The Daily Mail & The Guardian & PressTV – 2011-01-23 02:29:44
Downing Street Ordered a ‘Cover up’
Over Straw’s Bid to Talk Blair
Out of Iraq Invasion, Explosive New Evidence Reveals
Tim Shipman / The Daily Mail
LONDON (January 21, 2011) — Final opportunity: Blair allegedly insisted he wanted to go to war despite an 11th-hour attempt to stop him by his foreign secretary Jack Straw. Downing Street ordered a cover-up after Jack Straw made an 11th-hour attempt to stop Tony Blair going to war in Iraq, it was claimed last night.
Explosive anonymous evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry said Mr Blair responded to his Foreign Secretary by insisting that he wanted to go to war. Officials at Number 10 then allegedly ordered that no record was kept of the confrontation. The revelation will pile pressure on the former Prime Minister when he returns to give evidence to the inquiry today.
Mr Blair will be concerned about the aggressive way Sir John Chilcot’s team have published damaging evidence against him in the week before his appearance, which is expected to attract anti-war protesters and security costs of more than Â£250,000. Sir John gave anonymity to the witness — who may be a civil servant or a member of Mr Blair’s inner circle — so he could reveal details of the alleged controversial showdown with Mr Straw.
At the meeting on March 12, 2003, the source claimed Mr Straw made the point that “this was the final opportunity to decide on a different track — advising the prime minister that he still had a chance to avoid it if he wanted to.” The source said Mr Straw told Mr Blair: “If you want to avoid your own resignation, Prime Minister, you still have an opportunity and here it is.”
The witness said he was “absolutely struck” by the speed of Mr Blair’s response as well as “the absolute insistence of it, and the fact that he had got his arguments all marshaled and all laid out.” He added: “Number 10 officials decided, after careful consideration, that the meeting should not be recorded because it didn’t change anything” and because it was a “very personal meeting.”
Mr Blair is likely to be questioned about the claims today.
Tony Blair Had Way Out of
Iraq Invasion, Chilcot Inquiry Told
Richard Norton-Taylor / The Guardian
LONDON (January 20, 2011) — Tony Blair was offered a way out of attacking Iraq at a secret meeting with his foreign secretary Jack Straw eight days before the invasion, according to documents lodged with the Chilcot inquiry, which tomorrow will question the former prime minister for a second time.
An anonymous official told the inquiry: “I recall a meeting with the prime minister where the foreign secretary [Straw] made the argument … for the UK military not being involved.
“The point the foreign secretary was making, in my view, was that this was the final opportunity to decide on a different track — advising the prime minister that he still had a chance to avoid it if he wanted to … The argument he was making was more in terms of, ‘If you want to avoid your own resignation, prime minister, you still have an opportunity and here it is. You have a way out and why don’t you take it?'”
The note by the anonymous official continues: “It was offering the prime minister a way out if he wanted it…. The thing that I was absolutely struck by privately was the prime minister’s response, the speed of it and the absolute insistence of it, and the fact that he had got his arguments all marshaled and all laid out.”
The meeting between Blair and Straw, attended by officials at No 10, is described as “very personal” and was not officially recorded.
Tomorrow, Blair is expected to be questioned about conversations with his ministers, and about any private assurances to George Bush about Britain joining the US-led invasion. The credibility of the inquiry for many observers will stand or fall on what the five-member inquiry panel, armed with documentary evidence that the public is being prevented from seeing, will be able to extract from Blair.
The inquiry summoned Blair back after hearing discrepancies in earlier evidence casting doubt over his public remarks about when, and in what circumstances, Britain would go to war, and what he was told by the government’s chief law officer about the legality of an invasion.
Crucial evidence is contained in notes sent to Bush described by Sir John Chilcot as providing “important and often unique insights into Mr Blair’s thinking and the commitments he made to President Bush, which are not reflected in other papers.” The notes, said Chilcot, “illuminate prime minister Blair’s positions at critical points.”
In one of three letters he wrote to Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, requesting permission to publish Blair’s notes, Chilcot insisted: “The question of when and how the prime minister made commitments to the US about the UK’s involvement in military action in Iraq, and subsequent decisions on the UK’s continuing involvement, is central to its considerations.”
After consulting Blair, O’Donnell told Chilcot that the notes could not be disclosed on the grounds that “exchanges between the UK prime minister and the US president represent particularly privileged channels of communication, the preservation of which is strongly in the public interest”.
One of Blair’s private secretaries, Matthew Rycroft, said in private evidence released by the inquiry this week that the former prime minister regarded the notes he sent to Bush as part of a “personal dialogue” and they were deleted from the official record.
