Sunday, August 30, 2009

Martin Gilbert on the Inquiry

Iraq inquiry: let there be no more cover-ups

Martin Gilbert, Churchill's biographer, a member of the Iraq inquiry, says lessons must be learnt from the last war

Martin Gilbert

The Observer, Sunday 30 August 2009

There can have been few more skilful cover-ups in British history than the story of the British government's efforts to force the Poles to give up territory to Germany on the very eve of the Second World War. When Neville Chamberlain, who had been at centre of these efforts, left the premiership in May 1940, there was strong political pressure for an inquiry into what had really happened. But Winston Churchill, Chamberlain's successor, dreaded the split in Britain's national unity that such an inquiry would cause.

Churchill's political allies urged him to expose what Chamberlain had tried to do. He refused. "I put all this on the shelf," he told the Commons, "from which the historians, if they have time, will select their documents and tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past." Churchill warned: "If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future."

Had there been a no-holds-barred inquiry, what truths would have been uncovered? In 1938, Britain took the lead in coercing the Czechs to give up the Sudetenland. It was Chamberlain who, in the secrecy of a cabinet committee, insisted that the Czechs would not be represented at the Munich Conference.

The occupation of Prague in March 1939 gave the lie to Hitler's claim that he had no further demands on Czechoslovakia. Britain gave a "guarantee" to protect Poland's independence. But this was not the end of appeasement, as Chamberlain explained in a letter to his sister about the guarantee: "It was unprovocative in tone, but firm, clear but stressing the point (perceived alone by the Times) that what we are concerned with is not the boundaries of States but attacks on their independence. And it is we who will judge whether this independence is threatened or not." That is, Poland's boundaries could be changed to Germany's advantage, provided Poland's independence remained.

In April 1939, the Germans began to make claims on the free city of Danzig (now the Polish city of Gdansk), then a predominantly German city. Chamberlain saw no reason why Danzig should not come within the orbit of Nazi Germany and pressed Poland to open negotiations with Germany. On 25 August, Hitler told the British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, that beyond the return of Danzig, Germany had no further quarrel with Poland, and that after "the solution of the German-Polish question" he would give a personal pledge for the "continued existence" of the British empire. Hitler became confidential, telling Henderson that he was by nature an artist, not a politician, and once the Polish question was settled, he would end his life as an artist.

Henderson informed the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, that he was impressed with Hitler's "apparent earnestness and sincerity". Halifax then asked Mussolini to tell Hitler that Britain was willing to put pressure on Poland to negotiate. To put Polish minds at ease, in August the British government turned its agreement of the previous March into a formal treaty. It immediately used the treaty to press Poland even more firmly to give up Danzig. On 28 August, Halifax telegraphed the British ambassador in Warsaw: "His Majesty's government earnestly hope that Polish government will authorise them to inform German government that Poland is ready to enter at once into direct discussion with Germany."

Hitler saw the British position as one of weakness. On 1 September 1939, German forces attacked Poland. In a final attempt to avoid honouring Britain's treaty with Poland, Chamberlain told the Commons – as German troops advanced deep into Poland and Warsaw was under intense air bombardment: "If the German government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty's government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier." Once German troops withdrew, Chamberlain promised, "the way would be open to discussions" between Germany and Poland, and Britain was willing "to be associated" in these discussions.

Parliament was in uproar. The chief whip feared that Conservative MPs would resort to physical violence against Chamberlain. That evening, several members of the cabinet, including the secretary of state for war, Leslie Hore-Belisha, went to Downing Street to protest. Chamberlain and Halifax were dining together. The ministers insisted they would not leave until Chamberlain agreed to honour Britain's treaty with Poland and declare war on Germany.

Chamberlain bowed to this unprecedented revolt. Britain's ultimatum to Germany, demanding that it withdraw from Poland at once, was sent to Berlin that night. It expired at 11 o'clock British time on the following day, 3 September. Britain was at war with Germany.

The cabinet revolt was unknown at the time. So, too, were Chamberlain's efforts to make the Poles give up Danzig. Even Churchill had no idea of the final gasp of Chamberlain's appeasement policy. "History will be unkind to Neville Chamberlain," Churchill remarked. "I know, because I shall write it." But when writing the prewar volume of his war memoirs, he had no access to the cabinet records that would have given him chapter and verse. Only an inquiry of the type he had rejected could have done so.

It is my personal knowledge – in my 50th year of continuous historical research not only into Churchill but into many facets of British history in the 20th century – of how much of the past has so often been deliberately and dangerously hidden from a public that needs to know, that made me agree to take part in the Iraq inquiry, knowing that the independence and professionalism of the inquiry's members, and their individual and collective determination to see the truth prevail, would give the British public a chance to know what really happened during a traumatic and controversial decade.

What a pity that the Britons who lived through the years 1933-1939 had no such opportunity, but had to wait more than 30 years. I see the Iraq inquiry as an important milestone in government willingness to confront contentious issues without fear or favour.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unseen JIC papers

Iraq inquiry must see crucial papers

27 Aug 2009

Unseen comments on late drafts of the UK government’s “dodgy dossier” could be key to the understanding of build up to the Iraq war, says Chris Ames

As the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war starts its work, the government is still blocking release of documents that could show how the September 2002 dossier on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction was “sexed-up”. I can reveal that these include unpublished comments on late drafts of the dossier from the intelligence services themselves. They are likely to show that Tony Blair was warned that intelligence assessments had not, as he claimed, “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein was still developing chemical and biological weapons.

