January 27, 2010
Better Scott Brown Than the Chilcot Inquiry

I wonder if the bad news the Democrats have received over the past few weeks isn’t a blessing in disguise.

No, I’m not claiming they’ll learn from their mistakes, pick themselves up, and climb back into the fight. No attentive observer would be that silly.

But consider this. Had Scott Brown not been elected during, and thus after, the debacle the Democrats made of health-care reform, forcing the President to rebrand so hastily that the newly adopted persona is not even vaguely credible, the Democratic leadership would have been forced to deal with their collective nightmare, also known as their constitutional duty.

Fat chance, you say? Who’s gonna force Pelosi and Reid to do what the highest law of the land requires of them?

Well, with all that’s going on right now, how much have you heard about the Chilcot inquiry in Britain? There’s a lot of fascinating testimony being given, admittedly to a bunch of pretty conservative inquirers, but in public nonetheless. As a result, we know publicly and for sure that the UK government was being told before the Iraq invasion in 2003 that the action would be illegal under international law. And not by a voice crying in the wilderness.

While Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, was roundly dismissing the unanimous advice of his top lawyers that an invasion of Iraq would be illegal, officials in Downing Street were strongly resisting similar unwelcome advice, this time from Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general.

Previously classified documents released today at the Chilcot inquiry offer a rare, perhaps unprecedented, insight into manoeuvring at the heart of government about one of the most serious issues to confront ministers — whether to go to war, and the lawfulness of it.

The documents reveal Goldsmith expressed concern to Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, that he was said to have had an “optimistic view” of the legality of an invasion without fresh UN backing. Goldsmith made it clear that was not his view. That was in November 2002 when Goldsmith had been struggling to get his voice heard, the inquiry was told. “Was the attorney general discouraged from giving advice?” David Brummell, the former attorney’s legal secretary was asked. “ Yes,” Brummell replied.


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That’s just from today, there’s been lots of other fascinating stuff. What, for instance, have you heard about the Hutton report on David Kelly, who supposedly committed suicide after a BBC report casting doubt on the government’s case that Iraq had WMDs was traced to him? Did you know that Lord Hutton is attempting to impose a 70-year gag order on the records from which his inquiry concluded that the death was by suicide? (Why? To protect the feelings of the bereaved. Where have we heard that one before?) Hutton’s inquiry interrupted an inquest, which was never restarted. Now five doctors are considering a legal challenge to force the government to show them the information on which the inquiry’s judgment was based.

So here’s my point:

  • The Guardian has gathered its voluminous reporting on the inquiry into an easily accessible form.
  • A search at the New York Times website turns up two articles in the last month that mention the inquiry, published Jan. 12 and 18.
  • A similar search at the Washington Post found four articles over the same period, two from AP and two from Reuters, published between Jan. 18 and 22.

If there weren’t so many wild and heavy things happening on this side of the pond, a lot of bloggers — if no one else — would be bouncing these reports around the net, and that would turn into news.

Interrupting an inquest, then hiding the information on which a determination of cause of death was made, looks like something you’d expect in Dallas or Los Angeles.

Public testimony from a former Foreign Office lawyer who resigned in protest days before the invasion provided some excitement for those who believe citizenship is still possible.

The Iraq inquiry burst into life yesterday, thanks to a quiet, thoughtful yet furious woman who ripped into the government like a genteel but very hungry lioness. Elizabeth Wilmshurst was the first witness to get a round of applause from the public.

Although she wasn’t happy about the attorney general Lord Goldsmith giving a legal blessing to the war, she noted the position the Labor government left him in by asking for a legal opinion less than two weeks before the invasion began.

For the attorney to have advised that the conflict would have been unlawful without a second resolution would have been very difficult at that stage, I would have thought handing Saddam Hussein a massive public relations advantage. It was extraordinary, frankly, to leave asking him so late in the day. I think the process that was followed in this case was lamentable.

In the old days, American politics included a certain amount of theater on the grand scale such as the British are now engaged in, much to their credit in my opinion. If only we here in the US can find it in ourselves to grow up enough to examine ourselves and our actions in a similar fashion, we can follow in the footsteps of declining empires of the past toward a reconciliation with the world around us, rather than scrambling for every last resource to exploit on our way down, leaving us both desperate and hated.

But as long as we can debate why Bernanke only needs 51 votes while health care needs 60, we don’t have to worry about the war crimes our government has committed in the immediate past.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at January 27, 2010 02:29 AM
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