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Tuesday, November 07, 2006 

British scrambling to find evidence linking Hussein & bin Laden in Feb. 2002

In recent weeks, Henry Porter has published two excellent commentaries at the Observer that seek to refocus attention on the British government documents from 2002 that show that Tony Blair was conspiring with George Bush to gin up a war in Iraq. The first asked why Blair has remained in office given all the evidence of wrongdoing and deception that has emerged, particularly the Downing Street memo, "which is still significantly undervalued as evidence of the Prime Minister's drive to war and of the innate negligence of American planning for the period after the invasion."

The more that is published, the more the issues blur.

But the memo is the goods. It establishes Bush's resolve to find a pretext for war, regardless of the facts on WMD and Saddam's links to terrorism. It further makes plain that there was little or no thinking about the postwar period, an error that now must be regarded as equal to or greater than the invasion. No surprise is expressed in Rycroft's account of the meeting about what was going on in America, which leads one to assume that among a very small group, the idea of invasion was a fully fledged possibility, even though Blair was assuring the public and cabinet colleagues outside the inner circle that nothing had been decided.

There was much more in the original Sunday Times report on the meeting. Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith had doubts about the legal case for war, while Blair was committed from the outset to supporting US plans for regime change. At the time, no one seems to have remembered what Tony Blair had said in his evidence to Lord Butler's report into the intelligence on WMD, published eight months before the memo came to light. Blair said: 'I remember that during the course of July and August, I was increasingly getting messages saying, "Are you about to go to war?" and I was thinking, "This is ridiculous" and so I remember towards the end of the holiday actually phoning Bush and saying we have got to put this right straight away... we've not decided on military action.'

If not a direct lie, it is hardly the truth.

Well, it is a lie by any normal standard. Blair would not enjoy being asked how he could square his testimony to the Butler inquiry with what he had been saying in private on July 23, 2002.

Anyway, in that commentary Porter invited government officials in the know to step forward with further information about how Britain really went down the path to war. Some did, as he reported in a second commentary two days ago. In it, Porter takes the majority of Labour MPs to task for their refusal to back a Parliamentary call for a further investigation into the run-up to war.

Blair's allies claim that there have been multiple inquiries already, but as Porter points out, these have looked at the issues so narrowly as to be virtually useless in uncovering answers to the larger questions about whether the Blair government acted with integrity. He singles out the Butler inquiry for blame, pointing out that Butler knew about the July 23rd (Downing Street memo) meeting yet did virtually nothing with the information!

A report of that meeting appears in Butler, but nowhere is the memo mentioned, even though I now understand that Lord Butler's committee of four privy councillors saw the memo and understood its significance. How was such damning evidence put to one side? The answer seems to be that the head of MI6's report on the thinking in Washington was not regarded as relevant to a review of British intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.

That is worth underlining: Although Butler was investigating the pre-war WMD intelligence, and we now learn Butler had a copy of the DSM, he could not be bothered to mention that Sir Richard Dearlove had denigrated the quality and manipulation of intelligence in Washington.

What is most newsworthy about Porter's latest piece, in any event, is this:

New information passed to this paper suggests that the construction of the intelligence case for war may be pushed right back to the winter of 2002, when, in February, members of the Joint Intelligence Committee were tasked to find out if there was evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam's regime in Iraq. No one can dispute that in the months following 9/11, this was an entirely proper area of inquiry for the new head of the JIC, John Scarlett. However, even though no evidence had been found, the JIC instructed the intelligence services to go back and find some. This is crucial because it defied what has been described to me as the article of faith in the JIC: that policy should be driven by analysis, not the other way round.

Again, to underline the point, intelligence officials were asked in February 2002 to reopen the search for a link between Hussein and Osama bin Laden. This is precisely what American intelligence officials were asked to do, repeatedly, after they reported to the White House that no such link existed.

Porter continues:

So in Britain, it appears that at a very early stage - 14 months before the war - we were trying to fit intelligence and facts around the policy, just as they were in America. This will not be news to people working with the JIC that year. In the spring of 2002, one individual I have interviewed recalls that he was asked about WMD and Iraq. His interlocutor said: 'There's not much intelligence on that, is there?' He replied that no, there wasn't. 'Oh, they're not going to like that,' said the man at the JIC.

Though one always thinks of Lord Butler as being honest and diligent, the exclusion of the information concerning Saddam and al-Qaeda is very difficult to understand. His report covers assessments by the JIC from before 2002. The possibility that the JIC was tasking agencies to find intelligence to fit policy is surely relevant, even central, to the purpose of his inquiry.

"They're not going to like that." Because it was considered bad news that no real evidence existed of Iraqi the parallel universe of Bush and Blair, that is to say.

Porter goes on to demonstrate that Butler also omitted from his report similarly incriminating information from another highly important document, the Iraq Options Paper of March 8, 2002. Among other things, Butler did not mention that the document shows that the JIC had by that stage emphatically concluded that Hussein had no connection to international terrorism.

Porter is right, the British investigations to date of Blair's manipulation of the British public and Parliament have been grossly inadequate. They deserve better.

And so do we in the U.S. Here's hoping, on Election Day, that we'll get some serious investigations very soon.

 posted by smintheus  # 6:55 PM  
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