Friday, January 21, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Tony Blair goes before the Iraq Inquiry again, Nouri's leadership may be in question, guess who has left Iraq (no, not US troops) and more.
Chicken Hawk Tony Blair testified before the Iraq Inquiry. Before we get to the latest round of lies from Blair, let's get into what happened inside the hearing and outside. Alex Barker (live blogging for Financial Times of London) reported, "Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. Peple began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: 'Well stop trying to kill them.' Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted 'It is too late', another said 'he'll never look us in the eye'. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq, delivered the final blow. 'Your lies killed my son,' she said. 'I hope you can live with it.'"
Rose Gentle's son Gordon Gentle died June 28, 2004 in Basra at the age of 19. Before the hearing, she told Mustafa Khalili and Laurence Topham (Guardian -- link is video) that her son was the driving force in her actions, "It's definitely Gordon that kept me going." She is a co-founder of Military Families Against The War. After the hearing, she noted of Tony Blair, "I don't think I could ever forgive him to be honest." She explained, "He can look at his sons grow up, get married, have kids. We've lost that. We'll never have that."
Because of the illegal war (yes, it was illegal despite spin from the Independent's resident idiot columnist and others -- "just war theory" was not created in the post-WWII period) and those who started it and those who continue it, many have experienced the tragic loss Rose Gentle lives with. But, as she notes, Tony Blair is never haunted by the coffins.
Entrances and exits can be very telling. With a fake, plastered grin on his face and a security detail, Tony Blair walked briefly in the sunlight as cries of "WAR CRIMINAL!" were repeatedly and loudly shouted.
His entrance? Blair snuck in. Like the criminal he is. He snuck in and did so early thereby avoiding the protests. Still they turned out to bear witness on his War Crimes and the destruction that they brought about. Protestors chanted next to a man in a Tony Blair mask holding onto wooden bars (indicating Blair was behind bars).
While many were clearly veteran activists -- the Socialist Workers party had a notable presence -- the crowd was mixed. Jackie, from Essex, had stopped by to wave a "Bliar" placard for 20 minutes before heading to her job at a City law firm. "I'm not ashamed of it but I don't make a point of publicising it," she said. "I don't think there is much hope anything will come of this. It's all starting to look very much like an establishment cover-up." More hopeful was the veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, who said he believed Chilcot's blocked attempts to release the former prime minister's correspondence with President George Bush, plus doubts about Blair's testimony raised by the former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, indicated the establishment was starting to turn on Bair. He said: "I'm not so interested in seeing him in court. I think Blair now knows that the infamy will follow him around forever. I think he's starting to realise that the end is not coming -- that lovely smile is not going to see him through this time, "It's something of a Shakespearean tragedy. He came into power with such possibilities to transform the country. All those things he could have done and he squandered billions of pounds and thousands of lives to be a sort of second lieutenant to Bush"
Inquiry Chair John Chilcot noted at the start of today's hearing, "We heard some six hours of evidence from Mr Blair a year ago. We have also heard from many other witnesses and have amassed a very considerable body of documentary evidence. As I made clear in launching this round of hearings, there are a number of areas where we need to clarify what happened. We need to find the lessons to be learned and to do that we need to construct as reliable and accurate account as possible and reach our own conclusion." Did that happen?
Not for the public. But they did get to see Tony visibly squirming, his voice go to higher levels than normal and break little a pubescent boy's at one point. A few key exchanges. All testimony quotes are from the Inquiry's official transcript unless otherwise noted. And, also, we're not promoting Blair's book so I'll edit out the title.
Committee Member Martin Gilbert: Mr Blair, the very powerful speech you made to the House of Commons on 18th March 2003 was of critical importance. Without Parliament's approval our troops would not have been able to participate in the invasion. In your speech you drew an analogy with the 1930s, the moment you said when Czechoslovakia was swallowed up by the Nazis. That's when we should have acted. This was not the first that analogy had been made. Jack Straw, for example, recalled the descent into war in the 1930s when he spoke on 11th February. Comparing Iraq with Nazi Germany has enormous emotive force with the British public. It also heightens perceptions of the level and imminence of the threat. In your book [ . . .] you say that you regretted and almost took out that reference and the almost universal refusal, as you put it, for a long time for people to believe Hitler was a threat. Can you tell us why you regretted saying that?
