Gordon Campbell on Tony Blair and the Chilcot Report

Seven years in the making. Twelve volumes, and 2.6 million words. The Chilcot report into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war in 2003 is indeed a blockbuster, and it does dole out some harsh criticisms of former British PM Tony Blair – who led Britain into this disastrous action, which has led to so much death and suffering. (The March 2003 invasion and its aftermath also laid the groundwork for the rise of Islamic State.) Here’s a summary of Chilcot’s most damning findings:

• There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.

• The strategy of containment could have been adopted and continued for some time.

• The judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMDs – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

• Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam were wholly inadequate.

• The widespread perception that the September 2002 dossier distorted intelligence produced a “damaging legacy”, undermining trust and confidence in politicians.

• The government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

However, alongside this litany of criticisms of Blair’s style of government and decision-making, Chilcot has also given Blair a remarkable amount of wiggle room. According to Chilcot, Blair did not lie to, or mislead, the public, Parliament or Cabinet. Chilcot found no evidence of improper or misleading use of security intelligence information. His report found no prior commitment by Blair to war, come what may. This finding is made despite the existence of a memo from Crawford, Texas, written in July 2002 – nine months before the invasion – in which Blair promised US President George Bush that, regarding Iraq: “I will be with you, whatever.” Surprisingly, Chilcot also does not rule on the legality of the Iraq invasion – merely noting that Blair acted on the legal opinion that he was given, by Peter Goldsmith. Again, this omission supports Blair’s “I acted in good faith” line of defence.

Chilcot’s failure to analyse and pass judgement on the legal basis of the Iraq war seems an incredible lapse. In an interview with Scoop in 2008, the great British jurist Lord Thomas Bingham of Cornhill shredded Lord Peter Goldsmith’s legal opinion in one single, sustained paragraph.

Given Chilcot’s omission, it is well worth reading Bingham again, for the clarity of his reasoning :

Campbell . Recently, you’ve said the war in Iraq lacked a proper UN mandate, and was therefore illegal under international law. In reply, [former UK attorney-general] Lord Goldsmith has argued in his own defence, that it was Iraq’s defiance of previous UN resolutions that rendered valid the use of force by the coalition of the willing. What’s wrong with that argument?

Bingham : I think everybody agreed that the question is one of authority. It wasn’t a case of self defence. It wasn’t a case of intervention to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe. And under the UN Charter, force could properly be used only if it was authorised by the Security Council under article 42 of chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

Now, there are three UN resolutions that Lord Goldsmith, in his opinion analysed: resolution 678 adopted immediately after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, which authorized countries operating with the government of Kuwait to expel Iraq from Kuwait and maintain peace and security in the area. That lead of course to Operation Desert Storm and the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

The next UN resolution was 687 – which suspended 678 and imposed a regime for inspection and compliance in various respects on Iraq. The third resolution was 1441 which was adopted unanimously in November 2002 – which found recorded that Saddam Hussein was in material breach of 678, offered him a final opportunity to comply – and held out the prospect that if he didn’t comply, he would continue to be in material breach and the use of force might be authorized.

Now, those who argue that it was authorized have to answer a series of questions. The first is: who was authorized? The only authority that was relied on – resolution 678 – was the countries co-operating with the government of Kuwait . Those countries by 2003 were no longer the same coalition that existed in 1990 – and indeed, some of them as we know, were strongly opposed to the use of force in 2003.

The second question that has to be answered is : what were they authorized to do? Again you have to go back to 678 and the answer has to be: they were authorized to expel Iraq from Kuwait. That had already been done. And maintain peace and security in the area. It requires quite an ambitious exercise of the imagination to suppose that a full-scale invasion of Iraq was a way of maintaining peace and security in the area.

The third question that has to be decided is: when was the authority to use force? When did it crystallize? It can’t have been on the adoption of 1441 because that gave him a final opportunity and therefore there wouldn’t have been an invasion the next day. So when between November 2002 and March 2003 did the authority to use come into effect?

And the fourth question – the most fundamental of all – who was to decide whether Saddam Hussein had taken advantage of the final opportunity which resolution 1441 had offered? The answer to my mind – but Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary of the time, and Lord Goldsmith strongly disagree – is that the decision was to be taken collectively by the Security Council. It was not open to any member [of the Security Council] or state of the 192 members of the United Nations to say well, we think Saddam Hussein is in material breach and therefore we can go to war. And Lord Goldsmith, in his earlier replies, recognized that it had to go back to the Security Council.

