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Archive for December 18th, 2006

The Government’s case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair’s justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain’s key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, “at no time did HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] assess that Iraq’s WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests.”

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been “effectively contained”.

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. “I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed),” he said.

“At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.”

He claims “inertia” in the Foreign Office and the “inattention of key ministers” combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

Mr Ross delivered the evidence to the Butler inquiry which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, “there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material” held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. “There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US,” he added.

Mr Ross’s evidence directly challenges the assertions by the Prime Minster that the war was legally justified because Saddam possessed WMDs which could be “activated” within 45 minutes and posed a threat to British interests. These claims were also made in two dossiers, subsequently discredited, in spite of the advice by Mr Ross.

His hitherto secret evidence threatens to reopen the row over the legality of the conflict, under which Mr Blair has sought to draw a line as the internecine bloodshed in Iraq has worsened.

Mr Ross says he questioned colleagues at the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence working on Iraq and none said that any new evidence had emerged to change their assessment.

“What had changed was the Government’s determination to present available evidence in a different light,” he added.

Mr Ross said in late 2002 that he “discussed this at some length with David Kelly”, the weapons expert who a year later committed suicide when he was named as the source of a BBC report saying Downing Street had “sexed up” the WMD claims in a dossier. The Butler inquiry cleared Mr Blair and Downing Street of “sexing up” the dossier, but the publication of the Carne Ross evidence will cast fresh doubts on its findings.

Mr Ross, 40, was a highly rated diplomat but he resigned because of his misgivings about the legality of the war. He still fears the threat of action under the Official Secrets Act.

“Mr Ross hasn’t had any approach to tell him that he is still not liable to be prosecuted,” said one ally. But he has told friends that he is “glad it is out in the open” and he told MPs it had been “on my conscience for years”.

One member of the Foreign Affairs committee said: “There was blood on the carpet over this. I think it’s pretty clear the Foreign Office used the Official Secrets Act to suppress this evidence, by hanging it like a Sword of Damacles over Mr Ross, but we have called their bluff.”

Yesterday, Jack Straw, the Leader of the Commons who was Foreign Secretary during the war – Mr Ross’s boss – announced the Commons will have a debate on the possible change of strategy heralded by the Iraqi Study Group report in the new year.

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Kucinich: We could exit Iraq in sixty days


Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich detailed the platform on which he plans to once again seek the Democratic nomination for President in an interview conducted last week with Congressional Quarterly.

Kucinich followed Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa as the second Democratic office holder to announce his run for the presidency. He told CQ that “People aren’t looking for the Democrats to be better managers of the war, they want the Democrats to end the war and to bring our troops home.”

To further this point, the Ohio Congressman emphasized that his plan for withdrawing from Iraq in sixty days was feasible. He explained that “if you go back to Oct. 1 when the appropriation of $70 billion began, the money’s in the pipeline right now to bring the troops home. Not only is it in the pipeline to bring the troops home, but to simultaneously provide for the security of the Iraqi people through supporting an effort by the international community and through inviting the international community and helping to sustain it. … So why would we leave the troops in the field if we have the money to bring them home? Why would we continue the war by supporting another appropriation?”
The full interview, conducted by Marie Horrigan, can be accessed at the CQPolitics.com website. An excerpt is provided below.

CQ: This is your second consecutive shot for the presidency. How do you feel 2008 will be different from 2004 for you?

Kucinich: Well, it’s already different in the sense that I was right. I go into the 2008 election as the one person who campaigned continually on opposition to the war, who from inside the Congress challenged the war. And everything I said was right, so people can now look to me and say, “Well, there’s a leader. There’s somebody who had the foresight to challenge the war from the beginning.”

But there’s something else that’s happened. And the other thing that’s different is that the American people have given the Democrats the power of the government. We are now the majority, and we are a co-equal branch of government. The people gave that to us on one issue and one issue alone: Iraq.
So I’m in a singular position of encouraging my party to rise to the occasion, to accept the mantle of responsibility, to confirm the will of the people, and to take steps to bring our troops home. … People are waiting for Democrats to take this direction so my position is to protect the ability of the Democratic Party to have a Democratic president in 2008, and to take the nation in a new direction that’s consistent with the aspirations of Democrats.

But everything that we care about —health care, education, housing, job creation, the environment — all of those issues are going to be swept aside by war, by the fiscal drain of the war. … If Democrats go through with their plan to put the war on budget, that means cutting the very programs that we care about.

We shouldn’t be in this kind of Hobbesian choice. We should be having a clear position that accepts the verdict of the people in November. The people said we want the Democrats to take over, the issue is Iraq, we want the Democrats to give us a new direction, that direction obviously is out.

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Former U.S. Detainee in Iraq Recalls Torment


One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.

American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon’s detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual.

The detainee was Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago who went to Iraq as a security contractor. He wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the F.B.I. about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked, including what he said was possible illegal weapons trading.
But when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer, according to officials and military documents.

At Camp Cropper, he took notes on his imprisonment and smuggled them out in a Bible.

“Sick, very. Vomited,” he wrote July 3. The next day: “Told no more phone calls til leave.”

Nathan Ertel, the American held with Mr. Vance, brought away military records that shed further light on the detention camp and its secretive tribunals. Those records include a legal memorandum explicitly denying detainees the right to a lawyer at detention hearings to determine whether they should be released or held indefinitely, perhaps for prosecution.

