Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The UK Inquiry With No Teeth: It's Better Than Nothing

There was a very interesting article in the Socialist Worker on the UK inquiry into the Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq.
At the heart of the inquiry is the question of whether Tony Blair’s administration promised to join the U.S. in invading Iraq with or without UN approval as early as 2002.

And the article has a point. The inquiry is largely meaningless and impotent because its bite has no fangs.

There are going to be no real repercussions for anybody except for some public discomfort.

That’s true. However, this public discomfort does have some value.

Nobody here in the U.S. is going to have to answer for their crimes, even in a meaningless PR nightmare of an inquiry.

What do you think Bush is doing right now? Fishing? Drinking? Duck hunting? Undocumented worker hunting? Maybe he’s out there participating in a couple of these sports at the same time?

One thing I’m sure he’s not doing is squirming.

He’s not somewhere with advisors and lawyers worrying about what he’s going to have to tell prosecutors or a Congressional Committee or even a journalist.

He has nothing to worry about and he knows it.

So, even if the U.K. hearings have no bite, at least they’re happening.

The hearings culminated in the testimony of Tony Blair at the end of January.

Incidentally, someone tried (unsuccessfully) to make a citizens arrest of Blair outside the proceedings.

Hell, there’s a website, that has a bounty for anybody who makes a citizen’s arrest on the bastard. (Incidentally, yours truly did a piece on this. That’s right, I’m not above shamelessly pimping myself.)

Also, people arriving at the Westminster underground station were greeted by people gathering signatures for a petition for Blair to be tried as a war criminal.

So, some good has come out of this.

To me, the highlight of the Blair's testimony was when he talked about threat versus perception.

"It wasn't that objectively he (Saddam) had done more, it was that our perception of the risk had shifted," Blair said.

Holy Jesus, did anyone catch the significance of those words? Blair said that we went to war because our paranoia level went up even though the actual threat didn’t. And he’s unapologetic about that! Holy Jesus!

Blair did deny promising military aid at the 2002 Crawford meeting.

"The only commitment I gave (at Crawford) was a commitment to deal with Saddam," Blair said. He said he told Bush "we will be with them in dealing with this threat."

A former legal advisor to the Blair administration, Michael Wood told then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in January of 2003 that any invasion in Iraq would be illegal.

Wood testified that his warnings fell on deaf ears. “He took the view that I was being very dogmatic and that international law was pretty vague and that he wasn't used to people taking such a firm position. When he had been at the Home Office, and had often been advised things were unlawful but he had gone ahead anyway and won in the courts."

The reason these warnings went unheeded may have been that the decision to go to war had already been made.

Britain's former ambassador to the U.S., Christopher Meyer, has told the inquiry that Bush and Blair used an April 2002 meeting at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, to "sign in blood" an agreement to take military action.

Senior Blair aides deny that. Former British Secretary of State for Defense Geoff Hoon said that Britain did not unconditionally decide to resort to military action before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Hoon said he did not think Blair gave a promise to Bush to support war come what may.

Hoon’s major concern wasn’t the legality of the war, but the logistics of the whole affair.

He testified that he had shared his concerns about planning with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in February 2003, a month before the invasion.

He said the British government also did not fully understand the challenges occupying forces would face.

He criticized Britain's Foreign Office and Department for International Development for delays in sending civilian staff to take over reconstruction work from the military.
With the bloodthirsty amateur hour carnage that Blackwater, (now Xe Services) caused in 2007 that nobody in the Bush administration or at Blackwater is willing to accept any accountability for, it’s good to hear somebody saying that outsourcing military work to civilian staff might not be such a good idea.

Since it's obvious that nobody here is going to hold companies like that accountable for their actions, at least somebody is speaking up.

But back to the invasion of Iraq.

If there's one thing that Bush is, it's decisive.

He's not the kind of man to sit and do nothing when action has to be taken.

I mean, you can't imagine the guy just sitting there for several minutes during a crisis not knowing what to do.

No, he's a take charge kind of guy.

Oh, wait.

Hoon said that former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had initially been suspicious of the British Government. I’m wondering what exactly he meant by ‘suspicious.’

Like if Britain wasn’t going to be as willing as we wanted that somehow that would make them less of an ally?

That attitude is chilling. It’s the ‘you’re either with us or with the terrorists’ mindset. This is a sentiment I resent the hell out of by the way since my response upon hearing that was, “No, I’m not with you or the terrorists.”

I think that by ‘suspicious’ he meant that Rumsfeld thought that Britain might turn out to be a holdout like France and would need to be vilified as such.

Hoon also said it was obvious as early as the summer of 2002 that the U.S. wanted to invade Iraq.

He testified, "There was a real sense of the Americans thinking through in a very practical way the consequences of the 'axis of evil' speech and focussing on Iraq, so we had no doubt at that stage in the summer that they meant business."

British officials worried before the invasion of Iraq that the Americans weren't putting enough thought into postwar planning, the head of Britain's defense ministry at the time said Tuesday.

Hoon told the inquiry that planning was not as "detailed and comprehensive as we would have liked."

He acknowledged the aftermath of the 2003 invasion "did not go as well as we wanted it to go."

No fucking shit, fuck-nuts.

To me, the hero of the hearings (if indeed a hero was to be had) was Former British International Development Secretary Clare Short.

I know nothing about her career up to the invasion. I had never even heard of her until these hearings, but I now adore her.

She talked about the need to speak the truth to friends.

"I think this gets to the root of why we went (to war.) And I think now you can see the leaked documents, the Americans were determined to go, Blair had said he'd go with them, he couldn't get Britain there without going through the UN but in the end if the Americans were going he was determined to go with them. And I repeat, I've said it before but it's very important - there was no need to go at that time, there was no emergency."

She went on to say that, "Britain needs to think about this - the special relationship. What do we mean by it? Do we mean that we have an independent relationship and we say what we think or do we mean we just abjectly go wherever America goes because we think that puts us in the big league. And I think that was it and it's a tragedy. That is the tragedy."

She is absolutely right. Being an ally does not mean blindly following, right or wrong.

By the way, Short resigned in protest of the invasion. A politician with a conscience. I love this woman.

Sometimes our friends our wrong and when they are, it’s our responsibility to stand up and tell them ‘no.’

Meanwhile, outside the hearings, the people who knew what they were talking about more than anybody and had the most authority to speak did so very loudly.

"The Iraqi people are having to live every day with aggression, division, and atrocities," said protester Saba Jaiwad, an Iraqi who opposed the war. "Blair should not be here giving his excuses for the illegal war, he should be taken to The Hague to face criminal charges because he has committed crimes against the Iraqi people."

It’s true. Now we need to have to prosecute Donald Rumsfeld. We have the documentation.

His signature is on virtually every memo authorizing torture. The paper trail is there and the Justice Department could easily prove his guilt as a war criminal beyond a reasonable doubt.

I think they could make a case against Cheney, too.

What are they waiting for?

I think it’s our arrogance as a people.

We want to be untouchable as a country and as much as these men should be in prison, we’re not going to punish them because we want to live in the country that can act with impunity.

Sure, we'll hold the occasional demonstration and protest the actions of those in power, but deep down, we don't really want to punish them.We simply do not hold our leaders responsible for their actions. And, as Ms. Short pointed out, that is tragic.

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