Campbell : Especially when the inspection authorities themselves were still in mid flight.

Bingham : Well, exactly. Hans Blix and his team of inspectors were making progress. They found no nuclear installations, they found no weapons of mass destruction, and they thought they needed around four months or so, to complete their task.

So….an unjustified invasion, and an unjust war. The world is still suffering from the consequences, and especially the citizens of Iraq and neighbouring states. Already today, Blair has been mounting a rearguard action to defend his actions.

Tpically, Blair says he takes “full responsibility” for his “mistakes” – while simultaneously denying that invading Iraq, or failing to plan for the consequences, were in fact, mistakes. In conclusion, one should point out that it was the alternative media – and ordinary people who demonstrated in their millions when this war was imminent – who were reading the situation accurately at the time. Unfortunately though, Blair will probably suffer no legal consequences for his actions. The International Court of Justice in the Hague seems to be almost entirely reserved for prosecuting African despots for their misdeeds.

Margaret Glaspy

Margaret Glaspy’s Emotions and Math has been one of the most impressive albums of 2016. There’s a good interview with her here:

And here’s a terrific live version of the “Somebody to Anybody” track from the album.

Glaspy actually recorded her album twice at home, before heading into the studio. (As she said wryly in one interview, her Dad once said that fortune favours the well prepared.) Here’s the studio version of the album’s title track :

5 Comments on Gordon Campbell on Tony Blair and the Chilcot Report

  1. How can Blair have got it so wrong when every person on the street seemed to doubt the case that Iraq had weapons of Mass destruction? I don’t understand the International Court of Justice. Below are some quotes I read today in the Guardian which say that this case is outside of their jurisdiction, but it doesn’t not explain what is inside their jurisdiction. British families of soldiers are talking of taking a criminal conviction against Blair, but how likely that is, I don’t know. It seems amazing that the man who along with Bush, put in motion a climate of war which is causing the ongoing deaths and misplacement of millions of people is just beyond my comprehension. If I hear or see another staged Blair speech, (where he pauses between words as if he is reaching into his soul for some kind of kernel of truth), well…it seems we are all powerless anyway. The International Court of Justice? Justice, my a..e as Jim Royle would say.
    Anyway, here are the quotes from the Guardian article.
    “As already indicated by the Office in 2006, the ‘decision by the UK to go to war in Iraq falls outside the Court’s jurisdiction’.”
    ..and..
    The ICC prosecutor’s office said the ICC was looking at introducing a “crime of aggression” which would cover illegal invasions but that “has not yet crystalised and in any event, will not apply retroactively”.

  2. Hi–in reply to Elizabeth Smyth, here is an article of mine on the subject of the crime of aggression, published for ConsortiumNews, an American web site and reprinted on Scoop in 2008. There is no doubt that the 2003 American and British invasion of Iraq was an act of aggression. It follows that the leaders responsible are guilty of “the supreme international crime”. This article may help explain why there is, sadly, still little formal legal basis to prosecute those leaders, though the post-World War II first Nuremberg trial provided plenty of precedent. In fact, several German leaders were convicted of this crime and executed. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0808/S00239.htm

  3. Why does always have to be enquires like this I wonder. Why are we so hellbent on ‘laying the blame’ on someone’s shoulders. Sometimes things just happen! I don’t believe for one moment that Tony Blair decided to enter the war with Iran on a whim or just on some elses ‘say so’, that would have been foolhardy to be sure. I personally think that the issues with Iran were inevitable following the Kuwait debacle, when instead of dealing with Iran when they could have, they coolly walked away. The scene was set for further sectarian unrest, and unrest has definitely been the par for that area of the Middle East.

  4. Thanks Peter Dyer. I am wondering whether the ICC Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression actually did come up with a definition of “Aggression”? Also, Im wondering whether (If Hilary Clinton became the next US President, whether she would re-sign the Agreement that George Bush unsigned from the original signing by Bill Clinton? (Phew)
    If there was a legal basis to prosecute any world leader, then I guess we would see a very different picture regarding War.

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