friends attending the hearings insist to me is the most important thing. (That did usually end up being the most important thing in the press coverage; however, a number of the ones responsible for the coverage were the ones screaming at me that ___ was the story. Such as when Chilcot issued what was a rather sad and pitying statement in February.) In the next day's snapshot, when there's space and enough attention from the press (British -- please, the US did a s**t poor job of covering the Inquiry), we'll note what the UK saw as the big news from the hearing.

If you're late to the party, the Iraq Inquiry is not the first British inquiry into the illegal war. Gordon Brown had promised it before he became prime minister. He was pressured into following through once he became prime minister. He appeared to believe that most of it could be done in secret but John Chilcot made very clear (very publicly) that he was opposed to that.

This has been the most public inquiry. They have taken public testimony from a number of witnesses including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. In the US, we have seen nothing like it. We have not seen Bush, for example, hauled before a panel and made to account for his actions.

Will it be a white wash? That's always the fear and no one will know until the Committee issues their final report.

We cover it paying attention to the US angle (again, we're a US based site) which means we've noted who is the most cited American in the testimonies (Paul Bremer) and what's the biggest excuse for the war given: a 2000 article written by Condi Rice -- a lengthy article that only mentioned Iraq in passing. British civilian officials loved to hide behind that. Some visitors e-mailing feedback on previous coverage felt that the British military was getting praised and the civilian leadership was being attacked.

I don't worship any military. The reason that the civilian officials were more likely to be savaged was that they never took accountability. They blamed it on Condi Rice's article or on what Paul Bremer or some other American did. The British military -- who did, in fact, have to tie in their actions early in the war with the US -- did not play that game. Generals did not come before the hearing and make excuses that someone else was to blame. They stood accountable for their actions. The committee could have probed more but the fact is the military officials didn't try to find someone else to blame. With the civilian officials, it appears that the argument is England has no sovereignty and that the crown has fallen to the US presidency. To hear all the sorry excuses, that's what it comes to.

There were many strong witnesses on the civilian side -- some of the strongest dealt with the legal aspect of the illegal war. Ruth Barnett (Sky News) notes today, "Sir John opened the latest round of hearings by inviting international lawyers to give evidence of the legality of the war." Sam Marsden (PA) adds, "Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and ex-MI5 director general Baroness Manningham-Buller are among the witnesses who will appear before the inquiry over the next month." Peter Hunt (BBC News) wonders about Nick Clegg:

In opposition, Nick Clegg accused Gordon Brown of "suffocating" the inquiry and attempting to gag it by keeping vital documents classified. In power, the deputy prime minister has said there needs to be a presumption of disclosure. The Chilcot Inquiry, he stressed, needs to be fully open.
Observers will be watching to see if Mr Clegg, who is in charge of the Cabinet Office, which regulates the release of such information, acts on these words.

In the May 2010 elections, Labour was ousted from leadership as a result of a power-sharing coalition between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party. Liberal Democrat Party member Nick Clegg is now the Deputy Prime Minister. (Conservative Party member David Cameron is now the Prime Minister.)

The most in depth coverage of the Inquiry has been done by Chris Ames at Iraq Inquiry Digest. He has live blogged hearings, poured over documents and covered the Inquiry even when there were no hearings. He has also been on this story since long before the Inquiry. We'll note the opening of a piece he's written for the Guardian about the Inquiry resuming public hearings today:

Watching the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war is like watching a car crash in slow motion. Very, very slow motion.
It is supposed to be a "lessons learned" inquiry, but it has shown itself unable to admit to its own mistakes, let alone learn from them. This week, inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot had the chance to start again, with a new attitude to openness under a government with less interest in hiding the truth. Once again, he hid his head in the sand.
The inquiry's public hearings started up again on Tuesday after a four-month break that was expressly designed to stop voters finding out anything that might influence the way they would vote in the general election. The inquiry is bound to arouse less public interest now than when Labour was in power, and if it continues to reveal as little as it has, people will lose interest fast.

Repeating, the Iraq Inquiry will be covered throughout. That was an issue for some (including some community members) before but this is important and we'll cover it. The fact that it's been so ignored in the US really demands that we see it through the end of the public hearings. There will be other things in the snapshot -- as there were during the last round of public hearings -- but this is important. I've got three more hearings this week to attend and at least one will be covered here but all three may be. I covered the Kagan hearing on Monday for Hilda's Mix (check inboxes this morning) and Wally and Kat are attending it today and will cover it for the gina & krista round-robin which publishes tomorrow, Thursday and Friday this week and not just (as usual) on Friday. Ava and I'll be at other hearings today. And because of my schedule, I don't plan to be back in on the Kagan hearings. Gina and Krista plan a roundtable on the Kagan nomination for Thursday night (that will run in Friday's roundtable) and Gina says there are two slots open so contact her if you want to participate (she's in DC with us and will go with the first two who e-mail -- however, she won't check the e-mail until this evening).

Good time to note, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee continues addressing a number of issues, check out the DPC's video page, and we'll note a video on Elana Kagan's nomination to the Court. We'll go with Senator Dianne Feinstein because she's my senator.

Yesterday's snapshot noted that Monday, July 5th will not have a snapshot unless events demand one. That was put in for visitors who complain they never gets heads up to that. It's already been covered in the community newsletters. Sunday's the holiday. If I do a snapshot Monday, everyone in the community's already stated they'll post on Monday. Everyone needs a day off. Here, there will be at least two entries. As usual when I'm in a holding position to see if a snapshot is needed, the morning entries will come late as I wait to see what the news out of Iraq is.

Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 Brig Gen, a Baghdad sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 person and, dropping back to yesterday, a Mosul roadside bombing that injured a police officer and 1 corpse discovered in Mosul ("shot in the head and chest"). AP adds a Beiji car bombing claimed the lives of 4 police officers.

Lastly, click here for Janeane Garofalo at Huffington Post -- it's a video. I've called out Janeane for some of her Cult of St. Barack behavior and would have preferred to have never had to call out Janeane in my entire life (but unlike David Sirota, I don't play dumb and just cheerlead people I know). So we'll note the video. Some may be surprised by her assessment of the administration. (I've called out a large number of people I know and like here that I would have never thought I'd have to and never wanted to. The joke among friends is that when I call out Mia, I'll shut down the site because she's the only one they think I've avoided.) (She's not the only one I've not called out, FYI. But I don't play favorites here and I don't compromise this community's goals and positions.)

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.