The story told through those records and interviews illuminates the haphazard system of detention and prosecution that has evolved in Iraq, where detainees are often held for long periods without charges or legal representation, and where the authorities struggle to sort through the endless stream of detainees to identify those who pose real threats.

“Even Saddam Hussein had more legal counsel than I ever had,” said Mr. Vance, who said he planned to sue the former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, on grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. “While we were detained, we wrote a letter to the camp commandant stating that the same democratic ideals we are trying to instill in the fledgling democratic country of Iraq, from simple due process to the Magna Carta, we are absolutely, positively refusing to follow ourselves.”

A spokeswoman for the Pentagon’s detention operations in Iraq, First Lt. Lea Ann Fracasso, said in written answers to questions that the men had been “treated fair and humanely,” and that there was no record of either man complaining about their treatment.

Held as ‘a Threat’

She said officials did not reach Mr. Vance’s contact at the F.B.I. until he had been in custody for three weeks. Even so, she said, officials determined that he “posed a threat” and decided to continue holding him. He was released two months later, Lieutenant Fracasso said, based on a “subsequent re-examination of his case,” and his stated plans to leave Iraq.

Mr. Ertel, 30, a contract manager who knew Mr. Vance from an earlier job in Iraq, was released more quickly.

Mr. Vance went to Iraq in 2004, first to work for a Washington-based company. He later joined a small Baghdad-based security company where, he said, “things started looking weird to me.” He said that the company, which was protecting American reconstruction organizations, had hired guards from a sheik in Basra and that many of them turned out to be members of militias whom the clients did not want around.

Mr. Vance said the company had a growing cache of weapons it was selling to suspicious customers, including a steady flow of officials from the Iraqi Interior Ministry. The ministry had ties to violent militias and death squads. He said he had also witnessed another employee giving American soldiers liquor in exchange for bullets and weapon repairs.

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Powell: We Are Losing In Iraq


(CBS) The United States is losing the war in Iraq but sending more troops to Baghdad is not the best way to change course, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Face The Nation.

Powell said he agreed with the assessment of the Iraq Study Group co-chairmen, Lee Hamilton and James Baker, that the situation in Iraq is “grave and deteriorating,” and he also agreed with recently-confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the U.S. is not winning the war.

“So if it’s grave and deteriorating and we’re not winning, we are losing,” Powell told Bob Schieffer in an exclusive interview. “We haven’t lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around.”

President George W. Bush is considering several options for a new strategy in Iraq. The most likely choice would be to send tens of thousands of additional troops for an indefinite period to quickly secure Baghdad.

A 3,500-man brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division will be sent to Kuwait soon after the holidays, CBS News correspondent David Martin reported on Friday. The troops would be available immediately should the president order a surge into Iraq.

There are about 134,000 U.S. troops in Iraq now.

Powell, also a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he did not see the military benefit of flooding Baghdad with American troops.

“I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purposes of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work,” he said, adding that the Iraqi government and security forces must take over.

“It is the D.C. police force that guards Washington, D.C., not the troops that are stationed at Fort Myer,” Powell said. “And in Baghdad, you need a police force to do that, and in the other cities, you need a police force to do that, and not the American troops.”

Powell also doubted that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are large enough to support such an operation.

“The current active Army is not large enough and the Marine Corps is not large enough for the kinds of missions they’re being asked to perform,” Powell said. “We need to let both the Army and the Marine Corps grow in size, in my military judgment.”

Asked directly what the U.S. should do in Iraq, Powell said:

“I think that what we should do is to work with the Iraqi government, press them on the political peace, do everything we can to provide equipment, advisers, and whatever the Iraqi armed forces need to become more competent, and to train their leaders so that those leaders realize their responsibility to the government.”

Powell, who as a member of the Bush Administration pushed the international community to sanction the invasion of Iraq, said that we are not safer now after nearly four years of fighting.

“I think we are a little less safe, in the sense that we don’t have the same force structure available for other problems,” Powell said. “I think we have been somewhat constrained in our ability to influence events elsewhere.”

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In a letter addressed to Jewish citizens of America, former President Jimmy Carter explains the media’s “pro-Israel bias” partly on a powerful lobbying organization which faces no “significant countervailing voices,” but primarily puts the blame on “Christians like me.”

Carter’s recently published book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has caused a “stir,” which was “partly intentional,” the former president told Newsweek.

“One of the purposes of the book was to provoke discussion, which is very rarely heard in this country, and to open up some possibility that we could rejuvenate or restart the peace talks in Israel that have been absent for six years—so that was the purpose of the book,” Carter told Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift.

Carter also told the magazine that the “effectiveness” and “powerful influence” of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has resulted in more “inhibited” debates in the United States than nearly anywhere else.

“In this country, any sort of debate back and forth, any sort of incisive editorial comment in the major newspapers, is almost completely absent,” Carter said.

“And any member of Congress who’s looking to be re-elected couldn’t possibly say that they would take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians, or that they would insist on Israel withdrawing to international borders, or that they would dedicate themselves to protect human rights of Palestinians—it’s very likely that they would not be re-elected,” Carter added.

In the letter addressed to American Jews, Carter also includes Christians like himself for limiting the debate.

“I made it clear that I have never claimed that American Jews control the news media, but reiterated that the overwhelming bias for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since childhood to honor and protect God’s chosen people from among whom came our own savior, Jesus Christ,” Carter writes.

“An additional factor, especially in the political arena, is the powerful influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is exercising its legitimate goal of explaining the current policies of Israel’s government and arousing maximum support in our country,” Carter continues.

“There are no significant countervailing voices,” Carter regrets.

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