Tag Archives: iraq war

Review: Official Secrets – and contemporary parallels

Go to see ‘Official Secrets’.  It will remind you of the hard choices Liberals have to make in swimming against the tide of the received wisdom of the public debate.  And it will remind you that we stuck out our necks, against the received wisdom of almost the entire media, both the main parties, and much expert opinion, in challenging the case for the Iraq war.

The film is about Katharine Gun, a GCHQ employee with doubts about the drift towards the invasion of Iraq, who leaks (to the Observer) a memo from the US National Security Agency requesting material on representatives of states on the UN Security Council that could be covertly used to pressure them into supporting the US motion to authorise the use of force against Saddam Hussein.  It follows the subsequent investigation, her arrest, the involvement of Liberty in her defence, and after a lengthy delay the government abandonment of her prosecution on the first day of the trial.  There is much detail on the pursuit of reliable counter-evidence to contest the government’s case, the interaction between journalists and lawyers in London and Washington, and the uncovering of information on how advice to our government on the legal case for intervention had been altered under pressure from the US Administration and No.10.  

It’s well constructed; it links the personal tensions and agonies with the wider political context.  Several well-known living people are portrayed – some more sympathetically than others.  Good triumphs in the end, after much skulduggery.

It’s easy to forget how risky we felt it to be at that time for us to contest the dominant narrative of weapons of mass destruction and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qu’aida.  The film shows even the Observer editor and many of its senior staff resisting the plausibility of covert efforts to fix UN authorization and evidence being twisted.  I remember going with Ming Campbell  to a briefing, on ‘Privy Council terms’, from two very senior intelligence officials, and having afterwards to assess how far we had been persuaded by their presentation.  Charles Kennedy had to resist strong pressure from Blair’s government, and weigh up the costs of being attacked by most of the press against the case for refusing to accept the government’s rationale for war.   We stuck our necks out, without complete confidence that we knew what was happening; but our instincts proved right.

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LIbLink: Alistair Carmichael: Parliament can not duck responsibility for UK joining Iraq war

As we have a 13-years-too-late mea culpa (but a big boy made him do it) from John Prescott, Alistair Carmichael writes for the Times about Parliament’s role in supporting the Iraq War.

He makes the very valid point that Parliament could have given Blair a much harder time, asking for more evidence, scrutinising every claim made, but they ducked it.

Too many of those who now say, “Of course, if I had known then what I know now …” must be challenged. For the most part they could not have known then what they know now because they were not prepared to ask the questions or to demand the evidence.

Attention focuses on the actions of the prime minister and government of the day and rightly so — they failed to do what they should have done. That is, however, equally true of the Conservative opposition. Where they should have questioned, they acquiesced. Where they should have demanded evidence, they accepted assertions. As a party of the establishment, they could not allow themselves to believe that the various arms of government would be embarking on a war without a sound basis in law.

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Splendid and moving tribute to David Rendel, former Liberal Democrat MP

David Rendel at Anti-Iraq war demo 15th Feb 2003 Some rights reserved by Paul Walter

David Rendel at the 2003 London march against the Iraq war. David described voting against the Iraq invasion, in the House of Commons, as his proudest moment.

Last Monday, a memorial event was held for former Liberal Democrat MP, David Rendel. This was at the Corn Exchange theatre in Newbury. Family, friends, colleagues and former constituents of David filled the hall to overflowing.

The tributes started with a film of David’s life put together by Rachael Clarke, Deputy head of policy of the Liberal Democrats. This film included video footage and photos from David’s political and family life.

Posted in Obituaries | Also tagged , and | 3 Comments

A PM fails this country and destroys another, yet faces no action. Where’s the accountability in that?

I’m watching an at times close to tears Tony Blair giving his response to the Chilcot Report.

He asks us to accept that he took the decision to go to war in good faith. I’m not sure that was ever actually in doubt. Charles Kennedy, in disagreeing with him in the House of Commons during the March 2003 Commons debate, did not doubt the sincerity of his position.