War Criminal Tony Blair: I think I actually said in the speech in the House of Commons on 18th March -- I don't have it in front of me -- we have to be aware of glib comparisons, but there was one sense in which I think there was still valid point to be made about how we perceive threat and that is in this sense, my view after September 11th was that our whole analysis of the terrorist threat and that extremism had to change, and at that point I was most focused on this, that the single most important thing to me about September 11th, as I have often said; that 3,000 people died, but if they could have killed 300,000, they would have.
And he went on to babble repeatedly and at lenght, a non-stop, stream of random babble, never addressing the question asked led to his declaring this final sentence, "So in that sense in a way I would say there is an analogy, but you have to careful of bringing it out too broadly, otherwise you make a point that suggests the circumstances of Nazi Germany were the same as Saddam Hussein and I didn't really mean to suggest that."
Committe Martin Gilbert: So that's what you regretted?
War Criminal Tony Blair: Yes, but I don't -- let me just make on thing very clear, I don't reget the basic point I am making, which is that this is a time in which even though many people would say this extremism can be [. . .]
And he continued to waffle. So the takeaway is that, no, Tony Blair didn't regret making the comparison. His ghost writer and publisher thought it would be a thing that would help paint him as someone who agonized then and now over the decision, someone thoughtful, but that's just not who Tony Blair is. He established and underscored that throughout the hearing.
Committee Member Martin Gilbert: The Cabinet paper for conditions on military action which was issued on 19th July 2002, a version of which has appeared in the press, recorded that you had told the President at Crawford in April 2002: "United Kingdom will support military action to bring about regime change provided certain conditions were met." Was that a turning point?
War Criminal Tony Blair: It wasn't a turning point. It was really that all the way through we were saying this issue now has to be dealt with. So Saddam either comes back into compliance with UN resolutions or action will follow.
So all along they were saying that Hussein had to be dealt with?
Next we'll emphasize this.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Just a short question on the Attorney General's involvement in advising on Resolution 1441, as you will have seen, Lord Goldsmith said in his statement that he was not being sufficiently involved in the meetings and discussions about Resolution 1441 and the policy behind it that were taking place at Ministerial level, and he says: "I made this point on a number of occassions." Given the importance that you have placed on Lord Goldsmith's understanding of the negotiations, why wasn't he allowed to be more closely involved in the negotiation of 1441 as well as in the discussions which lay behind it.
War Criminal Tony Blair: Well, I have to say I think I had more to do with Peter Goldsmith on this resolution than I can ever recall on any previous military action that we took. Now --
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: 1441?
War Criminal Tony Blair: Yes. Now I have read what Peter has said now, and obviously that's something it would be sensible to have the Attorney General -- I think in retrospect it would have been sensible to have had him absolutely in touch with the negotiating machinery all the way through, because I think then we wouldn't probably have got into the situation where he thought provisionally, at least, that we needed another resolution, because I think had he known of the negotiating history real time as we were going through it we could have avoided some of the problems later.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Yes. I mean, I think he would agree with you there. [. . .] I mean, in his statement he says that he wasn't involved in discussions about 1441. Between the time of his meeting with you on 22nd October, when he told you that the draft then in contemplation did not authorise the use of force, until 7th November when the text was, as he puts it, all but agreed, but you say you were very much involved with him over this resolution. These two statements don't seem to fit together.
War Criminal Tony Blair: No. What I am saying is I was more involved -- I recall having more meetings with Peter about the legality of this issue than I did on any of the other occasions. I did actually -- there was a meeting I think on 17th October, which we then minuted out, including to Peter, where we set the objectives for the resolution. Then he and I had the meeting on 22nd October, and -- I mean, I agree in retrospect it would be better if he had been there, because we would have then -- he would have been sensitised to the evidence that has been given to you by Stephen Pattison and by Iain Macleod, Stephen Patterson being the head of the then Department of the Foreign Office, and Iain Macleod being the legal advisor and the legal counsellor for the UN process and they explained why the Resolution 1441 did meet our objectives and significantly changed in the days leading up to its adoption.
Committee Member Roderic Lyne: Iain Macleod is the legal counsellor advising Jeremy Greenstock in New York. The Foreign Office legal advisors working in London, Sir Michael Wood and those working to him, as has come out from the respective evidence, took a very different view. They took the same view as the Attorney General, and the Attorney General took the view, as you know, that at this time he took the view that 1441 did not authorise use of force unless there was a further resolution, but you have said in your statement that 1441 "Achieved our objectives". Now how could it have achieved our objectives if your Attorney General, your senior legal officer was telling you that it hadn't?