Blair wrote the notes after a succession of meetings with Bush. Witnesses to the inquiry have indicated that Blair made clear to Bush from April 2002, nearly a year before the invasion, that he was committed to overthrowing Saddam Hussein with or without UN security council backing, and despite official legal advice that military action would be in breach of international law.
One of Blair’s notes is believed to relate to a two-hour White House meeting with Bush on 31 January 2003. A memo written by Sir David Manning, Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser and stamped “extremely sensitive” records that the US president was determined to invade Iraq without a new UN resolution. Extracts of it were subsequently leaked.
“Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” wrote Manning. “The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March … This was when the bombing would begin.” According to the memo, “the prime minister said he was solidly with the president and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam”.
The meeting and the assurances Blair gave to Bush are linked directly to the second major issue behind the decision to recall Blair: his attitude to the advice he was getting from the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith. According to a document released to the inquiry, the day before the 30 January 2003 White House meeting Goldsmith warned: “My view remains that a further [UN] decision is required.” Blair wrote in the margin: “I just don’t understand this.”
The inquiry asked Goldsmith whether a statement by Blair to the Commons earlier in January 2003 that a fresh UN resolution was not necessary was “compatible” with the advice he gave the former prime minister. “No,” replied Goldsmith.
Goldsmith reveals that as early as October 2002 he learned that Blair “had indicated to President Bush that he would join the US in acting without a second [UN] resolution.” Goldsmith told the inquiry: “I thought that such action by the UK would be unlawful.”
How the Hearings Began
The Chilcot inquiry was announced by Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, in June 2009 after the remnants of the British military presence finally left Basra amid continuing controversy over the country’s role in the invasion of Iraq.
It was not welcomed by Blair. Brown was advised by a reluctant Whitehall to set up an inquiry of privy councillors that would meet in secret. The outcry that followed the initial decision to hold a new inquiry behind closed doors helped to persuade Sir John Chilcot, and later Brown, that it should be held in public after all — subject to a process allowing Whitehall to have the final word.
Sceptics were not encouraged by the make-up of the five-member inquiry panel, all from the establishment. They were further dismayed by the apparently cosy atmosphere in which the witnesses were questioned.
However, before the inquiry broke up during the general election campaign (public hearings have now resumed) it was becoming increasingly evident that Chilcot was determined to be more rigorous than expected. For the first time, the inquiry yesterday released evidence from MI6 officers spelling out their warnings, as early as November 2001 as the Bush administration was already preparing for war, of the dangers of invading Iraq. “What can be done about Iraq? If the US heads for direct action, have we ideas which could divert them to an alternative course?” a senior, unidentified, MI6 officer wrote in a memo to Sir David Manning, Blair’s foreign policy adviser.
Manning, like many of his colleagues in Whitehall, wanted the UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix to be given more time. The inquiry, which yesterday also released heavily-redacted evidence from Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 at the time, has learned how the Bush-Blair momentum for war built up and was not stopped. The Chilcot inquiry, which should report later this year, has said it will concentrate on lessons to be learned, but not determine whether the invasion was lawful or not.
Chilcott’s Anger as Blair’s
Iraq Memos to Bush Stay Secret
Ian Drury / The Daily Mail
LONDON (January 20, 2011) — Britain’s top mandarin consulted Tony Blair before deciding not to release secret pre-Iraq War discussions between the former prime minister and George Bush.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell was yesterday accused of a â€˜shameless cover-upâ€™ for withholding “critical” evidence for fear it would damage relations between Britain and the US. Sir John Chilcot, the Iraq inquiry chairman, said he was “disappointed” that notes of the discussions and private memos would remain under lock and key.
On Friday Mr Blair will face his second grilling by the inquiry, which is investigating Britain’s role in the run-up to and aftermath of the 2003 invasion. The five-member panel has seen the documents but is not allowed to make them public or even refer to extracts when questioning him.
Last night, the Cabinet Office indicated Sir Gus had consulted Mr Blair before making his decision. A spokesman said there was an “established convention… whereby former ministers would normally be consulted before release of papers from their time in government.” But relatives of the 179 servicemen who died in Iraq questioned the decision. They believe Mr Blair made private promises to the White House in 2002 to join military action, whether or not they had secured United Nations authorisation.
Yesterday Sir John said: “The inquiry recognises the privileged nature of those exchanges but, exceptionally, we sought disclosure of key extracts which illuminate Prime Minister Blair’s positions at critical points.
“The inquiry is disappointed that the cabinet secretary was not willing to accede to its request. This means that in a narrow but important area the inquiry may not be able to publish as fully as it would wish the evidential basis for some of its comments and conclusions.”
