Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Cabinet did not need to hear legal doubts over Iraq invasion, says Straw.

This video is the moment when Alastair Campbell - Tony Blair's right hand PR man during the build up to the Iraq war - is said to have broken down on TV. He doesn't actually break down, but he appears flustered by Andrew Marr's question which is: If the intelligence does not show that the evidence about Iraq's WMD's was "beyond doubt", as Blair claimed it did, has Tony Blair mislead parliament?

Campbell's answer is that a decision was made and that Blair is an honourable man. It's clearly not an answer to the question.

Blair appeared recently on Fox News and attacked the hunt for a "conspiracy" and a "scandal" over his decision to commit British troops to the war.

On Fox news today, asked why the UK had had a succession of such probes into the invasion, Blair said: "Partly because we have this curious habit – I don't think this is confined to Britain actually – where people find it hard to come to the point where they say: we disagree; you're a reasonable person, I'm a reasonable person but we disagree.

"There's always got to be a scandal as to why you hold your view. There's got to be some conspiracy behind it, some great deceit that's gone on, and people just find it hard to understand that it's possible for people to have different points of view and hold them … for genuine reasons. There's a continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy, when actually there's a decision at the heart of it."

That's what Blair and Campbell's defences have now come down to: "you're a reasonable person, I'm a reasonable person, but we disagree". Blair made "a difficult decision" - and from Blair's world view difficult decisions are always to be applauded - and that's where we have a fundamental disagreement. Blair is now arguing that we are being unreasonable to even question the logic of his decision and to question whether or not he was telling parliament the truth when he made statements, some of which we now know to be false, in order to persuade parliament to vote in favour of the war Blair was proposing.

Blair now sees even asking these questions as "a continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy", rather than what they actually are. An attempt to discover whether or not Blair over played his hand when trying to get the country to agree to the Iraq war. An attempt to clarify whether or not Blair "sexed up" - to use Gilligan's famously disputed phrase - his case for war.

Blair now objects even to that question being asked. One gets the distinct feeling - when one looks at both Blair and Campbell's reactions - that they are starting to circle the wagons.

Now, Jack Straw goes back to the Chilcot inquiry to claim that there was no need for the cabinet to be told that the legality of the war was questionable.

Straw told the inquiry that the cabinet included a number of "strong-minded people", among them Gordon Brown, John Prescott, David Blunkett, Charles Clarke and Margaret Beckett: "None of them were wilting violets; their judgment was that it was not necessary to go into the process by which Peter Goldsmith came to his view. I don't recall cabinet as a whole receiving legal advice on the matter," Straw told the inquiry. "All [the cabinet] wanted to know was: is it lawful or is it not lawful?" What was required in the end was "essentially a yes or no decision" from the attorney general, he added.

The inquiry has heard how Sir Michael Wood, the FO's legal adviser, and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, said an attack was unlawful without a fresh UN resolution. In a memo, Wood warned Straw: "Force without security council authority would amount to a crime of aggression." Straw, now justice secretary, replied: "I note your advice but I do not accept it."

The fact that the questionable legality of the proposed war was kept from the cabinet only strengthens the appearance that Blair was intent on war at all costs, if that was what Bush decided upon.

It is easy to see why Blair wants this entire escapade to be viewed as merely "a difficult decision" which he had to take, for that's the only way to look at it which casts him in a honourable light.

My problem with Blair in the run up to the Iraq war was that I found it impossible to believe - as he often claimed at the time - that he looked at evidence and made "a difficult decision". I got the distinct impression that he was doing the very opposite. He had made a decision to stand beside Bush no matter what, and he then started looking for evidence to back that decision.

The entire process was back to front. And that's why Blair and Campbell and others are so outraged at the current line of questioning.

Their mendacity is coming under the spotlight.

Click here for full article.

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