Sunday, March 24, 2013

“You are not to speak about David Kelly” 

Diplomat was banned from talking about Dr David Kelly when giving evidence at Iraq Inquiry
  • Carne Ross told if he discussed Dr Kelly in testimony, he would be silenced
  • He intended to say a few words about him as a tribute which he had submitted earlier
By Miles Goslett

PUBLISHED: 00:48, 24 March 2013 | UPDATED: 00:49, 24 March 2013

A former British diplomat has revealed he was ‘warned’ by the senior civil servant running the Iraq Inquiry not to mention the late biological weapons expert Dr David Kelly when giving evidence.

Carne Ross, the UK’s Iraq expert at the UN Security Council between 1998 and 2002, said he was told by the ‘very aggressive’ official that if he discussed Dr Kelly during his testimony, he would be silenced.

It is understood the official who delivered the order was Margaret Aldred, secretary of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot.

The inquiry was set up in 2009 to examine why Tony Blair took Britain into war.

Mr Ross was a close friend of Dr Kelly, a Ministry of Defence employee and world-renowned scientist who was found dead in an Oxfordshire wood in 2003. Dr Kelly had been named as the prime source of a BBC report accusing the Blair Government of lying to take Britain into the war.

Having worked with Dr Kelly for several years, Mr Ross intended to say a few words about him as a tribute which he submitted in earlier written evidence.

A 2003 public inquiry found Dr Kelly committed suicide. But successive governments have refused to hold a full coroner’s inquest, making him the only person in modern English legal history to be denied a proper inquest and fuelling claims of a cover-up.

Last month a group of doctors wrote to the chief coroner of England and Wales, Peter Thornton QC, urging him to resume the inquest which was halted in 2003. This was rejected. The revelation that a witness was informed by an inquiry official what they could and could not discuss before giving evidence raises serious questions about its impartiality.

And this weekend a senior MP who asked to remain anonymous has revealed that when he offered to submit evidence about Dr Kelly’s death to the inquiry in 2009, he was told by Chilcot personally that he ‘did not want to touch the Kelly issue’.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, Mr Ross, who now runs New York-based diplomatic advisory group Independent Diplomat, recalled the day he gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry in July 2010. He said: ‘I was taken into the room where witnesses sat and shortly before I was to testify an official came in and said, “You are not to speak about David Kelly.” ’

He was told that if he did the videolink of his evidence to the press would be cut and he would have to leave. Having been warned, he kept quiet.

He said: ‘I wasn’t happy about it. I felt very strongly about David. He was a man of honesty and integrity.

‘I wanted to remember him in that setting and they prevented me for no good reason. What difference would it have made? It’s pure control freakery. It was weird. Chilcot was incredibly tense. Clearly he feared I was going to say something.’

When asked if he thought Dr Kelly killed himself, Mr Ross said: ‘I don’t know. I would like to see the people who hounded him to his death brought to account. It was as good as murder, what they did. If you publicly humiliate a man, and you drive him to his death, it’s as bad as putting hemlock in his soup.’

An Iraq Inquiry spokesman refused to comment.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ten years on from the 2003 Iraq War

Independent Voices

Monday 18 March 2013

Editorial: Iraq 10 years on - this war damaged the UK at home and abroad

After Iraq, distrust of intelligence information will last for at least a generation

The memories remain so fresh and so raw that it seems only yesterday that President George W Bush announced the start of hostilities against Iraq and Prime Minister Tony Blair defied some of the biggest popular protests this country had known to take Britain to war on US coat-tails. The early images – of the ruined presidential palace, of the toppled dictator’s statue, of the abject Saddam Hussein captured in his foxhole – have lost none of their potency. Nor have the phrases. “Stuff happens,” declared the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, of the looting of Iraq’s museums.

Yet the very mention of those names, those images and those phrases at once seems less like 10 years ago than ancient history. In so many ways, those were different times. And the misjudgements and the hubris, not to speak of the dubious legal advice, which led Britain to join the invasion of a sovereign state on a pretext that turned out to be utterly false, very soon added up to Britain’s biggest and most costly foreign policy mistake since the attack on Suez almost half a century before.

Indeed, 10 years on from “Shock and Awe”, the first massive US strikes on Baghdad, and 10 years on from the fumbled British landings at Basra, it could be argued that the Iraq war was at least as costly for Britain as Suez was. The 1956 debacle gained its landmark status as a national humiliation because it helped crush Britain’s inflated idea of its own imperial reach. By the time of Iraq, among the British public at least, there were few delusions of imperial grandeur left to be dispelled. The costs of the Iraq war lie elsewhere, as do the truths it brought home.

Joining the US invasion of Iraq cost Britain in the obvious ways of human casualties – 179 servicemen and women lost their lives – and money. A conservative estimate is that the war took just short of £10bn from the UK Exchequer. But more than 3,500 were wounded. Their care entails spending into the future, as will the mental illness suffered by many who saw combat.

Equally obvious costs include the neglect of the Afghan intervention and Britain’s view of itself as a first-ranking military power. The weaknesses of UK forces were cruelly exposed in Basra, where they forced an embarrassing exit. But the disparity in capability and equipment with US forces was glaring. Iraq has ended the notion that Britain can conduct wars simultaneously on two fronts. A small positive is that the experience of this war has convinced even a Conservative-led government that the UK must act – and plan – within its means.

Other costs are more insidious. One is the discrediting of Britain in the Arab world, which continues. Another is the diminution of trust between Britain and the US. The harm was reversed to an extent by the election of Barack Obama with his mandate for withdrawal. But any mention of intelligence-sharing now comes a cropper on the example of Iraq, where one national leader seemed to egg on another to destructive effect.

Trust in intelligence itself was also undermined. No UK government can now cite such information as a basis for military action without being ridiculed – and the distrust will last for at least a generation. Similar cynicism has stuck to politicians, and to political consensus. Only the Liberal Democrats – and a very few other MPs and elder statesmen – spoke against the war. As did The Independent, with a constancy and conviction that have been vindicated many times over.

The ease with which Mr Blair has been able to float away from his responsibility of 10 years ago and enrich himself, advising others, leaves a bitter taste. Even now, his conduct awaits its proper judgment. Successive inquiries have failed to get to the root of his historic misjudgements. And now Lord Chilcot’s four-year-old inquiry is mired in argument about the documents that we, the public, will be allowed to see. So much secrecy is unacceptable in a democracy. Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war was a thoroughly avoidable disaster which has eroded trust between politicians and public at home and undercut our standing abroad. It is nothing short of a scandal that we still have to find out exactly how and why it happened.