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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 16)

The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.

Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.

The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)

History is likely to judge Bush quite harshly on two ground in particular: launching a war against a country which had not attacked the United States, and approving the use of cruel and inhumane ‘interrogation techniques’ – torture.

Bush and his associates approved a wide range of brutal ‘interrogation techniques’ such as water-boarding – essentially controlled drowning, severe beatings, painful stress positions, severe sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold and hot temperatures, forced nudity, threats, hooding, the use of dogs and sensory deprivation, et cetera.

No American government official had ever even suggested that such measures were not torture, until of course a small handful of so-called lawyers in Bush’s supine Justice Department, working under orders from Dick Cheney, claimed otherwise: the original ‘torture memo’ of 1 August 2002. Did someone wonder, whisper. shout: ethical line? What would Bush know of it? As for Cheney. his interest in the Middle East never went beyond oil. On the other hand, it is calculated that the corporation of which Cheney had been chairman and CEO from 1995 to 2000 made a modest profit of US$39.5 billion in Iraq. The ‘torture memo’ argued that to “rise to the level of torture” an act had to cause pain “equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Anything short of that, according to the memo, was alright. Why, Philip Maxwell Ruddock, a solicitor of sort and a member of the Howard Government, first as Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs from 1996 to 2003, and then as Attorney-General from 2003 to 2007, agreed that severe sleep deprivation, inflicted upon an Australian at Guantánamo, was not torture. On 8 February 2016 Ruddock announced that he was retiring from politics. On the same day, Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister of the Turnbull Government, announced that Ruddock would be appointed Australia’s first special envoy for human rights.

But, what of Blair?

Here there is a curious but credible testimony by Sarah Helm. She is a former Brussels correspondent and diplomatic editor of The Independent. She is married to Jonathan Powell, who had been Blair’s chief of staff since 1997.

In early March 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, she overheard a crackly transatlantic phone call as George Bush spoke to Tony Blair. The American president told the prime minister he was ready “to kick ass”. Blair laughed nervously, and talked of his “epitaph”. Bush urged the junior partner to have cojones – balls. This is quite likely the customary level of his conversation. On 1 May 2002 – almost a year before the invasion – Bush told his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, of Saddam: “I’m going to kick his sorry motherf*cking ass all over the Mideast.”

One evening, the house full of building renovators, she and her husband retired to their bedroom. It was the only quiet place where Jonathan could use an antiquated secure telephone – ‘the Brent’ – and it was impossible for Sarah not to overhear. She was quite sympathetic to Blair’s purported effort to try to persuade Bush to do the decent thing, and wait for a second U.N. resolution on Iraq.

What follows is just about what Helm overheard:

An American military voice: “Mr Prime Minister. We have the president of the United States for you.”

There was a long pause, due to time lag. Bush seemed very far away; Blair very close; almost in the bedroom.

George Bush: “Hello, hello.”

Blair: “Hi, how are you ?”

Bush:”I’m fine. Fine. But, hey, most important, how are yooou … You’re being so courageous. Really, really brave. Your body language. Truly. I watched you on TV. Terrific. Real leadership will be remembered. Believe me.”

Blair: “Yeah, well. It’s hard sometimes. Believe me. But you’re doing pretty well yourself.”

Bush: “What me? I’m just ready to kick ass.”

Blair laughed nervously.

After more mutual admiration – particularly of each other’s ‘body language’ – Blair tried to make his move, raising the question of the French. Jacques Chirac, the French president, is causing trouble, opposing the second resolution, he said.

Bush: “Yeah, but what did the French ever do for anyone? What wars did they win since the French revolution ?”

Blair: “Yeah, right. Right.”

There was an exchange of more bad jokes about the French. One should remember the occasion when Bush called Chirac to show his, Bush, infallibility. Bush probably thought of himself as God’s agent here on earth to defeat evil. Anyway, just before the invasion, and to persuade the French to enter the adventure, he told Chirac that this was a conflict against ‘Gog and Magog before the final judgment’, and quoted the book of Revelation to support his position. Chirac did not know what Bush was talking about, but when it was explained to him, it made Chirac all the more certain that he did not want any part of it. On 13 March 2003, none other than Trevor Kavanagh, an English journalist and former political editor of The Sun, praised Blair for “stamping on wriggling anti-war worm Jacques Chirac … in a storming Commons performance.” Elsewhere, The Sun wished both Blair and Bush “all success” on the “long and tricky road to peace” [sic] in the Middle East. “History teaches a simple lesson.” its sister paper – both of them of the Murdoch stable – the now defunct News of the world had told its readers on 9 March 2003. “Appeasing a tyrant is never the answer. Thankfully Winston Churchill grasped this in the last century. So now does Tony Blair. In this testing time for his leadership, we back the PM all the way.”

Then the prime minister tried again.

Blair: “So, er … where do we go from here ?”

Bush: “I’d like to do the second resolution Friday. We need to move to closure … call in the chips with Chile, the Mexicans … close it down.”

There was a pause; and a sound of breathing.

Bush called Dr. Hans Blix, the U.N. weapons inspector who had not found any evidence of weapons of mass destruction ‘that no-count’, and then spoke of new intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that Saddam was about ‘to offload’. He was speaking to the recipient of a personal call by Dr. Blix on 20 February 2003 – days only, really before the conversation with Bush – to the effect that, after many hundreds of inspections, he had been unable to find any evidence of a weapons of mass destruction programme. Dr. Blix even told Blair that “it would prove absurd if 200,000 troops were to invade Iraq and find very little.” Blair would tell the Iraq Inquiry that Saddam Hussein was “a man to whom a last chance to do right is just a further opportunity to do wrong. He is blind to reason.” And now Blair was listening to Bush?

