Tags: blair, chilcot, clare short, geneva convention, Gordon Brown, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, james sturcke, lord goldsmith, roger hollander, wmd, wmds
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Blair ‘lied’ over war preparations • Attorney general ‘misled’ government • Brown ‘marginalised and unhappy’
by James Sturcke
Clare Short, the former international development secretary, today accused Tony Blair of lying to her and misleading parliament in the build-up to the Iraq invasion.
Declassified letters between Short and Blair released today show she believed that invading Iraq without a second UN resolution would be illegal and there was a significant risk of a humanitarian catastrophe.
She told the inquiry that she had a conversation with Blair in 2002. He told her that he was not planning for war against Iraq and that the evidence has since revealed that he was not telling the truth at that point, she said.
She also said she was “stunned” when she read the 337-word legal advice written by the then-attorney general Lord Goldsmith during a cabinet meeting on 17 March 2003, three days before the war began. She was forbidden by Blair from discussing it during the meeting.
“I said, ‘That is extraordinary.’ I was jeered at to be quiet. If the prime minister says be quiet there is only so much you can do.
“I think for the attorney general to come and say there’s unequivocal legal authority to go war was misleading.”
Short, who was applauded by some audience members in public seats at the end of her evidence, said the ministerial code was broken as cabinet colleagues were not aware of Goldsmith’s modifications to his legal advice over the previous weeks. The inquiry has already heard how Goldsmith changed his mind over the need for a second resolution after visiting the US the month before the war.
Short said cabinet colleagues were unaware of the legal advice given by the most senior Foreign Office lawyers, Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, which called for a second UN resolution.
“The ministerial code said legal advice should be circulated and it wasn’t. We only had the answer to the parliamentary question [Goldsmith's short ruling]. There was a lot of misleading of parliament too by the prime minister of the day.
“The ministerial code is unsafe because it is enforced by the prime minister and if he’s in on the tricks then that’s it. When I found out what went into it I think we were misled.”
She added that she had “various cups of coffee” with Gordon Brown, at that time the chancellor, who “was very unhappy and marginalised [in the run up to war]“.
He was disillusioned about a number of issues, not specifically Iraq, and felt Blair was “obsessed with his legacy”.
Later, Short added that after the war, “Gordon was back in with Tony and not having cups of coffee with me any more”.
Asked about the cabinet meetings in the run-up to the war, Short told the inquiry that the cabinet did not operate in the manner it was required to constitutionally.
“It was not a decision-making body. I don’t think there was ever a substantive discussion about anything in cabinet. If you ever raised an issue with Tony Blair he would cut it off. He did that in July 2002 when I said I wanted to talk about Iraq. He said he did not want it leaking into the press.”
Short described cabinet meetings as “little chats” rather than decision-making opportunities.
“There was never a meeting … that said: ‘What is the problem? What are we trying to achieve? What are our options?’”
The declassified documents showed that Short believed the situation in Iraq to be “fragile” before hostilities began.
In one, written on 14 February 2003, she wrote: “Any disruption could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe. With some more time, sensible measures can be taken to reduce these risks and improve people’s prospect of stability after the conflict.”
Short told the panel that both the British and US armies failed to honour their Geneva convention responsibilities to keep order, describing the situation in the post-invasion aftermath as “mad”, with food for refugees only being ordered at the last minute.
Short said Blair persuaded her against resigning on the same day as Cook by assuring her that the UN would have the lead role in reconstructing Iraq and that George Bush would support the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Asked why she didn’t resign earlier, she said: “If I knew then what I know now, I would have.” As for the pronouncements that the French would not back a second resolution, it was one of the “big deceits” of the British, Short said.
The French president, Jacques Chirac, could have supported military action but not while UN weapons inspectors wanted more time and it should have been given.
“There was no emergency. No one had attacked anyone. There wasn’t any new WMD. We could have taken the time and got it right. The forces weren’t ready to go in. They have said that themselves.”
Short ended her evidence by calling for a serious debate about the “special relationship” with the US, calling the current one “poodle-like”.
Short stood down from the cabinet on 12 May 2003, nearly eight weeks after the invasion.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
We must adjust our distorted image of Hamas January 7, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Peace, War.
