Wednesday, November 25, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Iraq Inquiry continues in England, the Liberal Democrats call out Gordon Brown's attempts to short-circuit the inquiry, another inquiry waits in the wings -- one into British forces possible abuse and murder of Iraqis, and more.
Today in London, the Iraq Inquiry continued its public hearings. Janet Stobart (Los Angeles Times) explains, "The six-member panel is looking into the decision of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's government to join the U.S.-led war that brought down the Iraqi dictator in 2003. It will interview policymakers, secret service chiefs, military commanders and relatives of soldiers who died in the war. Blair is scheduled to appear in January. " The day's focus was WMDs. John Chilcot heads the Inquiry.
Chair John Chilcot: Good morning. Our objective today is to look at the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This will take us from the time of the first Gulf War and the inspections that followed it right up to the final report of the Iraq Survey Group, the organisation with responsibility for providing an account of Saddam's weapons' programmes after the Iraq conflict. Several reports have already been published on issues relating to weapons of mass destruction. We do not propose in this session to go in detail into areas which have already been examined closely before by other investigations, but what we do hope to do is to elict communities' concern about Saddam's weapons, the development of the government's policy on this issue, the threat that the government believed that Iraq's weapons posed, and what was found after the conflict. I would like to recall that the Inquiry has access to literally thousands of government papers, including the most highly classified for the period we are considering and we are developing a picture of the policy debates and the decision-making process.
Unless attributed to a news outlet, all quotes from today's hearings are from the [PDF format warning] rush transcript provided by the Inquiry (which they note may change) or from the videos of the hearing provided by the Inquiry. Emma Alberici (Australia's ABC and link has text and audio) summarizes, "The Chilcot inquiry has now heard two days of evidence from the most senior Foreign Office officials who received and analysed intelligence on Iraq for two years before the war and in the year after the invasion. It has emerged that Britain's Foreign Office also told former prime minister Tony Blair that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction had been dismantled, 10 days before Britain invaded Iraq." Tim Dowse and William Ehrman were today's witnesses. Channel 4's Iraqi Inquiry Blogger observes, "One thing I'll remember about today's hearing was watching two career diplomats relive the moments that must surely be the absolute nadir of their professional lives. I'm talking about the weeks and months following the Iraq War when the weapons their department had so confidently assessed would be found failed to turn up." And it is apparently difficult for some liars to ever get honest. From today's hearing:
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: So in terms of your concerns over this period, you mentioned Iran, you mentioned North Korea, you mentioned Libya, you mentioned Pakistan, at least through AQ Khan, and you mentioned Iraq, but in terms of rank ordering again, where would Iraq come on that list, in terms of the most threatening in proliferation terms?
Tim Dowse: It wasn't top of the list. I think in terms of -- my concerns on coming into the job in 2001, I would say, we would have put Libya and Iran ahead of Iraq.
Was Iraq the big threat in 2001 or 2002? No. Dowse says other countries ranked ahead of it. Ehrman can't have that and it's time for him to lie and confuse the issue. He does that by bringing a number of areas which, pay attention, were offered as reasons . . . for . . . the . . . FIRST GULF WAR. It is equivalent to the US and England declaring World War II based on the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
Ehrman also appears to have been snoozing (or hoping everyone else was) only minutes prior when Dowse had addressed the issue of missiles and noted that they "are not weapons of mass destruction in themselves". Now let's go to do Dowse addressing what they saw as real concerns prior to the start of the Iraq War (March, 2003).
