December 13, 2009

Will Blair lie to the Iraq inquiry publicly or privately?

I think that's the only remaining question. The Independent on Sunday has a front page "exclusive" headed Untouchable: Blair to give Iraq War evidence in secret:
Key parts of Tony Blair's evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War will be held in secret, sources close to the hearings revealed last night.

His conversations with President George Bush when he was prime minister, and crucial details of the decision-making process that led Britain into war, will fall under the scope of national security and the protection of Britain's relations with the US.

But there are also suggestions by well-placed sources that anything "interesting" will also be shrouded in secrecy, leaving his public appearance containing little more than is already known.

The revelation will dash hopes that Mr Blair will finally detail in public why he committed British troops to the disastrous military invasion on the basis of flimsy intelligence.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg last night condemned the move, saying if a significant proportion of Mr Blair's evidence were held in private then the public would "rightly conclude that the inquiry is simply too weak to give us the truth".

It followed Mr Blair's extraordinary admission to the TV presenter Fern Britton this weekend that he would have gone to war even if he had known Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

He would have deployed "different arguments" to remove Saddam, Mr Blair said – undermining his long-held case that Saddam needed to be toppled because of the threat of WMD.

It will be seen as supremely ironic that Mr Blair made the confession in the cosy surroundings of a documentary about his religious beliefs, in Fern Britton Meets... to be broadcast on BBC1 today, yet the public will be denied the chance to see any difficult questioning of how he has changed his justification for war over the past seven years.

All of the evidence held behind closed doors is expected to be redacted from the Chilcot panel's final report on the war.

There are already concerns that Sir John Chilcot and his four fellow panellists have given the 27 witnesses who have so far appeared – mainly senior Foreign Office mandarins – an easy ride over their role in the war.

The former MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett, in evidence last week, distanced himself from the "overtly political" foreword to the September 2002 Downing Street dossier. Yet the panel failed to ask why it was that Mr Blair and Alastair Campbell were able to amend the document he was in charge of. Sir John will also give evidence in private.

It follows up with an extraordinary editorial, the writer of which can longer contain his or her annoyance at Blair getting away with yet more dishonesty and high-handedness:
What are we to make of Tony Blair's admission that he would have joined the invasion of Iraq even without evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and would, as he put it, have deployed another argument to justify the war to Parliament and the public?

He has, of course, inched before towards a confession that the war was really all about regime change, stupid. Never mind that this would have made it even less defensible on legal grounds. It was all long ago, and, as he says on BBC1 today, the world's a better place without that evil man with the bushy moustache and his two nasty boys.

Even by the standards of the former prime minister's chutzpah, this I'd-have-deployed-a-different-argument approach is extraordinary. What is worse than requiring us to view very differently the presentation of the "extensive, detailed and authoritative" WMD evidence – surely the most cynical con trick of modern times – is Mr Blair's sly reference to Islam, in which he moves on to another justification, fixing the decision to go to war in the context of a wider battle over religion: "I happen to think that there is a major struggle going on all over the world, really, which is about Islam and what is happening within Islam."

This is as fine an example of Mr Blair's intellectual dishonesty as it is possible to find. As a statement, it is, of course, uncontroversial. Applying it to Iraq, though, is scandalous. There is an arguable case, and one which Blair now seems publicly to endorse, that Saddam simply had to go. In which case, why did he tell the Commons in February 2003 that it was not too late for him? "I detest his regime. But even now he can save it by complying with the UN's demand." Sir John Chilcot might care to ask Mr Blair if that, like so many things he says, merely felt true at the time he said it.

And why did he speak, in the parliamentary debate on the eve of invasion three weeks later, of rogue regimes and terror groups? It was to invite the gullible to make the inference he wanted – that Saddam's regime was somehow implicated in 9/11.

Mr Blair's comments to Fern Britton in today's programme are designed to convey that same false idea. You might – might – argue that military action in both Afghanistan and Iraq is part of the same war, to stop WMD at some distant time falling into the hands of terrorists. But that overlooks Saddam's bitter hostility to Osama bin Laden, of which Blair must have been aware, and the creation of al-Qa'ida in Iraq since the invasion.

Oh yes, the headline of the editorial? A despicable means to a dead end.

But the Independent is the only paper I can find that is reporting on this "behind closed doors" business. Look at today's Yahoo news. It's headed Blair will give Iraq war evidence in public: inquiry.
The Iraq war inquiry said Sunday that former prime minister Tony Blair would be questioned "very much in public" amid fears that crucial evidence would only be heard in private.

Blair, who is to appear before the long-awaited official inquiry early next year, said in a BBC television interview to be screened Sunday that he would have backed the invasion of Iraq even if he had known that president Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

He said London would have used other ways to justify its support for the March 2003 US-led invasion to oust the Iraqi dictator.

The interview triggered concerns that when he testifies it would be heard behind closed doors.

Most evidence to the inquiry will be given in public, although closed hearings can take place for issues concerning national security or secret intelligence. Mindful of the risk, proceedings are broadcast with a one-minute delay.

The Independent on Sunday newspaper suggested that Blair's meetings with US president George W. Bush and details of the decision-making process that led to war would be dealt with in secret on grounds of national security and the need to protect London's relations with Washington.

However, a spokesman for the inquiry said: "Mr Blair will be appearing very much in public and will be questioned in detail on a wide range of issues surrounding Britain's involvement in Iraq.

"We have said right from the start that he will be a key figure in the inquiry. Mr Blair has said that he is ready and willing to give evidence in public."

Suppose he had have said that he wasn't ready or willing?

So,, we're now left wondering, will he be lying publicly or privately?


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