Eleven years after 9/11

Four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush gathers his national security team at Camp David for a war council. Wolfowitz argues that now is the perfect time to move against state sponsors of terrorism, including Iraq. But Powell tells the president that an international coalition would only come together for an attack on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, not an invasion of Iraq.

The war council votes with Powell. Rumsfeld abstains. The president ultimately decides that the war’s first phase will be Afghanistan. The question of Iraq will be reconsidered later. The evolution of the Bush doctrine: chronology

In March next year, it will be the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the US, supported by the UK. In the past ten years, over a million people in Iraq have been killed and millions more have become refugees. George W. Bush and Tony Blair are responsible.

Blair in particular claimed justification for invading Iraq on a lie: the claim that Iraq was an active threat to the UK with weapons of mass destruction, with weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes, and so the war on Iraq was not an illegal war of aggression and regime change, but a legal response to a threat. Even in 2003 this claim did not seem convincing: in 2012 we know it for a lie.

By September 2004 it was clear to any informed person – such as the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the invasion of Iraq had been an illegal war. The US claimed that Saddam Hussein was not cooperating with UN weapon inspectors: Annan noted that evidence for this should have been brought to the Security Council,

and it should have been up to the Security Council to approve or determine the consequences.

When pressed on whether he viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, he said: “Yes, if you wish. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”

On 18th November 2002, Hans Blix led a team of UN weapon inspectors back to Baghdad to start their mission. This was presented by the US and UK governments as a fact-finding mission to discover if Iraq had nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. On 31st July 2002

Richard Butler tells a US Senate committee that Iraq stepped up the production of chemical and biological weapons after UN inspections ended [16 December 1998] – and might even be close to developing a nuclear bomb.

But on 23rd July 2002 a memo was made of a meeting that seems to have included Tony Blair, Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw, Sir Richard Wilson, John Scarlett, Lord Goldsmith, and Sir Michael Boyce. The memo was leaked to The Sunday Times and published on 1st May 2005.

The memo records that Sir Richard Dearlove, Director of MI6

reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. 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. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

Geoff Hoon said

that the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime. No decisions had been taken, but he thought the most likely timing in US minds for military action to begin was January, with the timeline beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections.

Jack Straw said

he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Lord Goldsmith said

that the desire for regime change was not a legal base for military action. There were three possible legal bases: self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case. Relying on UNSCR 1205 of three years ago would be difficult. The situation might of course change.

Tony Blair said

that it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors. Regime change and WMD were linked in the sense that it was the regime that was producing the WMD. There were different strategies for dealing with Libya and Iran. If the political context were right, people would support regime change. The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space to work.

In September 2002 the UK government produced a dossier, the first draft written by John Williams, a former Foreign Office aide. He says that the notorious claim of Iraq being able to launch a missile attack on the UK in 45 minutes was not in his draft: John Scarlett, who is said to have attended the Downing Street meeting on 23rd July, was “commissioned” to redraft it from Williams’ original version.

Williams, press secretary to three foreign secretaries, said that the dossier would show how wrong the Blair team was about Saddam’s alleged possession of WMD. Mr Williams said: “The argument was that here was someone who had been known to possess illegal weapons. We regarded him as a threat.” He added: “The document will show the mindset that everyone had. It was wrong and we know that now.”

Not quite everyone. Scott Ritter, who had been with the last UN weapons inspections teams in Iraq in 1998, had been saying for some time that rigorous inspections, not war, were needed.

In September 2002, Scott Ritter stepped in the path of the White House’s PR blitz, challenging the administration and quickly becoming one of very few prominent critics of the looming war. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed (9/10/02), Ritter exposed a deception on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney that should have sent reporters scurrying to catch up. Cheney claimed in an August 2002 speech (8/26/02) that the Iraqi regime had been “very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents,” and continued “to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.” To back this up, Cheney added, “We’ve gotten this from the firsthand testimony of defectors, including Saddam’s own son-in-law”—a reference to Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, the former Iraqi weapons chief and Iraq’s highest ranking defector. (See Extra!, 5–6/03.)

Ritter pointed out that Cheney was omitting an inconvenient part of Kamel’s story:

Throughout his interview with UNSCOM, a U.N. special commission, Hussein Kamal reiterated his main point—that nothing was left. “All chemical weapons were destroyed,” he said. “I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.”

In a Baltimore Sun column (9/1/02) calling for the resumption of inspections, Ritter pointed out that earlier inspections had been able to verify a “90 percent to 95 percent level of disarmament,” including “all of the production facilities involved with WMD” and “the great majority of what was produced by these facilities.”