Tim Dowse: Could I maybe illustrate that with regard to some of the countries concerned? Take Libya as one example. Between 1998 and 2003, the assessments that were being carried out painted a picture of steady progress on Libya's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. It had been identified by 2003 as a prime customer of AQ Khan network. We were also concerned about activity in the chemical weapons field and about work at research sites on dual-use potential to support biological weapons-related work. With Iran, Iran had used ballistic missiles in the Iran/Iraq war in the 1980s. It had aquired Scud B missiles from Syira and from North Korea and after -- it also produced Scud C sllightly longer-range missiles. After the war, North Korea sold to Iran production technology for Scud B and Scud C and in the mid-1990s, it brought a few examples of North Korean No-Dong 1 missiles. These were long-range and, from that, it devloped its own missile, the Shahab 3, of 1300 kilometres. Iran's nuclear fuel activities had developed steadily over more than two decades by 2001 to 2003. It had announced, or the IAEA had reported, a large Iranian conversion facility at Isfahan; a large facility for gas centrifuge fuel enrichment; it had indigenous facilities to manufacture centrifuge components; it had obtained P2 centrifuges; it had got technical drawings, whose origin the IAEA had concluded was AQ Khan. So we were considerably worried about the development in Iran. As for North Korea --
Committee Member Lawrence Freedman: I think you have made your point that there are a vareity of different stages and the example you have given us from Iran is quite interesting perhaps as a comparative with what was thought to be the case with Iraq. Can we move on to Iraq itself? You have mentioned all the things before that Iraq was known to have done, but these were all prior to 1991 in terms of attacking its neighbours and actually using these weapons. So, since 1991, do you believe that it had been effectively contained?
Tim Dowse: I would say we regarded the effect of the -- certainly with WMD, the weapons inspectors, UNSCOM's activities, the IAEA's activities through the 1990s, until 1998, as effectively disarming Iraq. There were quite a large number of unaswered questions, things that we were unsure about.
While Dowse appeared to be making some effort towards answering questions, William Ehrman could not stop spinning. There was no evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda but Ehrman could not let go of that lie and repeated it throughout his testimony. One example, "But there was also the fact that he was supporting terrorist groups, Palestinian terrorist groups, and although we never found any evidence linking him closely to AQ Khan and we did not -- sorry, to Al-Qaeda, and we did not belive that he was behing, in any way, the 9/11 bombings, he had given support to Palestinian terrorist groups and also to a group called the MEK, which was a terrorist group directed against Iran." There is no linke, NON, to al Qaeda but Ehrman repeatedly worked it in and then would walk it back as though it was an accident. He seemed to feel he was Mr. Subliminal and the Inquiry should have told him to stop making the linkage. As for the MEK, the Inquiry should have asked Ehrman which country he thought he was working for in the lead up to the Iraq War? Did England classify the MEK as a terrorist organization in 2002? Then why is Ehrman blathering on about them?
While Ehrman repeatedly (and falsely) attempted to link Iraq to al Qaeda (and then rush back a qualifier), there was no link. CBC's report makes that clear and notes that Dowse testified there was no link and that, "After 9/11 we concluded that Iraq actually stepped further back. They did not want to be associated with al-Qaeda. They weren't natural allies."
For perspective, in the US, George W. Bush started the illegal war and he's a Republican (Democratic Barack Obama continues it). In Australia, then-Prime Minister John Howard started the Iraq War and he is a member of his country's Liberal Party. He was replaced by Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party who has ended Australia's miltiary presence in Iraq with "the last 12 Australian soldiers" still in Iraq departing at the end of July. Of the three major countries pushing for the illegal war, only England has seen the original pimp replaced with a member of the same party. Tony Blair was replaced as prime minister by Gordon Brown and both men are members of the Labour Party. Not only are Blair and Brown members of the same party and also of the New Labour segment of the party, they have a relationship which goes back decades and Blair's ascendancy to the top of his party took place with the promise that Brown would be his successor. Brown supported Blair on every major policy decision including the Iraq War. Bully Boy Bush lied about 'programs' and 'yellow cake' and pretty much everything including, most likely, his own choking (allegedly on a pretzel). In England, the lie was that Iraq had the capabilities to launch a WMD attack on England in less than one hour. Rob Welham (Xinhua) observes, "The intelligence about Iraq's military capability, set out in the so-called "dodgy dossier", proved to be wrong, and the decision to go to war became one of the most controversial foreign policy decisions in living memory." Richard Norton-Taylor (Guardian) addresses that false claim in his report:
Asked about suggestions that the Blair government's 45-minute deployment claim had referred to weapons of mass destruction usable by Iraq to strike another nation, Dowse said: "I don't think we ever said that it was for use in a ballistic missile in that way." The inquiry panel member Sir Lawrence Freedman pointed out: "But you didn't say it wasn't."