Tags: barak, blair, Bush, egypt, fatah, gaza, hamas, idf, israel, Palestine, roger hollander, west bank, william sieghart
Gaza is a secular society where people listen to pop music, watch TV and many women walk the streets unveiled
Last week I was in Gaza. While I was there I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them. Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.
Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they “dangerous Hamas militant gunmen”? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a “militant training camp” but in the same police station in the middle of Gaza City that had been used by the British, the Israelis and Fatah during their periods of rule there.
This distinction is crucial because while the horrific scenes in Gaza and Israel play themselves out on our television screens, a war of words is being fought that is clouding our understanding of the realities on the ground.
Who or what is Hamas, the movement that Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, would like to wipe out as though it were a virus? Why did it win the Palestinian elections and why does it allow rockets to be fired into Israel? The story of Hamas over the past three years reveals how the Israeli, US and UK governments’ misunderstanding of this Islamist movement has led us to the brutal and desperate situation that we are in now.
The story begins nearly three years ago when Change and Reform – Hamas’s political party – unexpectedly won the first free and fair elections in the Arab world, on a platform of ending endemic corruption and improving the almost non-existent public services in Gaza and the West Bank. Against a divided opposition this ostensibly religious party impressed the predominantly secular community to win with 42 per cent of the vote.
Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them. Despite renouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel Fatah had not achieved a Palestinian state. It is crucial to know this to understand the supposed rejectionist position of Hamas. It won’t recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist until it is sure of the world’s commitment to a just solution to the Palestinian issue.
In the five years that I have been visiting Gaza and the West Bank, I have met hundreds of Hamas politicians and supporters. None of them has professed the goal of Islamising Palestinian society, Taleban-style. Hamas relies on secular voters too much to do that. People still listen to pop music, watch television and women still choose whether to wear the veil or not.
The political leadership of Hamas is probably the most highly qualified in the world. Boasting more than 500 PhDs in its ranks, the majority are middle-class professionals – doctors, dentists, scientists and engineers. Most of its leadership have been educated in our universities and harbour no ideological hatred towards the West. It is a grievance-based movement, dedicated to addressing the injustice done to its people. It has consistently offered a ten-year ceasefire to give breathing space to resolve a conflict that has continued for more than 60 years.
The Bush-Blair response to the Hamas victory in 2006 is the key to today’s horror. Instead of accepting the democratically elected Government, they funded an attempt to remove it by force; training and arming groups of Fatah fighters to unseat Hamas militarily and impose a new, unelected government on the Palestinians. Further, 45 Hamas MPs are still being held in Israeli jails.
Six months ago the Israeli Government agreed to an Egyptian- brokered ceasefire with Hamas. In return for a ceasefire, Israel agreed to open the crossing points and allow a free flow of essential supplies in and out of Gaza. The rocket barrages ended but the crossings never fully opened, and the people of Gaza began to starve. This crippling embargo was no reward for peace.
When Westerners ask what is in the mind of Hamas leaders when they order or allow rockets to be fired at Israel they fail to understand the Palestinian position. Two months ago the Israeli Defence Forces broke the ceasefire by entering Gaza and beginning the cycle of killing again. In the Palestinian narrative each round of rocket attacks is a response to Israeli attacks. In the Israeli narrative it is the other way round.
But what does it mean when Mr Barak talks of destroying Hamas? Does it mean killing the 42 per cent of Palestinians who voted for it? Does it mean reoccupying the Gaza strip that Israel withdrew from so painfully three years ago? Or does it mean permanently separating the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, politically and geographically? And for those whose mantra is Israeli security, what sort of threat do the three quarters of a million young people growing up in Gaza with an implacable hatred of those who starve and bomb them pose?
It is said that this conflict is impossible to solve. In fact, it is very simple. The top 1,000 people who run Israel – the politicians, generals and security staff – and the top Palestinian Islamists have never met. Genuine peace will require that these two groups sit down together without preconditions. But the events of the past few days seem to have made this more unlikely than ever. That is the challenge for the new administration in Washington and for its European allies.
William Sieghart is chairman of Forward Thinking, an independent conflict resolution agency