As for the remainder, Ritter told the Guardian (9/19/02), “We have to remember that this missing 5 to 10 percent doesn’t necessarily constitute a threat.” Chemical and biological weapons such as sarin and tabun, he explained, “have a shelf-life of five years.” “Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of weapons,” said Ritter, “what they are now storing is nothing more than useless, harmless goo.”

Tony Blair lied the UK into war against Iraq, and over a million people were killed. The enormity of that crime staggers the imagination. Yet still, people were astonished when Desmond Tutu said he would not share a platform with Tony Blair to speak about leadership.

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

Nor is the war on Iraq all that Blair should perhaps answer for. There is the torture and extrajudicial imprisonment of “terror suspects”, too. See: Eleven years after 9/11: torture.

How is Tony Blair responsible for the US breach of the Geneva Conventions and their admitted failure over the past eight years to prosecute those responsible? Aside from what he and others in the UK government may have known about MI5 involvement with torture of prisoners? Or about CIA use of British airports for rendition flights in a plane managed by Richmor Aviation and owned by Philip Morse? The Geneva Conventions are alarmingly thorough: all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions are responsible for seeing that they are enforced.

For aggressive war, misleading Parliament, torture, and mass deaths, Tony Blair should be held responsible. He may never stand in the Hague, but Desmond Tutu is not required to wait for Blair or Bush to be convicted in a court to tell them:

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

On 21st March 2008, John Cole of Balloon Juice, who had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war:

I see that Andrew Sullivan was asked to list what he got wrong about Iraq for the five year anniversary of the invasion, and since I was as big a war booster as anyone, I thought I would list what I got wrong:


And I don’t say that to provide people with an easy way to beat up on me, but I do sort of have to face facts. I was wrong about everything.

I was wrong about the Doctrine of Pre-emptive warfare.
I was wrong about Iraq possessing WMD.
I was wrong about Scott Ritter and the inspections.
I was wrong about the UN involvement in weapons inspections.
I was wrong about the containment sanctions.
I was wrong about the broader impact of the war on the Middle East.
I was wrong about this making us more safe.

War should always be an absolute last resort, not just another option. I will never make the same mistakes again.

Also on 21st March 2008, Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings, who had opposed the Iraq war from the start, asked himself “How did I get it right?” and answered:

You didn’t have to be all that bright to oppose the Iraq War in advance. Heck, polls suggest that most Americans were dubious about the idea until the war became obviously inevitable. Real enthusiasm was confined to the elite media, the bipartisan defense-policy establishment and a bunch of Republican quasi-intellectuals who had spent ten years casting about for different countries to have a war – any war – with. I mean, for crying out loud, at one point our rulers declared that Saddam Hussein might attack America with remote-controlled model planes. You didn’t have to wait to bounce that one off the folks at your next MENSA meeting to judge its likelihood. Nor did you have to puzzle overlong, if someone tried to put that one by you, how much stock you should put in anything else that came out of their mouths.

Conclusion: My manifest intelligence was definitely not necessary to opposing the Iraq War. It may not have been sufficient either.

2. I wasn’t born yesterday. I had heard of the Middle East before September 12, 2001. I knew that many of the loudest advocates for war with Iraq were so-called national-greatness conservatives who spent the 1990s arguing that war was good for the soul. I remembered Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter and Michael Ledeen as the knaves and fools of Iran-Contra, and drew the appropriate conclusions about the Bush Administration wanting to employ them: it was an administration of knaves and fools.

People will object that the Project for a New American Century had heard of the Middle East before September 12, 2001 too, so just knowing some things wasn’t enough. And hey, true, but if you read “warbloggers” back in 2001-2003, the thing that really jumped out was how new all this foreign-policy stuff was to them. People without much knowledge on the subject went looking for someone to soothe a very real hurt they felt in September 2001, and the first people they ran into were raving, nationalistic morons with a preexisting agenda, clustered around the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

But in an interview published in Time magazine in May 2008:

Blair is always careful to downplay the role his faith played in complex matters of life and death, such as the invasion of Iraq. “You don’t put a hotline up to God and get the answers,” he says. At the same time, he plainly thinks his faith has helped him make tough decisions. “The worst thing in politics,” he says, “is when you’re so scared of losing support that you don’t do what you think is the right thing. What faith can do is not tell you what is right but give you the strength to do it.”