Liberal Democrat Party MP and chief of staff Edward Davey issued the following statement today: "It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception. The threat that Saddam could deploy WMD within 45 minutes was fundamental to the Government's arugment that Iraq presented an imminent danger. Yet this new evidence shows that the intelligence was, if anything, pointing towards Iraq becoming less of a threat. A leader of courage and conviction would have used such evidence to halt the drumbeat for war, but Blair just turned a blind eye to intelligence that contradicted his case. This evidence proves what has long been suspected, that intelligence was cherry-picked or dismissed to support the case the Government wanted to make. It is becoming ever more clear that the case for war was nothing more than sophistry and deception flying in the face of the latest and best intelligence." David Brown (Times of London) emphasizes, "Intelligence information that Saddam Hussein had dismantled his weapons of mass destruction programme was received by the Foreign Office days before Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, an inquiry into the war heard today." Ben Macintyre (Times of London) revisits MP Robin Cook's decision to leave Blair's cabinet in 2003 and his calling out the rush to illegal war:
With delicate ferocity, he presented the case against war: "Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction ... Neither the international community nor the British people is persuaded there is an urgent and compelling reason for this action in Iraq."
He warned that a dangerous sense of Muslim injustice was building, that Britain was being dragged into conflict by a far more powerful ally, and that the deep misgivings of voters were being ignored: "The prevailing mood of the British people is sound. They do not doubt that Saddam is a brutal dictator, but they are not persuaded that he is a clear and present danger to Britain."
Above all, Cook insisted that Britain must not be taken to war without a vote in Parliament. "From the start of this present crisis, I have insisted on the right of this place to vote on whether Britain should go to war," he said in his resignation statement. Two days later, the government motion supporting the use of British forces in Iraq passed by 412 to 149.
To listen to politicians speak today, one might imagine that the consensus in 2003 was opposed to war, and Blair and his inner circle the sole drum-beaters. Parliament backed the war. The majority of MPs voted for it. The Cabinet supported it and remained in their jobs with the exception of Cook and, eventually, Clare Short. The media were broadly supportive of military action.
Tony Blair continued to make the claim that Iraq could launch an attack on England in less than an hour. A false claim. Gordon Rayner (Telegraph of London) reports on that aspect and notes Ehrman testifying, ""On March 10 we got a report saying that the chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and that Saddam hadn't yet ordered their re-assembly and he might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents." Mark Stone (Sky News) offers this observation of today's hearing:
One thing bugged me though. The Inquiry committee appeared not to follow up some points with obvious questions. An example. One of the panel, Sir Roderic Lyle, referring to a statement Blair made in 2003, asked the following pertinent question:
"Would you regard the Prime Minister's statement in December 2003 that 'the Iraq Study Group [tasked with finding WMD after the invasion] has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories' as corresponding to advice you were giving to ministers?"
The response from Tim Dowse was, somewhat sheepishly: "I did not advise him to use those words."
But then... nothing from the panel! They did not ask whether the advisors told the PM to back off from words which appeared clearly to be out of kilter with the advice they were giving him.
None of what was said today will make Mr Blair feel very comfortable as he prepares for his appearance. We have to wait until January for that though.
Simon Carr in the Independent wasted no time; "The Chilcot Inquiry looks set to be boring, miasmic and faintly dishonest.
"This is a panel that the toadiest of Blair toadies would have chosen. Why Brown agreed to it is a mystery."
The Daily Mail was scarcely more optimistic for the Inquiry's prospects, John Kampfner writing that as the Inquiry began "one conclusion could be drawn before a single person had said a single word: Tony Blair will get away with it. Again."