However, Blair’s comments, and all the regret he may feel, cannot make up for what the report makes clear was a very flawed decision making process, with insufficient planning for the aftermath, putting British forces in added danger as they were fighting on two fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan) and weren’t given the resources to do their jobs and that the process establishing whether the decision was even legal was flawed.

The “with you, whatever” memo is not quite damning as it seems. If you read the whole thing, Blair is actually trying to steer the US President down a path of forming an international coalition and pointing out the consequences of not doing so. The problem with the memo as Chilcot says is that he sent a fairly detailed exposition of the UK Government’s position without even asking the Foreign and Defence Secretaries to comment. However, I am less convinced that Straw or Hoon would have changed anything, but that’s just a personal opinion. Also, using loose language like “with you, whatever” is at best not advisable. At worst it shows a contempt for Parliament and the decision making process in Government.

I have never been one of those people who has thought that Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal. To suggest such a thing, that there is some equivalence between him and the likes of Radovan Karadzic, sentenced earlier this year for his part in the Bosnian genocide is to my mind inappropriate. The errors of Blair and his Government were not of brutality but of folly, negligence and incompetence.

Those were pretty major errors but nobody involved is actually going to face any consequences for that. How can that be? If Blair were still in office, he would have to resign in disgrace. A decade on, he enjoys a privileged and comfortable life with an international career.

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One big thing to remember about the Iraq War as the Chilcot Report is published

The long awaited Chilcot Report will be published in a few minutes.

On the eve of publication, Twitter amused itself by guessing #chilcotslastline

My favourite came from Lib Dem Josh Dixon.

I suspect that in the wall to wall coverage today, one big thing will be missing. There will be comparatively few mentions of the one UK party that opposed the war from the start. That would be the Liberal Democrats.

Taking an anti-war stance is a courageous thing. Charles Kennedy showed enormous courage and resolve in doing so. He was roundly abused, accused of not supporting our troops, called every traitorous name under the sun.

In fact, the Sun, as you would expect, heaped ire on him as this headline shows:

It was taking a huge risk, too. He suspected, but didn’t know, that they weren’t going to find weapons of mass destruction capable of reaching the UK in 45 minutes.

I felt huge pride in the party at the time.

Watch his speech to the anti-war rally on 15 February here.

 

Also worth watching is his full speech to the House of Commons during the debate on the Iraq War on 18 March 2003. I also include the text from Hansard. Note the the extent of the aggression from Conservatives, including one Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Fabricant, that he faced.

Note the manner of Charles’ intervention. He sticks to the facts and at the end acknowledges the Prime Minister’s sincerity even though he does not agree with him. In a highly charged atmosphere he kept his cool and made his case.

It goes without saying how much we miss him.

Following the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), I acknowledge with thanks, through him, to the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and to all those concerned in all parties in this House, that an honest option has been discussed and agreed in a cross-party way. In the previous debate, the right hon. Gentleman made a powerful contribution to that cross-party basis, which needs to be heard and discussed rationally today.

Although it is sad that we have lost a very good Leader of the House, there is no doubt, having listened to his brilliant resignation statement in the House yesterday evening, that those of us who are supporting the cross-party amendment in the Lobby tonight, as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends will do, have gained a powerful additional advocate for the case that we are sincerely making.

Given the events of the past few days and the last few hours, there has been much understandable comment about the drama of the situation. In the next few hours and days, however, we are liable to see even more drama and trauma when what appears to be the inevitable military conflict against Iraq begins. Let us hope, as we all agree, that the conflict can be conducted as swiftly as possible, with the minimum of casualties: first and foremost, clearly, among our forces, but equally among innocent Iraqi civilians, with whom none of us has ever had any quarrel and who have suffered terribly under the despicable regime of Saddam Hussein.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 6 Comments

Farron: Chilcott delay “simply not good enough”

The BBC says that the Chilott Inquiry into the Iraq war may now not report until next year, a full 13 years since the misguided and ill-fated invasion.

