Parliament’s failure to investigate Tony Blair

Montesquieu: as naive as any other anglophile.

Montesquieu: as naive as any other anglophile.

Every single mainstream media outlet has today reported that a Parliamentary motion to investigate Tony Blair for misleading Parliament in order to win support for the invasion of Iraq has been defeated by 439 votes to 70.

In reality the motion put forward by the SNP was, contrary to all media reports, modest in the extreme. You may read all 145 words of it here: it is fourth on the prayers list. It amounts to little more than an appeal for the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is currently examining the “lessons learned” from the Chilcot Inquiry, to pay particular attention to the misleading information Tony Blair gave to Parliament. That is all.

Some commentators have argued the thumping defeat of this motion by both Labour and the Conservatives reflects nothing more than the animosity both share towards the SNP. That argument could be true, which I very much doubt, and it would still reflect appallingly on the British Parliament. Probably it is no more then the reflexive apologia emitted by the mainstream media whenever a story demands they condemn the establishment.

Every single qualifying law degree in the UK has a public law module, and as far as I am aware, every single one of these public law modules teaches the importance of the separation of powers in maintaining any constitutional system. The executive, the legislature, and the judiciary must be independent. Indeed, their independence has been accepted since the days of Montesquieu. Well, it is about time this error was corrected.

Our legislature does not hold our executive to account. This mechanism, it it ever worked at all, has by now comprehensively failed. One may argue about the precise importance and validity of the reasons why it has failed, but its failure is incontestable. One could talk about party politics, and the payroll vote, and so on. Much has been said about these matters by commentators far more expert than I. But since the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has possessed the biggest membership of any political party in Europe, and I am sure this membership is, for the largest part, adamant that Blair receives the fullest possible condemnation for his singular role in the invasion of Iraq. Despite this, they cannot convince their parliamentary members, including Corbyn himself, to vote accordingly.

It is about time the textbooks were rewritten, otherwise law will become an academic subject as untrustworthy as economics. Parliament does not hold the government to account. Far from it. Parliament is a kind of public theatre where parties compete to appear equally credible to a corporate media. Peter Oborne was correct to write that there is now a political class. For those of us outside this class, our chief task lies in removing it, and the system that upholds it. Whatever we may individually believe, whether we are left-wing or right-wing, Brexit or remain, Sanders or Trump: we have to rescue our representative democracies from the fatal grip of the political class.

 

Chilcot’s out

And it is very long. I intend to read it all, in a thorough and critical manner, as is appropriate. The report is, quite explicitly, not a document that lends itself to the bitesize, instantaneous communications of social media. The mainstream media, whose categorical and inherent failures have only worsened since the drums of the Iraq war began beating, has no resources nor inclination to mount a meaningful appreciation (I understand the Guardian has put out an appeal for help, of all things).

The Chilcot Report is politics, politics of the most immense and important scale, disguised as history. To process it on its own terms is an academic project.

The executive summary alone is 150 pages. I have already spotted a couple of errors, which are worrying things to find in a frontispiece. I’m not 100% sure about Chilcot’s opening statement either, his confident assertion that “Saddam” was in breach of a UN resolution specifically.

I have said for some years that criticism of the Inquiry must be suspended until its report was published. Well, that time has come. But it must be read first. It would be ironic to rush to judgement.

Naturally, those who seek to wield and mould public opinion will not wait to project their decided viewpoint onto the airwaves and column inches. That endeavour is already underway, as part of the general daily thrum of the west’s cultural hegemony. Distrust anything or anybody pretending to offer you the findings at a glance. Those journalists at the pre-publication lock-in had two and a half hours, at most, to digest over two and a half million words and Chilcot has been careful not to offer up any headline conclusions. Whatever meat there is in this lies under the skin.

That only real battle we can fight now is the right to ensure the coming generations understand what really happened here. The establishment aleady know. They knew at the time, and they have been spinning ever since.

The loudest voices are the least honest.

Only a mounting civic activism can counter them.

Amerithrax, Deep State policing, and conspiracy theory

For four years former FBI Agent Richard L Lambert was nominally in charge of the Amerithrax investigation. Lambert now claims he has been dissmissed from his current job (senior counterintelligence officer at the Energy Department) because of his continued insistence that the Bureau deliberately mishandled the case. He is now suing the FBI, and for those who haven’t been paying attention, his court filings comprise a series of explosive revelations.

Richard Lambert, in his FBI days.