A moment later Helm overheard Bush take up the phone again and suddenly switch subject, talking of Vladimir Putin.

Blair: “Yeah. Well, er, let me explain how we see it … I want to take the Europeans with me so Friday might be a little early …”

There was a long silence; some talking in the background of the Oval Office.

Bush: “And you know what ? We could put a bug in on this and make sure Chirac gets to hear it. That you show him … And when that son of a bitch hits Europe, they’ll be saying, “Where were George and Tony?”

There was laughter. Jonathan and Sarah were silently wishing for Blair to try again. He took a new tack.

Blair: “We’ve got to make people understand we are not going to war because we want to but because there is no alternative.”

Bush: “Yeah. I’ve got a big speech coming up tomorrow so I will put some words in on that … But I have to do something about my body language. But your body language is great. How do you do it ?”

Blair: “Yeah.”

It was evident by then that Blair’s attempt to get through to Bush on the timing of the new resolution, and hence the war, had failed. He knew it.

But before hanging up, Bush felt a need – once again – to bolster Blair.

Bush: “But you know, Tony, the American people will never forget what you are doing. And people say to me, you know, is Prime Minister Blair really with you all the way? Do you have faith in him ? And I say yes, because I recognise leadership when I see it. And true courage. He won’t let us down.”

At this Blair laughed again, seeming unsure how to respond.

Blair: “Well, it might be my epitaph.”

Bush [laughing]: “Like … R.I.P. here lies a man of courage, you mean ?”

Blair [nervously]: “Yeah, right.”

Blair then made a final plea to Bush, this time for ‘words’ on Israeli-Palestinian peace, which he always hoped would be a pay-off of the war, but Bush was impatient to go now. With that image of Blair’s epitaph hanging in the air, the call came to an end.

Bush: “I have got to hop off to Texas. But hang on in there. And – cojones.”

Helm, who would use words of the overheard conversation for her new play Loyalty, noted immediately Blair’s overconfidence in believing that he could influence Bush to wait for U.N. support and thus ‘win’ the ensuing ‘peace’. (S. Helm, Blair knew Iraq would be his epitaph. But he dared not defy Bush, The Guardian, 4 July 2016).

The question remains: how could anyone in her/his right mind have anything to do with someone who thought of himself as ‘God’s agent on earth’?

There is more.

Bush might have very well thought that he was some kind of new Hollywood film-maker, director. Or the people surrounding him, Cheney Rumsfeld and the other neoconservatives might have realised that one way of pleasing and ‘directing’ Bush was that of drawing reality out of Hollywood.

Thus inspired by the Hollywood thriller movie plot ‘The rock’, the intelligence agencies of the United States – and of the United Kingdom, too, Australia just going for a ride on their tail – fabricated evidence leading to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which resulted in the sufferings of millions of people in the Middle East and deaths of 4,491 soldiers of the United States, of 179 of the United Kingdom and many of several other countries of the coalition. The revelations made by the Iraq Inquiry Report on 6 July 2016 are shocking and disturbing. They provoked the mother of a British soldier killed in the war to declare the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair the “world’s worst terrorist”. After the report was made public, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister Lord Prescott stated that the Iraq war was illegal and he quoted the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who is reported to have said in 2004 that as regime change was the prime aim of the Iraq War, it was illegal.

If Bush appeared to be fantasising, Blair’s response was no more incredible. While the two were concocting the aggression on Iraq, and by way of reassuring Bush of his ‘loyalty’, on 28 July 2002 Blair sent Bush a secret-personal Note on Iraq in which the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom unashamedly declared: “I will be with you, whatever.” It sounds more like a lover’s declaration than a statesman’s commitment. Yet Blair was aware, as he wrote in the Note, that “In [his] opinion, neither the Germans or the French, and most probably not the Italians or Spanish either, would support us without specific UN authority.” Although “[he knew] that Berlusconi and Aznar personally strongly supported [Bush].” The Report disclosed such previously secret memoranda, but those sent by Bush to Blair were kept secret at the request of the American Administration.

Such language was coming from the pen of a Prime Minister who knew, as the Downing Street Memoranda memorialised at the end of July 2002 that, in the words of Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service,MI6, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” [Emphasis added].

In other words, a false pretext was being manufactured to justify an unprovoked war – and they all knew it.

The Guardian of 29 August 2011 revealed that a letter from Blair’s office, written five months before the conflict, clearly showed that the United Kingdom government intended to invade Iraq, whether or not a second Security Council Resolution supported the action. The document shows that Britain, along with the United States, would “take action” if a breach of the previous resolution could be found. This letter was written despite the fact that Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney General, had already advised an invasion of Iraq would be illegal. The letter provides an insight into the political dealings of the American and British governants, and demonstrates their clear disregard for international law.

Tomorrow: The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)

GeorgeVenturini Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.

⬅️ Part 15

➡️ Part 17

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2 comments

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  1. Ella

    Sir, what a frightening read…it demonstrates why going to war should NOT be made by a leader but by the 100% support of Parliament.

  2. jim

    And little jonny howard was lauded by Bush who said ,” Johnny Howard is a “man of steel” Can you imagine just how this praise bestowed on little johnny by the worlds “most powerful man” made little johnny feel, well, little johnny howard would still be having wet dreams over it now I’d say.

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