Monday, 28 February 2005

The Crawford Deal

OF COURSE HE DID!!!! How stupid do you think we are anyway IoS?

All governments are lying cocksuckers, I hope you know that.


We know that arguments raged about the legality of the war right up to a crucial cabinet meeting on 17 March 2003, two days before the attack began. But now new evidence pieced together by the 'IoS' strongly backs the suspicion that the PM had already made the decision to strike a year earlier.

It was one of the most tense cabinet meetings Downing Street had seen in living memory. "We were on the brink of war," recalled Clare Short, who was there. The consequences would be dramatic, not only for those round the table, but for millions of Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of British and American troops.

The date was 17 March 2003, only two days before the war to oust Saddam Hussein was launched. "The atmosphere was very fraught by then," Ms Short, then International Development Secretary, said last week. Experts in international law were saying the impending conflict was illegal, her officials were concerned, and the military was demanding a clear statement of the legal position.

The issue of the war's legality has erupted back into the public arena in the past week with the publication of a book, Lawless World, by Philippe Sands QC, an international lawyer in Cherie Blair's Matrix Chambers. According to his account, the Attorney General, Lord Gold- smith, had delivered a 13-page opinion on 7 March 2003 which said that to be sure of legal authority for the war, a UN Security Council resolution specifically backing force was needed. Later, at a meeting at Downing Street, he said his views had become "clearer", and it was that clarification that was presented to Ms Short and her colleagues.

How that change came about has been the subject of intense speculation, reviving the pressure on the Government to publish the full text of the Attorney General's advice. But the lingering questions over the war do not end there. Mr Sands and others also raise doubts about another great mystery surrounding the conflict: when did Tony Blair first sign up to President George Bush's crusade to oust Saddam Hussein?

Last September, highly embarrassing leaked documents showed that as early as March 2002, the Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, was assuring Condoleezza Rice of Mr Blair's unbudgeable support for "regime change". Days later, Sir Christopher Meyer, then British ambassador to the US, sent a dispatch to Downing Street detailing how he repeated the commitment to Paul Wolfowitz, the US Deputy Defence Secretary. The ambassador added that Mr Blair would need a "cover" for any military action. "I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and the UN Security Council resolutions."

Throughout this period, and into 2003, Mr Blair was insisting in public that war was not inevitable. In May 2002 he said Iraq would be "in a far better position" without Saddam, but added: "Does that mean that military action is imminent or about to happen? No. We've never said that." Introducing the notorious WMD dossier in the Commons on 24 September that year, he said: "Our case is simply this: not that we take military action come what may, but that the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament, as the UN itself has stipulated, is overwhelming."

In the past week, however, it has not only emerged that Special Branch officers questioned opposition parties as part of an investigation into the leaks, but The Independent on Sunday has discovered further information indicating that when Mr Blair met Mr Bush at his Texas ranch on 7 and 8 April 2002, he committed Britain to an assault on Iraq. The clue, contained in an obscure row over the Government's refusal to answer an apparently straightforward parliamentary question, shows that both at the beginning and the end of the process which culminated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the issue of legality was very much in the air.

As the Cabinet gathered on the eve of war, it was well known around Whitehall that the Foreign Office's legal advisers saw no authority for the conflict without a fresh UN resolution, and that Lord Goldsmith had apparently supported their view in his written opinion 10 days earlier. The scene should have been set for a ferocious debate, but that was not what happened, according to Ms Short.

Lord Goldsmith, who is not a cabinet member, came in and sat in the place previously occupied by Robin Cook, who had just resigned. If the Attorney General was aware of the symbolism, he gave no sign of it. A two-page document was circulated and Lord Goldsmith started to read it aloud, but was told there was no need.

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