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British Army Telegraphs Memo to Gilligan
Unidentified Judge Raises Legal Issues
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-27 10:41 (KST)   
Ahead of the Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war, the Sunday Telegraph published documents prepared by the British Army as part of a "lessons learned" exercise based on "post-operational reports". A story written by Andrew Gilligan outlined the main points-

Tony Blair, the former prime minister, misled MPs and the public throughout 2002 when he claimed that Britain's objective was "disarmament, not regime change" and that there had been no planning for military action. In fact, British military planning for a full invasion and regime change began in February 2002.

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The need to conceal this from Parliament and all but "very small numbers" of officials "constrained" the planning process. The result was a "rushed" operation "lacking in coherence and resources" which caused "significant risk" to troops and "critical failure" in the post-war period.

The full documents are available online.

Andrew Gilligan
©2009 BBC

Gilligan previously worked for the BBC's Today program and was sacked after a report suggesting that some government claims were exaggerated. So far there has been no public interest in how these documents came to be leaked to the Telegraph. It is as if the content is no longer very different to what is generally believed. Much of the content explains the miltary point of view so the army may not be too concerned with the leak.

The Foreign Office unit to plan for postwar Iraq was set up only in late February, 2003, three weeks before the war started.

The plans "contained no detail once Baghdad had fallen", causing a "notable loss of momentum" which was exploited by insurgents. Field commanders raged at Whitehall's "appalling" and "horrifying" lack of support for reconstruction, with one top officer saying that the Government "missed a golden opportunity" to win Iraqi support. Another commander said: "It was not unlike 1750s colonialism where the military had to do everything ourselves."

There has not yet been a leak in defense of the media policy during this time though Alistair Campbell, then working for Tony Blair, has been criticised in Gilligan's blog about an appearance on the BBC with MPs Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott:

The former Chief Persuader produces his usual denials that he abused and bullied people ("balls... absolute bilge") and is then told by Portillo that he's personally heard it happen while waiting for a radio interview. Abbott joins in: "You can still see the bruises on them... Your modus operandi was about bullying." Campbell: "I know you don't like saying good things about the Labour government." Abbott: "Oh, here we go."

It's really quite funny to see how thin-skinned Campbell is and how riled he gets. Asked later by Abbott whether he'll be helping in the election campaign, he snaps: "I'll probably help more than you do, Diane."

The Guardian also had a major story ahead of the start of the inquiry, revealing legal doubts about the capability of the people involved. The sources were not identified but nobody has queried the basis for the Guardian report-

"The truth of the matter is, if the inquiry was going to express a view with any kind of authority on the question of legality, it would need a legal member and quite a senior one," the judge said. "Looking at the membership ... it seems to me that legality just wasn't going to be a question they would be asked to review."

Another senior legal figure said: "The panel clearly lacks the expertise to address the question of legality. The members are not experienced at cross-examination -- it is simply not their skill set."

Both The Independent and the Daily Mail (26 Nov) reported the restrictions on document publication that have been agreed between Chalcot and Gordon Brown. Whitehall departments can refuse to publish documents if they would "cause harm or damage to the public interest such as national security or international relations". The Independent sees it as crucial that any dispute will be decided on by Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary. The front page headline for this story in the Daily Mail is "What An Insult To the Dead" and suggests that Gordon Brown is accused of a new Iraq cover-up. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg claimed in the house of Commons that Brown was trying to "suffocate" the Chilcot enquiry and continued a "shameful culture of secrecy".

It is unusual for the Independent and Daily Mail to share the same point of view. The Daily Mirror, usually a supporter for the Labour Party, reports the early evidence with the headline "Weapons of Mass Deception", (26 Nov p4)concentrating on statements by Sir William Ehrman, former Foreign Office director for defence and intelligence. This suggests that intelligence sources knew that the claims about weapons of mass destruction were open to question. Further evidence may also defend the intelligence services though this could raise questions about how the intelligence was presented.

There is no mention yet of the memo concerning Al Jazeera and a possible conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush about ways to counter the effects of Al Jazeera reporting from Fallujah.

As fully recorded on Wikipedia, David Keogh, a civil servant at the Cabinet Office, and Leo O'Connor, a research assistant to former Labour MP Tony Clarke, were convicted under the Official Secrets Act for the unauthorized disclosure of the memo.

The trial judge made an order under Section 11 of the Contempt Of Court act, banning in perpetuity any connection in the UK media between the trial and Al Jazeera. "Any journalist will have to ensure in his own mind that they are not making an impermissible link", he said. There have been no U.K. reports linking the trial and remarks by David Blunkett on Channel 4 stating that "taking out" Al-Jazeera was discussed in a conversation with Tony Blair at the start of the Iraq war. Reporters Without Borders has condemned the ban.

In an appeal against the ban, logged by a group of UK Media companies, the lord chief justice Lord Phillips partly lifted this ban. The UK media will now be able to repeat previously published allegations, but it will still be illegal to suggest that these allegations accurately represented evidence given in secret during the trial. It will also be illegal to print a particular phrase uttered in open court by Keogh when he was asked about the document.

Publication of the memo may convince public opinion that the investigation of pressures on the media is complete.

The trial judge was constrained by documents signed by the Foreign Secretary Margaret Becket concerning the national interest and the consequences for international relations if the memo was published. This was thought to relate to the USA. Similar issues continue with recent events. Commenting on the case of of Binyam Mohamed Clive Stafford Smith wrote in the Guardian.

Today, the two judges reluctantly complied with David Miliband's demand that certain evidence of torture should remain secret, at least pending the government's appeal. They were nonplussed, however, at the foreign secretary's insistence that they redact one particular passage in their judgment. It comes verbatim from an August 1, 2002, memo from one Bush administration official (Jay Bybee, of the Department of Justice) to another (John Rizzo, of the CIA). Keeping this secret is particularly odd since the memo in question, an analysis of the supposed legality of "enhanced interrogation techniques" applied against terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah, has already been released by the Obama administration in its 18-page entirety. Why does the British government insist on classifying that which the US government has already released?

A possible explanation is that the Labour Party is still stuck with policies aligned with George Bush, despite the regime change in Washington. Low opinion poll ratings ahead of a possible election next May are partly because of disillusion from previous supporters. Chalcot will not report till after the next election but with confidence in the process vanishing after just a few days, it is possible the Labour Party will consider changes in position based on internal debate.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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