Blair to stand trial for Iraq war? Don’t get too excited
With Libya turning sour, Cameron is unlikely to agree to a trial over a misbegotten war
Leaks from Sir John Chilcot's Iraq war inquiry suggest that Tony Blair may be in big trouble when it publishes its findings in the autumn according to the Mail on Sunday. Let's hope so.
Ronnie Biggs would be envious of Tony's escape record. He bamboozled both Lord Hutton and Lord Butler as they compiled their solemn but uninquisitive reports. He evaded the formidable analytical skills of Michael Howard, and his then sidekick David Cameron, who between them could find no ammunition in either report with which to damage Blair in the Commons.
We should not perhaps get too excited. The public's expectations of the inquiry are so low, and our distrust of politicians so strong, that we are pathetically grateful for anything that does not look like an establishment whitewash. After all, Chilcot and his panel are only playing catch-up with the man on the Clapham omnibus.
Anyway, it looks as though Tony will come in for scathing criticism on four counts:
• Bogus claims about Iraqi WMD.
The story is well known but should still shock. I spent two and a half years in the Cabinet Office drafting papers for the Joint Intelligence Committee, leaving just before the run-up to the Iraq War. The highly intelligent men and women I worked for weighed every fact and pondered every word exhaustively, conscious that our deliberations could well have life-or-death implications. And yet by late 2002 they had allowed their committee to be hijacked by Alastair Campbell and were happily authorising public relations drivel to be issued in their name as intelligence assessments.
• Making decisions outside the Cabinet.
The Cabinet seems to have been kept out of the loop. Decisions were made in small ad hoc groups with, very unusually, no minutes taken. We have a better record of Cherie Blair's contraceptive arrangements during a stay at Balmoral than we do of the decision-making process for war in Iraq.
•No plans for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
There was no plan for Iraq after the invasion was over. That a chancer like Blair had no plan was hardly surprising. But the generals knew too. They huffed and puffed, as many told the inquiry, but did nothing. In the end, concern for their own careers seems to have outweighed their duty to both the Queen and the soldiers under their command.
• The secret promise to George Bush.
As we knew all along, Tony promised Dubya that the UK would go to war more than a year before he supposedly made the decision or put it before parliament. This could be the smoking gun. The other stuff he can bluff his way through with the help of fancy lawyers. But making secret treaties with foreign powers, without the authorisation of the Cabinet or parliament, is almost certainly illegal.
Despite the efforts of most of the witnesses at the inquiry, it seems unlikely that Tony Blair was a Lone Wolf. There were many guilty men and women. Organising a war based on a lie needed accomplices. Most had drunk deep from the comforts and prizes of the senior public sector elite. Many were still thirsty for plum jobs and peerages to come.
Yet the whole Iraq disaster inspired only two resignations; one already disaffected minister, the late Robin Cook; and one mandarin, the foreign office lawyer, Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Everyone else stayed on board.
Tony Blair himself is still singing Je ne regrette rien without a trace of shame. At his re-appearance before the Chilcot Inquiry in January he was confident enough to move from a plain Edith Piaf defence to what can only be called Edith Piaf Plus. Not only did he have no regrets but he suggested that we would one day be proud of the UK's achievements in Iraq.
These guys are certainly resilient. The padded cell wing of the neo-con movement is out there to this day attempting to link the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to the Arab Spring.
Maybe justice will be done in the end. But don't hold your breath. For anything to threaten Tony's gilded lifestyle it will be necessary for him to stand trial. And there's a catch.
In order for a trial concerning matters of national security to go ahead it must be authorised by the attorney-general. In other words, the government of the day has to agree. As David Cameron blunders towards defeat in Libya he is unlikely to be keen on one of his predecessors standing trial over a misbegotten war. ·
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