In Brief

Chilcot: Tony Blair 'not straight' with nation over Iraq

Former prime minister was 'emotionally truthful' in the run-up to the conflict, says chairman of Iraq inquiry

Tony Blair was "not straight with the nation" about his decisions in the run-up to the Iraq war,  the chairman of the Iraq inquiry told the BBC.

Asked by political editor Laura Kuenssberg if the former prime minister had been as truthful with him and the public as he should have been, Sir John Chilcot said: "Any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her.

"I don't believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.”

However, he said, Blair had been "emotionally truthful" in his account of events leading up to the conflict.

"I think it was, from his perspective and standpoint, emotionally truthful and I think that came out also in his press conference after the launch statement.

"I think he was under very great emotional pressure during those sessions… He was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skill and reaction, I think."

A spokesman for Blair told the BBC "all these issues" had already been dealt with and that Chilcott had also made clear that he believed the former PM had "not departed from the truth".

Chilcot report aftermath: What we still do not know

8 July 2016 

Sir John Chilcot published his report on the UK's role in the Iraq war and its aftermath this week. To the surprise of some, it was highly critical, particularly of former prime minister Tony Blair.

War had been waged before it was a last resort and it was based on flawed intelligence, said Chilcot. He also criticised Blair's autocratic style of leadership and said planning for the post-war period had been "wholly inadequate".

The report brought to light some previously private communications between Blair and US president George W Bush, including Blair's promise: "I will be with you, whatever."

But what did Chilcot not cover – and what unanswered questions remain?

Why didn't we hear about the Katharine Gun leak?

"Chilcot has shone a light [but] there are still bits of the puzzle that are missing," writes Katharine Gun in The Guardian.

Thirteen years ago, she was a linguist with intelligence agency GCHQ when she received an email from the US National Security Agency (NSA) asking for intercepted communications of UN Security Council delegates.The US wanted any information that could be used to win the delegates over to its case for invasion.

"I was furious," says Gun.

She leaked the email - and headlines accused the US of using "dirty tricks" to build a case for war.

Gun was charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act, but the case was dropped when her legal team asked to see all the legal advice given to Blair in the run-up to war.

"I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry," she writes, adding that the report has not answered her questions about the email she leaked. She wants to know who gave the NSA official the go-ahead to write it – and what led him to expect GCHQ would facilitate US "dirty tricks".

"How far did the surveillance operation proceed? Whose communications did they intercept and record?... It seems reasonable to ask why this crucial information was not included in the Chilcot inquiry?" she says.

Why did intelligence agencies tell Blair that Saddam Hussein had WMD?

Evidence from MI6 and the joint intelligence committee boss, Sir John Scarlett, formed the basis of the infamous "dodgy dossier" that made the government's case for an invasion.

They said they believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD – but the Iraqi leader had destroyed them ten years earlier, after the first Gulf War.

We know that part of the "evidence" that led MI6 belief was testimony from an informer codenamed "Curveball", who later admitted he had lied. But why did MI6 believe him, asks The Guardian. And if they did have their doubts, did they share them with Blair's government?

We don't have the answers to these questions because Sir Richard Dearlove, the MI6 chief at the time, testified to Chilcot in private – and much of the transcript has been redacted.

How many Iraqis died?

This is the biggest unanswered question, says The Independent. There have been "at least ten different attempts" to determine a death toll, but none of them are comprehensive.

The US infamously said it did "not do body counts", although we know that 4,497 US troops lost their lives between 2003 and 2014. British project the Iraq Body Count estimates civilian deaths of between 160,400 and 179,312, with the total number of violent deaths including combatants as 251,000.

Chilcot inquiry: Will Tony Blair stand trial for war crimes over Iraq?

7 July

Several MPs have called for former prime minister Tony Blair to face criminal charges after the Chilcot report criticised him for leading the nation to war based on "flawed intelligence".

In a statement yesterday afternoon, Blair called the decision to take military action "the hardest, most momentous, most agonising" of his ten years in office and accepted "full responsibility" for the consequences.

However, he stood by the decision to invade and denied several of the committee's key findings, including that military action could have been delayed.

Protestors outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London chanted: "Tony Blair – war criminal" as Sir John Chilcot summarised the committee's findings yesterday. But are there grounds for criminal prosecution?

Crucially, the committee concluded Blair had exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq – and in doing so, critics say, deliberately misled MPs into voting in favour of the invasion. A note to then-US president George Bush assuring him that Blair was with him "whatever" has also been cited as evidence that the former PM "pre-committed" the UK to the war.

Green party leader Caroline Lucas was one of the most outspoken in her criticism, calling Blair a "war criminal" and a liar.

A group of MPs led by Scotland's former first minister Alex Salmond has previously called for the use of parliament's impeachment powers – last activated in the 19th century – which could see Blair tried before the House of Lords. Theoretically, they would have the power to ban him from ever seeking elected office again and or even send him to prison. However, legal experts are saying that a prosecution is unlikely.

For one thing, despite Chilcot's forensic examination of how the war unfolded, which ran to 2.6 million words, assigning blame to individuals could still prove problematic.

"It remains unclear who should be held responsible: Blair and his advisers or the intelligence services, or a combination of both," Dr Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester told Al Jazeera.

Even if the evidence to charge Blair individually could be produced, nothing in the report accuses him of participating in "war crimes", as defined by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC told The Guardian Blair's misdeeds could be classed as "crimes of aggression", a category of crime that is still being revised by the ICC and will not be used until next year. Critically, the laws will not be retroactive, meaning the image of Blair in the dock, "however engaging for television, is a legal impossibility", he said.

The Metropolitan Police Service, which would handle any prosecutions for war crimes, said the Chilcot committee has not referred any matters to it for investigation at this time.

'With you, whatever': Tony Blair's memos to George W Bush

Below are excerpts from a series of declassified notes from Blair to Bush, which cover the period after the 11 September attacks in 2001 and the aftermath of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

12 September 2001"We need to construct an agenda that puts on to a new footing action against this new evil. If this is a war – and in practical, if not legal terms, it is – we need war methods … This has implications for international agreements and domestic laws. But for years, the West has pussyfooted around with these issues. These groups don't play by liberal rules and we can't either.

"It is now that the world is in a state of shock; now that it feels maximum sympathy for the US; now that it can be coopted most easily. Locking in the international community sooner rather than later is therefore critical."

4 December 2001"Iraq is a threat because it has WMD capability; it is acquiring more; has shown its willingness to use it; and can export that capability … Saddam also supports certain Palestinian terrorist groups, and uses terror tactics against Iraqi dissidents. But any link to September 11 and [al-Qaeda] is at best very tenuous; and at present international opinion would be reluctant, outside the US/UK, to support immediate military action though, for sure, people want to be rid of Saddam. So we need a strategy for regime change that builds over time."

28 July 2002"I will be with you, whatever. But this is the moment to assess bluntly the difficulties…

"Opinion in the US is quite simply on a different planet from opinion here, in Europe or in the Arab world. In Britain right now I couldn't be sure of support from parliament, party, public or even some of the cabinet. And this is Britain… At the moment, oddly, our best ally might be Russia!"

31 March 2003"Essentially the big picture message for the moment is: steady advance, doing it in a way to take people with us and not pound the civilian population; and continually going back to the nature of Saddam and why Iraq and the world is better off without him. He's bad; we're good; he's going to lose power; we're going to win."

1 February 2004"We should exercise some caution in saying definitely no stockpiles now exist… I don't concede there are no weapons. But I do concede we expected to find them sooner and there is plainly a legitimate issue about the accuracy of the intelligence."


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