Richard Lambert, in his FBI days.

Those with long memories will recall that one week after 9/11, somebody started using the US postal service to send anthrax to unsuspecting and seemingly random journalists and politicians. As well as anthrax, the envelopes contained letters which identified the acts as Islamist terrorism (“Allah is great”, “death to America”, “death to Israel”, etc). Thus a bridge was established between this Islamist terrorism and WMD. This link became the keystone of the entire war on terror, and ultimately provided the rationale for invading Iraq. As I make clear in my biography of David Kelly, Dark Actors, the claims that Iraq possessed WMD always tended to centre around biological WMD (and specifically anthrax), because bioweapons are the easiest WMD to make, and can be produced with the least infrastructure, thus making them the hardest WMD to detect. Amerithrax, as this news story was called, helped point 9/11 very quickly to Iraq. By October corporate media was blaming Baghdad.

The anthrax accompanying this came from US military labs.

The anthrax accompanying this came from US military labs.

9/11 brought conspiracy theory to the fore. Hundreds of millions of people believed it was an inside job, a false flag operation to enable the next chapter of American foreign policy. Their numbers have doubtlessly dwindled, but the Truth movement, as it tends to call itself, is still going strong. It has been met with something that has not yet been named, but might be described as the New Orthodoxy. Essentially this was an elite and anti-populist tendency to a) brand all those who doubt the corporate media as conspiracy theorists whilst b) classifying conspiracy theory as a dangerous, destablizing, anti-Semitic force. Notable proponents of this New Orthodoxy in the UK are David Aaronovitch (see Voodoo Histories) and Nick Cohen (“Conspiracy theories led to the calamitous movements of communism and nazism.”) In the US, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who happens to be the husband of Samantha Power, argued that conspiracy theory is a catalyst for anti-state violence, and that the government should infiltrate conspiracy theory groups (Sunstein classes the 9/11 ‘Truthers’ as domestic extremists). Closer to home, Cambridge University’s Leverholme-funded Conspiracy and Democracy project may provide an institutional example of the New Orthodoxy (“Are conspiracy theories destroying democracy?”), although I hope not.

I don’t think the Truth movement has proven that 9/11 was an inside job. But Amerithrax was. It is possible to be incredibly specific about strains of anthrax – because they are bacterial, they have DNA. Additionally, there are the processing treatments the anthrax in these letters recevied, which reduces the number of sources even further. This anthrax was a very finely ground, dry powder, with every granule given an anti-static polyglass coating, and electrocharged to aid aerial dispersal. It was a designer bioweapon. The Bureau found it could only have been produced by the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, or the private sector Batelle Memorial Institute at Ohio.

Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, the guy the FBI evenutally went after was a harmless, community-minded, Roman Catholic juggler and Celtic music afficianado with thirty six years’ service as a biodefence researcher at USAMRIID in Maryland. Military scientists can be a very prickly bunch (I’ve met dozens of them) but Bruce Ivins seems to have been well regarded by almost everyone he worked with. The FBI let him know he was their chief suspect and the Bureau followed him, overtly and covertly, with great scrutiny.

The pressure must have been immense. From released transcripts, which make for tragic reading, its clear that his questioners leant on him hard. His children were bribed to testify against him, even if they could only provide the most circumstantial evidence. They refused. Ivins, who suffered from depression, was also seeing a counsellor, who did not refuse these inducements. Her co-operation with the FBI was not only a fundamental breach of patient confidentiality, it amounted to asking leading and incriminating questions during their therapy sessions, something I suspect Ivins came to realise. Ivins was also, according to some of the agents involved, a closet crossdresser (much like J. Edgar Hoover). Distressed and disturbed, he killed himself with a Tylenol overdose as a consqeuence of FBI harassment on the 29th of July, 2008. More than 200 of his co-workers attended his memorial.

I often thought of Ivins when I was writing the biography of David Kelly. The Oxfordshire scientist may have been mistreated by the state, but it was nothing compared to what the FBI did to Ivins.

Bruce Ivins RIP.

Bruce Ivins RIP.

“They took an innocent man, a distinguished scientist, and smeared his reputation, dishonored him, questioned his children and drove him to take his life,” one anonymous colleague told ABC News. “He just didn’t have the swagger, the ego to pull off that kind of thing, and he didn’t have the lab skills to make the fine powder anthrax that was used in the letters.”