We're not wasting time dictating in Blair's fumbling response. If you know this issue is going to be raised -- and it was known, it was the biggest Blair story in the press all week long beginning at the start of the week, you do not show up and fumble and offer, "I mean, I can't remember exactly what I said after 22nd October [. . .]" You don't do that. Unless you're lying, there's no possible reason to do that. And if you're wondering about my critque of the rambling say nothing Blair, the Guardian headlines their editorial "Blair at the Chilcot inquiry. Jaw-jaw, war-war and law-law." From the editorial:
Whether he led straight, however, is more doubtful. It is becoming ever clearer that No 10 spun the country along, not merely by hyping intelligence, but also by committing to the Americans in private while at the same time insisting to people and the parliament that no decision had been made. The general idea of a promise as an undertaking that is not to be given until it is certain it can be honoured was yesterday turned on its head by Mr Blair. "I was going to continue giving absolute and firm commitment until the point at which definitively I couldn't," he explained. He was free, easy and indeed creative with the detail – for example, singling out Iraq's bar on scientists meeting UN inspectors as the "key issue" on the eve of war, when that problem had in fact been resolved by then. It will be open to the committee to damn him with the detail should it choose to do so.
EMMA ALBERICI: A month before the Iraq war began in 2003, one million people marched through the streets of London.
Almost eight years later, there were barely 100 protesters gathered outside the conference centre at Westminster as Tony Blair returned to the Iraq inquiry for the second time.
The five member panel led by Sir John Chilcot were seeking some clarifications, specifically about private letters between the former Prime Minister and the then President of the United States George Bush - correspondence written, in the year before the war.
TONY BLAIR: So what I was saying to him is, 'I'm going to be with you in handling it this way', right? 'I'm not going to push you down this path and then back out when it gets too hot, politically, because it is going to get hot politically, for me very, very much so'.
EMMA ALBERICI: Earlier in the week, Tony Blair's own attorney general told the inquiry that Mr Blair's claims in the House of Commons that Britain did not need a United Nations resolution explicitly authorising force were not compatible with his legal advice.
Lord Goldsmith told the inquiry that he felt uncomfortable about the way the Prime Minister ignored his official legal advice when making his case for war to the British people.
Tony Blair, who is now the Special Envoy to the Middle East representing the United Nations, the US, the European Union and Russia, said the war in Iraq could not be used to explain the rise in Islamic extremism. And he told a shocked roomful of grief stricken relatives of those killed in Iraq, that the experiences there should not make the world reluctant to invade Iran.
The specifics and the evidence, including new evidence published today, are against Blair. The evidence makes clear that he was seeking regime change from an early stage.
Opening questions sought to establish when Blair took the decision to pursue a policy that was likely to lead to war and what part the cabinet played. Martin Gilbert asked exactly when Blair took this decision. Blair waffled and evaded the question.
When it came to the way that Blair kept most of his cabinet out of the loop, the tables were turned. Had the cabinet seen the March 2002 options paper, leaked but still officially unpublished, which set out the plan that led to war? Could Blair point to a cabinet discussion of the paper? He could not. So how did Blair expect the cabinet to take an informed view? Blair waffled further, disputing "the notion that people weren't debating and discussing the issue". The cabinet knew what the policy was.
Next week, hopefully Monday's snapshot, we'll address the remarks he made in relation to other issues and how Tony Blair may not be the poodle because a good argument can be made that he's the one who pushed and prodded War Criminal Bush along the path to illegal war. (Bush may have been a dupe, but he was a willing dupe.) And we'll close out on the Inquiry with Mary Riddell (Telegraph of London) offering her take:
The sheer gall of Tony Blair never ceases to startle. And he gets away with it. Once, the revelations emerging from the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war would have been dynamite. The attorney general's advice that the invasion would not, without a second UN resolution, be legal; the Foreign Secretary's worries about the whole enterprise -- these are yesterday's sensations, neutralised by time and by inertia.
And yet there is still something awesome about Mr Blair's intractability. On he marched, in thrall to the US president and unhindered by his supine government and a credulous opposition who have never squared up to their faults either. Blair's lack of remorse and his adamantine belief that he was right cannot be dented now. The loss of the lives of British forces and of Iraqi civilians were, in his view, a wholly necessary price.