Giles Fraser, judging Desmond Tutu’s refusal to share a platform with Tony Blair, says:

My problem is with the empty-chairing. One of the things that many of us most admired about South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission was that it brought former enemies together in the same room. The idea that there is some sort of moral contamination that comes from frequenting with those who have done wrong is not a Christian one.

Mandela sat down with De Klerk, Blair sat down with the IRA, and one day the US will have to properly sit down with Taliban. Indeed, Jesus was often attacked for sitting down with those that morally respectable people had decided were beyond the pale. Those who cry out that this offends against decency are often more concerned with protecting their own innocence than they are with finding a way forward. Yes, reconciliation is about truth-telling (and Tutu could have done that to Blair’s face) but it is also about being in the same room.

But what Fraser is missing is that for Tony Blair to win amnesty under a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he would have had to come forward and testify with complete honesty, taking responsibility for what he did. It’s not about whether Desmond Tutu could speak the truth to Blair’s face: but whether Blair could or will ever speak the truth of what he did in that year leading up to the Iraq war.

Let us suppose that Tony Blair is guilty of nothing more than making clear to Alastair Campbell and others present at that 23rd July meeting that he wanted there to be evidence that Iraq was a sufficient threat to justify war. And that he was then simply delighted and relieved to discover that the exact evidence he had asked for had been found. Let us suppose that Blair has since then studiedly refrained from looking at any further evidence that might have let him discover the evidence given to him in September 2002 wasn’t factual. That he never paid attention to Scott Ritter. That he does not know how to use Google.

Does that make Tony Blair not guilty?

Desmond Tutu wrote of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which he chaired:

“…we have seen how unsuccessful prosecutions lead to bitterness and frustration in the community. Amnesty applicants often confessed to more gruesome crimes than were the subject of the Basson trial, yet their assumption of responsibility, and the sense that at least people were getting some measure of truth from the process, resulted in much less anger. For the sake of our stability, it is fortunate that the kind of details exposed by the Commission did not come out in a series of criminal trials, which – because of the difficulty of proving cases beyond reasonable doubt in the absence of witnesses other than co-conspirators – most likely would have ended in acquittals.”

Tutu added his regret that so few white South Africans had come forward to take part in Truth and Reconciliation:

Many of them carry a burden of a guilt which would have been assuaged had they actively embraced the opportunities offered by the Commission; those who do not consciously acknowledge any sense of guilt are in a sense worse off than those who do. Apart from the hurt that it causes to those who suffered, the denial by so many white South Africans even that they benefited from apartheid is a crippling, self-inflicted blow to their capacity to enjoy and appropriate the fruits of change.

Tony Blair was, in 2002, Prime Minister of the UK, First Lord of the Treasury, leader of Her Majesty’s government, the man at the top of the ladder of responsibility. He might escape conviction due to the difficulty Tutu so acutely describes, of proving the case beyond reasonable doubt when all of the witnesses were co-conspirators, due to the simple difficulty of proving what Blair asked for and what Blair knew.

But nothing can remove Blair’s moral and ethical responsibility for taking the UK into war on the basis of claims about Iraq’s threat to the US that were not true: that the evidence strongly suggests Blair knew were not true. Even if Blair let himself be deceived, he was responsible for his underlings lying to him about a matter of such importance and getting away with it. But Tony Blair has yet to admit even that he knows he was lied to, let alone that he knew it to be a lie.

If Tony Blair intended to speak the truth and take responsibility for what he did, he could have done so any time in the past four years. Nothing Blair has said indicates that he feels any sense of guilt, or longs for the opportunity to speak the truth and reconcile with the Iraqi people and others whom he so horrifyingly injured.

Tony Blair seems to see himself not as a war criminal but as some kind of quasi-spiritual leader:

“Faith is part of our future,” Blair says, “and faith and the values it brings with it are an essential part of making globalization work.” For Blair, the goal is to rescue faith from the twin challenges of irrelevance—the idea that religion is no more than an interesting aspect of history—and extremism. Blair and those working with him think religion is key to the global agenda.

Blair claims in his response to Tutu that all the evidence of deceiving the House of Commons and the British public is nothing more than “the old canard” and that it was entirely moral to invade Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein (though not legal, as the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith had advised on 23rd July 2002).

I think that no matter what Desmond Tutu had said to Tony Blair’s face when they met, Blair would have taken Tutu’s willingness to appear with him as some kind of endorsement of the status Blair desires.

Desmond Tutu asks

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.

Leave a comment

Filed under Justice, Politics, War

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.