On only the second day of the public hearing, Nico Hines and David Brown (Times of London) reported the accusations that England's current prime minister, Gordon Brown, was attempting to derail the inquiry, "When the Prime Minister announced the inquiry, he claimed that national security would be the only legitimate barrier to full disclosure in Sir John Chilcot's report into the Iraq war. A set of protocols published on the Cabinet Office website, however, indicates that a tranche of additional restrictions have been imposed. The guidelines issued to Sir John and his team set out nine extra restrictions, including commercial and economic interests, that would allow a government agency or department to remove a section from the report." BBC News (link has text and video) reports the Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg has stated, "This protocol includes nine seperate reasons why information can be suppressed" and acts as "rights of veto" to keep, at best, embarrassing moments from the public: "How on earth are we, and is the whole country, going to hear about the full truth of the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by his government's shameful culture of secrecy?" Sian Ruddick (Great Britian's Socialist Worker) declares, "Only by declaring Tony Blair guilty of war crimes will it help to bring justice for those millions of Iraqis who have paid with their lives for a bloody, pointless war."
In other Iraq news out of England, BBC reports that former-Justice Thayne Forbes has been appointed to head the investigation into the inquiry into whether British forces killed 20 Iraqis and abused nine others in 2004 and the BBC's Caroline Hawley explains, "
An internal army document says a Red Cross doctor believed that facial injuries to the Iraqis suggested 'that when the injuries were received the person had either been held down or defenceless.' It is because the MoD failed to produce these documents when required by the High Court that the government has had to agree to this inquiry." CNN adds, "The release of a photo published in British media and obtained by CNN about the incident shows an armed soldier standing near four people face down on the ground with their hands bound behind their backs and their faces covered. Attorneys for the men say they were beaten and evidence shows a breach of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners. But, the defence ministry disputes that." Simon Basketter (Great Britian's Socialist Worker) reports, "Evidence of torture includes close-range bullet wounds, the removal of eyes and stab wounds. The death certificates described how the Iraqis died: 'Several gunshot wounds to body -- severance of sexual organs.' 'Gunshot to head.' 'Gunshot in face, pulling out of the eye, breaking the jaw, gunshot to the chest'."
Today in Iraq, Michael Christie and Mark Trevelyan (Reuters) report an assault in Tarmiya in which 6 family members were murdered by males "wearing [Iraqi] army uniforms . . . The women had their throats cut while the men were shot in the head". Jomana Karadsheh (CNN) adds that three females had thie throats slit -- two adults and one "13-year-old girl" and that "It is not known in either case whether the attackers were soldiers or were masquerading as Iraqi service members." Lin Zhi (Xinhua) adds, "The attacker left alive a woman and her child, who were relatives of the victims visiting the family when the attack occurred, the source said." Marc Santora (New York Times) observes this is the second such attack in recent days and notes, "One theory about the motivation for the attacks is that militants are posing as members of the Army in order to foment distrust among Sunnis, turning them against government troops and thereby making it easier to establish safe havens. However, the government has provided no evidence to this effect and the theory is based on little more than speculation voiced by local security officials, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity."
In other reported violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad sticky bombing which wounded one person, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured four people, a Nineveh Province roadside bombing which injured two Iraqi soldiers and one person, a Baquba roadside bombing which left three police officers injured, a Kirkuk sticky bombing which injured one police officer and a Karbala roadsdie bombing and motorcylce bombing -- one after the other -- which claimed the lives of 13 people and left twenty-six more injured.
Turning to the US, like Bush, Barack loves land mines. Cedric's "Princess Di died for his sins" and Wally's "THIS JUST IN! HE'S A MORON!" covered that last night. In addition, other community sites did theme posts on TV shows you can't stand last night, Betty's "Somerby and the awful 7th Heaven," Mike's "Mammograms, V," Rebecca's "hawaii oh-no," Stan's "The awful Democracy Now!," "TV show you loathe" (Law & Order franchise), Ruth's "Perfect Strangers," Marcia's "The Office," Trina's "Worst TV show" (Andy Griffith Show), Ann's "Download Carly's new album for just $5.00" (The Jamie Foxx Show) and Kat's "24 -- ugh."
the telegraph of london
the times of london