To say that Blair is unrepentant does not begin to explain his intransigence. Having prosecuted one disastrous war, he is now squaring up for the next dust-up, with a renewed warning that Iran, a "looming challenge" has got it coming. With luck, the leaders who followed Blair, on both sides of the Atlantic, will shake their heads in disbelief at this madness.
On the second hour of today's The Diane Rehm Show (NPR), Diane and her guests Abderrahim Foukara (Al Jazeera), Elise Labott (CNN) and Moises Naim (El Pais) addressed Iraq. Pay attention to the style of the transcript, I'll explain why in a moment. We're starting with Elise Labot speaking of Lebanon.
Elise Labott: The fear is right now is -- the future of Lebanon is either in the hands of Syria or it's in the hands of Iran. And you have countries like France, like Saudi Arabia, and to some extent even the United States, that really hasn't given Syria a real firm message about meddling in Lebanon. That Syria might be more of a benign force back in Lebanon than Iran. I mean, it's certainly, as Abderrahim said, it's a football right now. Lebanese does not have the sovereignty of its own government, of its own people, because Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran. And Syria wants to meddle as well. So it's really -- the Lebanese people have been fighting for so many years for their own independence, even after the Syrians were thrown out in 2005.
Diane Rehm: And talk about a bloody fight, look at Iraq this week, Elise.
Elise Labott: Well, you had a bombing in Baghdad that killed 60 -- over 60 people as police recruits were waiting to sign up. This really shows that the government -- there's the idea that the government has been able to provide security and you saw that violence in Iraq, for the most part, has been decreasing. December was one of the least violent months since the war really began. But by showing that these police recruits are not safe, the government cannot provide security, they're trying to sow a little discontent with the government as the U.S. is trying to withdraw its troops.
Diane Rehm: And will that change the date at all for US withdrawals, Moises?
Moises Naim: Well, it depends because it's not only the bombs that killed the police, their recruits waiting at a police station on Tuesday. Yesterday, there was another attack on pilgrims -- on Shiite pilgrims going to Karbala in what -- it was a very important pilgrimage that was banned under Saddam Hussein.
Diane Rehm: And who perpetrated all of this?
Moises Naim: And so no one has taken credit for it, but is widely suspected that this is either Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia or remnants of the Ba'ath Party and Saddam Hussein's supporters. But the fact of the matter is that in -- yesterday, 52 people -- 52 innocent pilgrims were assassinated and 150 were wounded. Two days before 52 police recruits waiting to the -- at the police station were also killed. So if this continues, these are the typical events that spark reactions and counterattacks. And if the thing escalates, then I guess there will be some rethinking of what needs to be done.
Diane Rehm: Abderrahim.
Abderrahim Foukara: Well, two things. One is the United States and the other one is Iran. The United States -- the Obama Administration has been saying that Iran is no longer the war that used to be. And these events actually are a disavowal of that. Iraq continues to be a security problem, not just for the Iraqis, but also for the Americans. As to whether that's going to change the calendar, I don't think -- I personally don't think it will, particularly that now in the next two years -- we're already talking about the election of 2012 -- and the Obama Administration is on the record as saying that he's moved on. And I don't think he would want to make -- to go back to changing and fiddling with the dates in -- of withdrawing from Iraq. Iran. The event that Moises was referring to yesterday in Kabala has been a lot of fear that the Iranians have all this strength in their hand in Iraq. And just today we heard from the Iraqi government, basically, a position which is tantamount to giving the Iranians licenses to protect their own pilgrims in Iraq. And it just gives you the extent of the complexity of the situation and of the stronger impact influence that the Iranians wield nowadays in Iraq.
Why did I mention the style? If I'd done it, we would have included repeat words such as "the-the thing I wanted to note . .." That's not to pick on people, that's to give an accurate descriptionof the conversation. Also we all have various vocal tics and some times they are telling, some times they are interesting (some times they are irritating). So I didn't do that trancript. That's the show's transcript.
The program has always made a transcript available at a price Diane Rehm's program is now listen and text. Just go to The Diane Rehm Show website and chose the "transcript" option the way you would "listen." The program is now listen and text and available to all including those who cannot stream and those for whom streaming is useless due to hearing issues. Next Friday, we'll go back to transcribing but try to get the word out on the site offering transcripts.