The dispute emerged at the start of the latest round of public hearings at the inquiry after a six-month break. Sir Gus sought to block the committee from referring to the timing of Mr Blair’s notes to Washington, or the fact they even existed.
He gave in after pressure from the panel. In a letter dated January 11, he said: “Exchanges between the former UK prime minister and US President represent particularly privileged channels of communication, the preservation of which is strongly in the public interest.
“A UK prime minister may be less likely to have these exchanges (or allow them to be recorded) if he is concerned that this information would be disclosed at a later time against his wishes.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said yesterday: “The panel could surely be trusted to decide whether any document should be in the public domain with due regard for the distinction between the national interest and private embarrassment.” Reg Keys, whose son Tom was killed in Iraq, added: “If there is nothing controversial in them, why are they being shamelessly covered up?”
Last night Number 10 said Mr Cameron had not been consulted about the latest decision.
On Monday, explosive documents released by the inquiry suggested Mr Blair misled parliament and the public about the legality of the war. Former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said Mr Blairâ€™s claims that Britain did not need a UN resolution explicitly authorising force were not compatible with his legal advice.
Blair: I Ignored Goldsmith’s Legal Advice
Former British Prime Minister has admitted at the Chilcot Inquiry that he knowingly disregarded Lord Goldsmith’s warning that attacking Iraq without the UN support would be illegal.
LONDON (January 22, 2011) — Tony Blair has said that he ignored the top legal adviser’s warning, since Lord Goldsmith ‘s guidelines were “provisional”. He “held to the position” that a further UN Security Council resolution that evidently supported the UK military action was very pointless.
Lord Goldsmith told Blair in a six-page draft legal advice on January 14, 2003 that the resolution 1441 in itself was not adequate to validate the use of UK military force against Iraq.
After Blair admitted to have been informed of Lord Goldsmith’s concerns about the legitimacy of Britain’s involvement in the attack, the ex- Prime Minister said “I had not yet got to the stage of a formal request for advice and neither had he got to the point of formally giving it. So I was continuing to hold to the position that another resolution was not necessary.”
“I believed that he would, once he was abreast of the British but most of all the US negotiating history, conclude that 1441 meant what it said: Saddam had a final opportunity to comply, failure to do so was a material breach, and that revived the earlier resolutions authorising force.” He added.
Tony Blair was also asked about the January 30 memo in which Lord Goldsmith said once again that the resolution 1441 could not give the legal permission to the British government to participate in the invasion of Iraq.
Blair only answered “I did not understand how he could reach the conclusion that a further decision was required when expressly we had refused such language in 1441.”
Iraq Victims Families Outraged at Blair
LONDON (January 21, 2011) — Families of the British soldiers killed in Iraq slammed Tony Blair at the Iraq Inquiry as he moved to apologize for his wrong decision to become involved in a war, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
The relatives of the victims of the war in Iraq, who made up almost one third of the audience at the Chilcot Inquiry, shouted at Blair as he said he was “deeply and profoundly” sorry for the loss of life with calls of “too late.”
During his attendance at the inquiry last year, Blair had refused to express his regret over the Iraq war, only saying he took responsibility for what happened after the 2003 invasion.
On Friday when he finally expressed his regret, two female witnesses left the session as another turned her back on Blair. Also, as Blair was leaving the inquiry session, another woman, Rose Gentle, who lost her 19-year-old son Gordon in Iraq in 2004, shouted at the ex-premier “you lied, your lies killed our son. I hope you can live with it.”
Blair admitted at the inquiry that he sent a “very clear and simple” message to then US president George W. Bush that “you can count on us. We are going to be with you on this.” He also acknowledge he had tried to block any resistance to the invasion by withholding documents or arguments on the issue from cabinet members, who could potentially oppose the move.
Commenting on Blair’s remarks, John Brown the father a 34-year-old SAS sergeant, who died north of Baghdad in 2008, said he seemed like a gangster addressing a fake trial session.
“It resembled someone like Al Capone or John Gotti giving evidence in court when he knows he has bought off the judge and jury. I nearly threw up. It made everyone in there nearly sick because the man has got no regrets at all,” he said. “In my view, the only way they are going to nail this guy is in a court of law, being examined by serious barristers. This inquiry is not being rigorous enough. Every time they get him on the hook, they then back off,” he added.
Peter Brierley who lost his son in Iraq in 2003, also described Blair as a “monster.”
Iraq War Inquiry Website Deletes Memo
TEHERAN (January 21, 2011) — In yet another blow to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s credibility, the Chilcot Inquiry into the war on Iraq has released several declassified documents which open the door to quite serious evidence about the build-up to the US-led invasion of the country.
