Sunday, November 29, 2009

New British inquiry into Iraq war: Truth-seekers, or another committee of Israel-firsters sent in for one more whitewash?

Oliver Miles: The key question – is Blair a war criminal?

(The Independent) -- The Iraq inquiry will start hearing evidence in open session on Tuesday, and it will almost certainly lead to fireworks. Let us hope the media cover it properly; five months ago, there was a sharp debate on Iraq in the Commons which the media ignored...

We've had umpteen Iraq inquiries already, but this one should be different. Its terms of reference are open. Previous inquiries concentrated on the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, the misuse of intelligence to make the case for war, the "dodgy dossier" and so on. But there are plenty of other questions, starting with the big one: was this a war of aggression and therefore a war crime? There were two views about its legality, and the then attorney general seems to have held both of them...

When Bush tried to persuade President Chirac to go to war, Bush compared Saddam Hussein with Gog and Magog, obscure legendary figures named in the book of Ezekiel as enemies of the people of Israel. This sounds like a joke, but seems to be true. Chirac was baffled and his staff consulted a professor of theology who spilt the beans. Blair told his Iraq experts that Saddam was "uniquely evil"; the inquiry should ask him whether Bush mentioned Gog and Magog to him, or he to Bush.

The Prime Minister's choice of the members of the committee has been criticised. None is a military man, Sir John Chilcot was a member of the Hutton inquiry and has been closely involved with the security services, Baroness Prashar has no relevant experience, Sir Roderic Lyne was a serving ambassador at the time of the war, and so on.

Rather less attention has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war. In December 2004 Sir Martin Gilbert, while pointing out that the "war on terror" was not a third world war, wrote that Bush and Blair "may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill" – an eccentric opinion that would se em to rule him out as a member of the committee. Sir Lawrence Freedman is the reputed architect of the "Blair doctrine" of humanitarian intervention, which was invoked in Kosovo and Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism. Such facts are not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media, but The Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli media have no such inhibitions, and the Arabic media both in London and in the region are usually not far behind.

All five members have outstanding reputations and records, but it is a pity that, if and when the inquiry is accused of a whitewash, such handy ammunition will be available. Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.

Tony Blair's responsibility for the Iraq war was a strike against him as a candidate for the role of president of the European Council. Perhaps the launch of the inquiry helped to kill the idea off. No European democratic institution has entertained the idea of electing someone under the shadow of a war crime charge since Kurt Waldheim became President of Austria in 1986...MORE...LINK

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