Violence has swept and slammed Iraq all week. Yesterday's Karbala bombings continued the string of deadly attacks in Iraq. Ali Qeis and Liz Sly (Washington Post) report, "Despite initial reports that the bombings were suicide attacks, investigations showed that they were not, [Maj. Alaa al-] Ghanemi said. Two parked cars and a motorcycle had been rigged with explosives and detonated within quick succession in the three locations, he said." If true, that's even more damning for Nouri al-Maliki. See, when you're dealing with someone willing to take their own life, a considerable segment of the public will see that person as irrational and/or insane and they will allow that there's little you can do to put up prevention obstacles that would halt those people (that once they're in that stage, it's too late). But this wasn't someone waiting until the last minutes to run out among a crowd.
If these bombings were as al-Ghanemi describes, then they were planned ahead of time -- well thought out indicating not just a level or precision but a level of rationality -- and since they were done ahead of time, they should have been prevented by extra security measure which should have been taken due to the religious holiday and the knowledge that over a million Shi'ite pilgrims would be taking part in the religious observation. That steps were not taken reflects very poorly on Nouri. John Leland (New York Times) offers, "The annual pilgrimage, banned under Saddam Hussein, is expected to draw as many as 10 million people this year to the city of Karbala over 10 days. It has long been a target of sectarian violence. Until this week, the holiday had been free of major bloodshed, and Iraqi security forces had claimed progress in their ability to protect the populace from violent extremist groups." Those numbers, and the holiday itself, argue for governmental anticipation and preparation.
Some blame the recent uptick in violence on the nascent administration that has yet to fill its top security slots, namely the ministers of defense, interior and security. There have been allegations that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is keeping the posts for close confidantes, but others say the same partisan bickering that kept a government from solidifying for 10 months is preventing the appointments of these ministers - and endangering the public. [. . .] According to senior Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman, among others who spoke to Asia Times Online, the clear instigator of these crimes is al-Qaeda and its affiliate ISA. However, as Othman pointed out: "They are supported by elements inside the security apparatus." The claim of collusion within the ranks of the yet unformed government has become a rallying cry for Maliki's opposition - the Iraqiya bloc of mostly secular Iraqis and Sunnis led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. Iraqiya's chief security advisor, Hani Ashor, said many Iraqis have already been murdered due to intelligence leaks within their own government. He and other politicians are calling for the fast-tracking of appointments for the security portfolios.
CNN has a photo essay of the post-bombings scene here.
Friday's violence? We'll most likely hear about it Saturday. But there is big news today out of Iraq. Khaled Farhan, Suadad al-Salhy, Michael Christie and Janet Lawrence (Reuters) report that Moqtada al-Sadr, who returned to Iraq January 5th after being out of the country for over two years, has again left the country and gone back to Iran. For a brief visit? Time will tell. But even a brief visit won't play well with the throngs of admirers who gathered around him and treated his home coming as a major moment. They may feel a little silly now. Those who might have had questions before probably have more now. And al-Sadr may emerge with a reason to explain his sudden departure. But it wasn't strategically smart on his part if he was intending to become an Iraqi leader from inside the country of Iraq.
This report back will be to answer questions from media and the peace movement about the recent trip back to Iraq by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The war is not over but it is not the same as it was in years past. What is the humanitarian situation in Iraq?
How can we do reparations and reconciliation work?
Speakers are all returning from this delegation and include:
March 19 is the 8th anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Iraq today remains occupied by 50,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of foreign mercenaries.
The war in Afghanistan is raging. The U.S. is invading and bombing Pakistan. The U.S. is financing endless atrocities against the people of Palestine, relentlessly threatening Iran and bringing Korea to the brink of a new war.
While the United States will spend $1 trillion for war, occupation and weapons in 2011, 30 million people in the United States remain unemployed or severely underemployed, and cuts in education, housing and healthcare are imposing a huge toll on the people.
Actions of civil resistance are spreading.
On Dec. 16, 2010, a veterans-led civil resistance at the White House played an important role in bringing the anti-war movement from protest to resistance. Enduring hours of heavy snow, 131 veterans and other anti-war activists lined the White House fence and were arrested. Some of those arrested will be going to trial, which will be scheduled soon in Washington, D.C.
Saturday, March 19, 2011, the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will be an international day of action against the war machine.
Protest and resistance actions will take place in cities and towns across the United States. Scores of organizations are coming together. Demonstrations are scheduled for San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and more.