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Bush, Blair and Howard – Three reckless adventurers in Iraq (Part 3)

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 Iraq Inquiry (continued)

Philippe Sands, QC, a distinguished professor of laws and Director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals at the University College London, who had contributed upon request to the Inquiry and was present outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre where Sir John was speaking, could not help but notice that “By the time [Sir John] had finished his 25-minute speech, the mood in and around the centre had changed: contrary to most expectations, the inquiry had delivered a report of devastating clarity.” Professor Sands is worth reproducing extensively. He remarked on the words used by Sir John at the opening of the statement: judgements on weapons of mass destruction had been “Not justified”, planning and preparations for post-war Iraq had been “wholly inadequate”, the government had “failed to achieve its stated objectives.”

And he continued: “Chilcot then turned to the timeline, the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the move by the US and the UK to a policy of regime change. In April 2002, at a meeting at George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas, Tony Blair ‘sought a partnership’ with Bush and argued for ‘an ultimatum calling on Iraq to permit the return of weapon inspectors or face the consequences’. In July Blair told the president: ‘I will be with you, whatever.’ In September he and the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, persuaded Bush to ‘take the issue of Iraq back to the UN’, and in November the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm or face ‘serious consequences’: further breaches would be reported to the Security Council ‘for assessment’. In December Bush concluded that since UN weapons inspections ‘would not achieve the desired result’, the US would ‘take military action in early 2003’. In January 2003 Blair concluded that war was likely, and ‘accepted the US timetable for military action by mid-March’. Bush agreed to seek a further Security Council resolution that would explicitly authorise war. By 12 March it was clear that there would be no second resolution: most Security Council members were not convinced that all peaceful options had been exhausted. The bombing began a week later, on 20 March.

Blair’s government struggled to deliver on the prime minister’s promised support. The inquiry found a litany of failings. On Iraq’s WMD capabilities, judgments were made ‘with a certainty that was not justified’. The intelligence did not establish ‘beyond doubt’ that Iraq was producing chemical or biological weapons. Iraq did not have the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon, and had not deployed long-range missiles. UK policy was based on ‘flawed intelligence and assessments’ which ‘should have been’ challenged but weren’t. Military planning was settled too late and preparation was inadequate, with ‘equipment shortfalls’ and risks ‘neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers’. Remarkably, the cabinet never discussed the military options or their implications. Contrary to Blair’s claim, post-invasion difficulties could have been anticipated, and the risk of internal strife, Iranian involvement and al-Qaida activity ‘were each explicitly identified before the invasion’. Although aware of the inadequacy of US planning, ministers couldn’t influence it. There was no ‘clear ministerial oversight of UK planning and preparation’, and no proper plan for postwar administration, security and reconstruction. Whitehall departments failed, ministers failed; there was no ‘collective ministerial discussion’. Delays in equipment supplies by the Ministry of Defence were intolerable. The army, lacking sufficient resources, cut a deal with a militia group which had been actively targeting its forces: a ‘humiliating’ position. The war ended ‘a very long way from success’, Chilcot concludes. The intervention ‘went badly wrong’, with consequences that are continuing still. It was not ‘calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigour’, and decisions taken were not ‘implemented fully’.

Chilcot didn’t mention a single positive outcome. When he finished speaking at the Queen Elizabeth Centre, the audience was stunned. Judging by his appearance when he gave a press conference a few hours later, so too was Blair. Chilcot portrayed the Iraq War as a total failure of government. [179] British troops had been killed and many more were injured; 150,000 Iraqis had been killed ‘and probably many more – most of them civilians’; and more than a million people had been displaced. Lives were ruined; Islamic State has emerged in the aftermath, and Britain has been diminished.

The report spreads the responsibility far and wide, covering politicians, civil servants, the military and lawyers. Yet, devastating as it is, the report does pull some punches. There is no allegation, explicitly at least, of lying, deceit or manipulation, even if the facts as presented make possible the inference.

The report’s treatment of the legality of the war – though it’s worth remembering that a lawful war is not necessarily right – and the steps that were taken in an attempt to find a legal justification, offers an opportunity to explore the inquiry’s self-restraint. In his introductory words Chilcot explains that the inquiry ‘has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal’. With no lawyer among its members, and no legal counsel to assist it, the inquiry chose to sidestep this delicate matter, claiming it was best ‘resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised court’ (a parallel inquiry in the Netherlands, the Davids Commission, which reported in January 2010, concluded that the war had no basis in international law). Even so, Chilcot devotes much of his opening statement to matters of legality. Distinguishing between substance and process, the inquiry concludes that ‘the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.’ ‘Far from satisfactory’ is a career-ending phrase in mandarin-speak, a large boot put in with considerable force. As late as January 2003, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told Blair that lawful war required a further Security Council resolution, before later changing his mind – his written advice of 7 March found a second resolution ‘preferable’ (rather than indispensable) – and then changing it again, offering a final view on 17 March: since Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of the existing Security Council resolutions, ‘the authority to use force under Resolution 678 was, “as a result”, revived.’ Taking the documents of 7 and 17 March together, Chilcot notes that, on the legal view finally adopted, war would be lawful only if there was evidence that Iraq had committed ‘further material breaches as specified in Resolution 1441’.