A source close to the inquiry, which began in 2009, told Newsnight “nobody thinks it will come out this year”. An inquiry spokesman declined to comment.

British forces lost 179 personnel during the conflict, of whom 136 were killed in action.

By 31 August 2010, when the last US combat troops left, 4,421 US personnel had been killed, of whom 3,492 were killed in action. Almost 32,000 had been wounded in action.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians also died as a result of sectarian killings and a violent insurgency.

The inquiry was commissioned by the previous government to investigate the background to UK involvement in the Iraq War, which began when Tony Blair was prime minister.

The Liberal Democrats have long called for its swift publication. Foreign affairs spokesman Tim Farron was not impressed with this further delay:

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LibLink: Tim Farron on Chilcot

At the Huffington Post, Tim Farron is decrying the delay to the Chilcot report into the Iraq war.

The publication of the Chilcot report is crucial and the delays are unacceptable – we cannot afford to continue walking in the dark.

The underlying issue which we need to understand and question is the alignment of British foreign policy with American priorities. Has Blair and Thatcher’s determination to maintain “the special relationship” benefitted our country? Should we continue in this vein? The Chilcot report, when it is eventually published, must force us to learn lessons for the years ahead: at the moment we are in limbo. In a year when the country will decide who rules for the next five, this is unacceptable.

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Willie Rennie on Iraq and four tests for future military intervention

Willie Rennie - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsThis week the Scottish Parliament debated the Iraq War, ten years on. This could have disintegrated into a “this is why we need independence” bunfight, but, actually, it ended up being one of those occasions when you could be proud of your Parliament for being thoughtful and mindful of the terrible human cost of this conflict.

Willie Rennie spoke for the Liberal Democrats in the debate and actually was applauded by the SNP benches who are, shall we say, not usually so friendly towards …

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Ming Campbell writes: Britain lost moral authority as a result of its participation in Iraq

 Some rights reserved by mashleymorgan Today is the 10th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. We are marking it by publishing reflections on the war and its aftermath by senior Liberal Democrats.

The second is by Ming Campbell.

It is hard now to find anyone who will defend British participation in the American-led invasion of Iraq ten years ago. Labour’s current frontbench seek now only to distance themselves from personal involvement in the decision to go to war and it has been all but airbrushed out of recent Tory history. Even in …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 10 Comments

Emma Nicholson writes: Was the war worth it? … a resounding Yes from me

 Some rights reserved by mashleymorgan Today is the 10th Anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. We are marking it by publishing reflections on the war and its aftermath by senior Liberal Democrats.

The first, by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne,  was written in Basrah, Iraq

I am writing this dispatch from a conference in Basrah where the Iraqi Oil Minister has just been outlining plans to spend US$200 billion to rebuild the hydrocarbons industry, in a country where US $1 trillion is earmarked for reconstruction and where in just a few weeks free and fair local elections will be held.

Posted in Op-eds | 53 Comments

Opinion: Iraq War, one year on

Just over ten years ago, I was one dot in a crowd of one million people in London calling for the Labour government of Tony Blair to stop the Iraq war. We all knew that Saddam Hussein was a murderous dictator who was much-hated in his own country but we knew equally well that the case for invasion of Iraq (it was never a ‘war’) was a gigantic deceit, cooked up by the Blair and Bush governments for their own purposes. We knew that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. We knew that far from being a friend of Al Qaeda and the Islamicists, Saddam was their sworn enemy and near the top of their death list. But these were ‘inconvenient truths’.

As I walked alongside Charles and Sarah Kennedy, Donnachadh McCarthy and Simon Hughes at the front of the Liberal Democrat contingent in the march, I thought to myself: “Wow! This is the biggest gathering of humanity in the UK since the Isle of Wight Pop Festival in 1969:and we haven’t even got Jimmy Hendrix or Joni Mitchell as a ‘draw’ . How can they ignore something as huge as THIS?”

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments
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