The revelation comes in a letter from the Cabinet Office, in response to my latest freedom of information (FOI) request. Earlier in the year, the Cabinet Office was forced to publish a series of comments on an early draft dossier, dated 10 September 2002, showing that analysts at the Ministry of Defence were highly sceptical of its claims.

My new request is for any comments on dossier drafts dated 16 and 19 September. The Cabinet Office has admitted that it retains relevant documents that were not disclosed via the 2003 Hutton Inquiry. But it has once again invoked the FOI Act exemption relating to national security and says it is considering the public interest in releasing these papers. It has also revealed that some information comes from or relates to the intelligence services themselves, which means that it is entirely exempt under FOI.

The evidence trail disclosed by the Hutton Inquiry has some obvious gaps which give a strong indication of what the missing documents could be. They could be highly significant. Documents published by Hutton show that the dossier was amended between the drafts in question following comments from the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), whose members include the heads of MI5 and MI6. Specifically, the foreword was amended so that it did not present the dossier as the work of the JIC or present its claims as representing the committee’s formal judgements. But the precise comments that led to these changes have never been published.

On 17 September 2002, Blair’s director of communications Alastair Campbell sent JIC chairman John Scarlett, who was responsible for co-ordinating the dossier’s production, a draft of the foreword that he had written in Blair’s name. This stated that the dossier was “the work of the JIC” and claimed: “What I believe the JIC reports to me have established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme.”

But the next day Scarlett sent Campbell a version of this text that removed the claim that the dossier was the work of the JIC. He told Campbell that this change was one of the “key points” in his version. He also said that he was seeking the “views of JIC colleagues”.

Scarlett then told Campbell that there would be further amendments and the next day sent him a version of the foreword that further distanced the dossier’s claims from the JIC. Instead of attributing to “JIC reports” Blair’s belief that Saddam was “beyond doubt” continuing to develop WMD, this draft stated that the claim was based on “the assessed intelligence”. It should have been clear that Blair’s claim was his own interpretation of the intelligence, not what the JIC had told him.

The reasons behind these changes, which were overlooked by the Hutton Inquiry and the later review of intelligence by Lord Butler, could be highly significant and are likely to be contained in unpublished emails or memos setting out the views of Scarlett’s “JIC colleagues”. If they explicitly warned that Blair’s claims went further than the committee’s own reports, Blair and Campbell, rather than the intelligence services, will have to take the blame for the a war that was ultimately based on a false prospectus.

Unfortunately, it appears that the documents that could establish this are covered by an absolute exemption under the FOI act, based not on their contents or national security implications but on their origin alone. This shows the limitations of the FOI Act. But if this is the case, it is essential that the Chilcot Inquiry insists on seeing — and publishing — these potentially crucial papers.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Chilcot to investigate Dr Kelly questions?

Iraq probe will include death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly

By Christopher Leake

Last updated at 11:56 PM on 01st August 2009

The death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly is expected to feature in the new official inquiry into the Iraq War, on the advice of the Government’s most senior legal adviser.

Attorney General Baroness Scotland has recommended that questions raised by Dr Kelly’s death should be considered by Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry.

The intervention of Baroness Scotland comes after The Mail on Sunday revealed that Mai Pederson, a close confidante of the Government scientist, has written to the law chief.

Ms Pederson, 49, a US Air Force linguist who worked in Iraq with Dr Kelly’s weapons-inspection team, called on the Minister to include the ‘suspicious circumstances’ of his death in the long-awaited inquiry, which will have Tony Blair as a star witness.

It was thought that Labour would block attempts to reignite the controversy over Dr Kelly’s death, which the earlier Hutton Inquiry ruled was suicide despite claims that he may have been murdered.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown initially wanted the Chilcot Inquiry to be held in private.

But in a letter to Ms Pederson’s Washington DC lawyer, Mark Zaid, Baroness Scotland’s private secretary, Lena Parmar, said: ‘Thank you for your letter of July 16 calling for a further investigation into the death of Dr David Kelly.

'The Attorney General has seen your letter. It seems to us that the matters you raise are ones which should be considered in the context of the Iraq inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.

‘I am therefore referring your letter to the Inquiry Secretariat.’
Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time of Dr Kelly’s death, and security chiefs such as MI6’s former head, Sir John Scarlett, will now be asked about the weapons expert, whose body was found in woods near his home in Oxfordshire.

Sir John Chilcot, a former civil servant, has said that his imminent inquiry, which is due to report in 2011, ‘will not shy away from making criticism’.

The Hutton Inquiry, set up by Mr Blair, ruled that 59-year-old Dr Kelly used a blunt gardening knife to slit the ulnar artery on his left wrist on July 18, 2003, and swallowed the painkiller co-proxamol after he was exposed as the source of a BBC report questioning the use of weapons of mass destruction as justification for war in Iraq.

But a team of 13 eminent doctors say the wound to the tiny artery could not have caused his death. They also contend that the co-proxamol dosage was non-fatal.

Ms Pederson revealed in an interview with this newspaper a year ago that Dr Kelly was often unable to use his right hand because of an elbow injury.

She said the hand’s grip was so weak he struggled to get a knife through a steak and that he would have had to be a ‘contortionist’ to have killed himself in the way the Hutton Inquiry claimed.

She also disclosed that he suffered from a disorder that made it difficult for him to swallow pills. She fears that he was murdered under the orders of loyalists to Saddam Hussein.

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, who is campaigning for an inquest to be held into Dr Kelly’s death, said last night: ‘The obvious route is a coroner’s inquest, which so far has not taken place.’