He homes in on a key question: on what basis did Blair take the decision that Iraq was in further material breach? ‘Not clear’, Chilcot answers, somewhat generously, since the evidence before the inquiry showed that Blair consulted no one but himself – not the UN weapons inspectors, not the Joint Intelligence Committee, not anyone. Playing God and weapons inspector, Blair simply made up his mind that Iraq was in material breach. ‘Given the gravity of the decision,’ Chilcot adds, ‘Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice explaining how, in the absence of a majority in the Security Council, Mr Blair could take that decision.’ Actually, Goldsmith should have told Blair that this was not a decision he could take himself, not without expert advice. The question of material breach ‘should have been considered by a cabinet committee’, Chilcot says, ‘and then discussed by cabinet itself’. It was not.

Tomorrow: The Iraq Inquiry (continued)

GeorgeVenturiniDr. 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 2

➡️ Part 4

4 comments

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  1. John Ward

    Thank you for your expansion of data and opinion in the article. I value your contribution greatly, looking forward to tomorrow’s contribution.

  2. townsvilleblog

    War criminals all, they should be taken to The Hague and sentenced to what they all deserve.

  3. silkworm

    The decision to invade Iraq was not made by Blair. It was made by Bush and his cabal. Blair was just a tagalong.

  4. jim

    Really they call these men “statesmen” what a FN joke……..
    Right-wing governments like the Liberal party may sap some people’s will to live and result in more suicides, conclude studies in Britain and Australia. In Australia the suicide rate for 2015 has risen by 45%. How on earth you vote LNP is beyond me.

    The researchers speculate that losers are more likely to kill themselves in the individualistic, “winner-takes-all” societies favoured by right wing governments, because they are left to fend for themselves. Wide disparities in wealth also sharpen any sense of hopelessness, the researchers argue.

    “If you fail under that ideology, it would accentuate your feelings of failure,” says Mary Shaw, whose team at the University of Bristol analysed suicide trends in England and Wales over the past century.

    Left wing governments tend to be more “inclusive” and community based, she says, decreasing the isolation felt by people down on their luck. Shaw’s team calculates that over the past century, 35,000 extra suicides occurred when the Tories were in power.

    “That’s equivalent to one suicide for every day of the 20th Century, or two for every day that the Conservatives ruled,” the team write in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

    Britain’s Conservative Party declined to comment on the findings.

    Double trouble
    Shaw and her colleagues found that on average, suicide rates were 17 per cent higher when the Conservatives were in power, compared to the annual average of 103 suicides per million population when opposition parties held office.

    Richard Taylor and his team in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney found similar trends over the past century in New South Wales. When Right-wing governments were in power, men were 17 per cent more likely and women 40 per cent more likely to commit suicide.

    They report that rates were highest whenever Right wing governments held power both at federal and state levels.

    Both studies reached their conclusions after taking into account other factors that affect suicide rates, such as economic slumps, wartime, and even a surge of suicides among women in the 1960s when sedatives became widely available.

    “You’ve never had it so good”
    But the same trend always emerged, even at times of economic boom such as the “you’ve-never-had-it-so-good” years when Harold MacMillan led the UK’s Tory government between 1957 and 1963.

    During that time, annual suicides peaked at 137 per million population. Shaw points out that rates were almost as high in the 1930s (135 per million) when Labour’s Ramsay McDonald headed a coalition, but she believes the primary reason then was the century’s worst economic slump.

    The lowest rate was 85 per million, during the Liberal government of David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1920. Now, under Tony Blair, it is back to the non-Conservative average of 103, down from 121 during Margaret Thatcher’s first term in the early 1980s.

    Shaw admits that attempts to connect the differences to ideologies are pure speculation. “But I’d be very interested to see if suicide rates are higher wherever there’s a Right-wing government,” she says. “I’d be particularly interested to see if the relationship holds in the US.”

    A study published in July 2001 found that US Republicans are almost three times more likely to have nightmares than Democrats. But a Republican spokesman told New Scientist at the time: “If we are, it’s because we’re left cleaning up the mess left by eight years of Bill Clinton. We sleep better now Bush is in the White House.”

    Journal reference: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. (vol 56, p 723, p 766)

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