The Iraq War Inquiry has found out that the private secretary at No 10 routinely deleted any mention of Blair’s correspondence with the US President Bush from the government minutes at the time.
Meanwhile, it was reported that after talks with Blair, Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell has refused to declassify the letters, written in the run-up to the 2003 invasion between Bush and Blair.
One of the declassified documents and the most important one, maybe, was the transcript of the minutes of a private hearing attended by former chairman of Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir John Scarlett, and former chief of the assessment staff, Julian Miller. Scarlet has admitted his team were ‘bulldozed’ into drawing conclusions about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction ‘by the military time-table’ which created a rush to war.
This document was immediately deleted from the list of the released declassified documents, but to our readers’ fortune we managed to download a copy of the transcript which is attached to this article.
Blair Rebukes Iran to Own Benefits
(January 22, 2011) — During a fresh grilling at Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War, ex-UK Premier Tony Blair has claimed that Iran considered a democratic Iraq an “existential threat.” In the recently-held session of the Inquiry, Blair claimed that some states in the Middle East region believe the US-led invasion of Iraq made Iran more powerful.
The former British Prime Minister made the allegation irrespective of the fact that Iran owes its weight in the region to its support for democratically-elected governments of Muslim countries against those installed by foreign hands. He said his response to such criticisms is that Iran needed to be dealt with differently than it was the policy in the 1980s, which was erecting a Saddam-style dictatorship to wage war on the country.
He did not name Britain, though, as one of those pursuing the ‘policy’ of provoking Saddam against Iran leading to an eight-year war, which began in 1980 early after the Islamic revolution there, and lasted until 1988.
However his comments did ring a bell with the audience as how can a country like Britain which backed a dictator like Saddam just years ago could probably now be the harbinger of democracy in Iraq and how can someone conceive a similarly swift change of position by Iran to opposing democracy.
Blair seemed to imply Iran did prefer the dictatorship under Saddam in Iraq despite the fact that the dictator had imposed a devastating war on the country, and supported and accommodated one of the most notorious terrorist groupings, behind assassinations of leading Iranian prominent figures and officials, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO).
The MKO was blacklisted by the US government as a terrorist grouping for masterminding the assassination of former Iranian president Mohammad-Ali Rajaee, and several other officials, yet the British lawmakers wrote to US President Barrack Obama in 2009 to follow the EU example and remove the group from the US’ terror list.
The MKO terrorist members are now freely living and working in the UK. Blair did not stop at that in his accusations when be blamed Iran for acting like what the al-Qaeda extremists are doing in Iraq.
He acknowledged Iran’s influence in the Middle East, but not as a major Muslim nation which is leading efforts to curb the influence of bullying powers including Britain in the predominantly Muslim region. The former premier claimed Iran’s influence ‘he is seeing everywhere’ in the Middle East is â€œnegative and destabilizingâ€ and opposed to the peace process.
This comes against the backdrop of remarks made earlier this month by Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani in which he who called for â€œvigilance and solidarityâ€ among Iraqis to safeguard the sustenance of their unity government of Shiites and Sunnis against the divisive plots of the occupiers.
Larijani’s point was echoed by Blair when he said they believed before the invasion that extremism was an “encrustment” in Iraq but later they came to know that the ‘ideology’ by which he meant Islam had “a far greater reach than we like to accept.”
That was the point where Blair let the cat out of the bag by equating extremism, which should be fought in Iraq, with Islam and by extension implying that the very faith is the source of his hostile remarks toward Iran.
He further strengthened such an impression when he said Iran is opposed to the western way of life, and not the do-called democracy in the western world.
‘Britain Openly Talks Islamophobia’
LONDON (January 21, 2011) — Sayeeda Warsi, co-chairman of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio warned against an increasing trend of “intolerance” in the British society, British media reported.
“It has seeped into our society in a way where it is acceptable around dinner to have these conversations where anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is quite openly discussed,” said Warsi.
Waris dismissed the notion that divides all followers of Islam as either â€œmoderateâ€ or â€œextremistâ€, said the reports. She said that this notion adds fuel to misunderstanding and intolerance. â€œThose engaged in terrorism must face the law but also face social rejection and alienation across society, and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims”, said the minister without portfolio.
Warsi said that prejudice has grown with the numbers, blaming â€œthe patronizing, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”.
Warsi is the first Muslim woman to sit in the British cabinet. She said it was up to society, religious leaders and the government to change things. “We have faced these challenges before, we have worked through it and I’m confident that as a nation we can work through it again”, she added.
Britain is home to a growing Muslim population of 2.9 million now, or 4.6 percent of the population, up from 1.6 million in 2001, according to research published by the US-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
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