(One might also wonder about the wisdom of letting a dangerous bioterrorist know full well they’re your chief suspect, but then that’s exactly what Agent Lambert did with the previous suspect, Steven Hatfill. Either Lambert’s team never wanted to build a viable case, and/or they believed themselves, from the outset, to be working against a highly organized conspiracy that involved elements of the intelligence community.)

As soon as Ivins committed suicide the FBI and the Department of Justice promptly announced that he was the Amerithrax terrorist and closed the case. Scrabbling for a likely motive, the Feds said Ivins held a patent on an anthrax vaccine he had developed, and hoped to make money from the resulting scare. This was nonsense: Ivins had helped develop it, but the money went to the US Military. In fact the entire case against Ivins was ridiculous and dishonest. The catalogue of lies, distortions, and errors is extensive, and far too long to go into here, but many decent people have made comprehensive rebuttals here, here and here.

Lambert says he is still sitting on a wealth of classified information, but the gist of his filings thus far make clear that he was ordered to make Ivins the chief suspect, and that head office repeatedly denied him staff and support to pursue any other avenues. He says the FBI hid vast amounts of evidence that showed Ivins was innocent, while leaking tangential pointers that Ivins could be guilty as definitive fact.

So, these are explosive revelations, but they will suprise few who have followed the case. After all, the argument for flase flag operations is not hard for certain quarters to morally support. For example: you want to start a war, you have accepted there will be a “blood price”, and you understand there is a risk of failure. Based on those terms, why should you shrink from paying that blood price before the war formally begins? Otherwise you might not get to have your war at all. When we understand what false flags are, when our media can acknowledge their existence, these operations will become far less effective. Perhaps one day we will mature.

In the meantime it is surely self-evident that the rise of conspiracy theory is not destroying democracy, but a symptom of its decline. The lessons of Bruce Ivins and Amerithrax are obvious, but I am not aware of a single MSM personality prepared to acknowledge them.

“Spookthink”: intelligence agencies and institutional mindsets

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Civil Service personified.

Intelligence agencies are institutions. If we really want to understand the reality of our domestic and foreign policy, we must remember that every spook is a civil servant, and every agency is ultimately no more than a government department. Increasingly I have adopted the view that Britain’s “intelligence community” have no grand, inter-generational geopolitical plans. In this day and age, what government department really does? That requires vision, which is not the stuff of bureaucrats. What our spooks actually crave is an easy life, except for the ambitious, who seek status and promotion, much like anyone else. I recently encountered two examples which illustrate this nicely.

Alex Wallerstein’s commendable nuclear secrecy blog, Restricted Data, has examined the uncensored Franck Report. Essentially, this was the work of a very small sub-group of civilian scientists who were part of the thousands of scientists working on the Manhattan Project. They grouped to form the Committee on Political and Social Problems, and were chaired by Nobel Laureate and German-Jewish émigré James Franck. They were the only part of the Project to officially register any inquiry at all into the political and social problems of this new atomic weaponry. They predicted the arms race and the problems of proliferation, and observed that a global atomic arms control regime would become imperative. They went on to say that the US would find this difficult to implement if it launched these secret weapons against occupied cities, because its global moral standing would sink to the level of Nazi Germany. They proposed “demonstrating” the bomb instead of using it against civilian populations, and allowing hostile governments to see what it could do.

How Little Boy was eventually "demonstrated".

How Little Boy was eventually “demonstrated”.

Their report was more or less ignored. President Hoover was never told it existed. Nobody even mentioned the  demonstration option to him. The report remained classified until after the war, and when it was finally published, in the May 1946 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it was heavily censored. Unredacted reports began circulating on the net two or three years’ ago (Wallerstein’s research shows that the redactions were entirely political, and nothing to do with national security).

“It doesn’t appear that anybody who had the authority to drop the bomb agonized over the question before dropping it,” Wallerstein writes. “What agonizing there was mostly came after the fact.”

As the notes of the Targeting Committee reflect, the men of the Manhattan Project spent far, far longer deciding where to drop the bomb than whether they should drop the bomb at all, and what the wider consequences of that act might be. The most awesome and destructive weapon mankind had ever devised was dropped simply because it was built. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the inevitable consequences of institutional mindset, with its inherent inability to question itself from any external perspective.

Franke’s Committee succeeded, at least, in raising the concerns of the US Secretary of War, who safeguarded himself by demanding that some other senior scientists be found to disagree with it. This doesn’t seem to have been particularly difficult. The Manhattan Project promptly supplied another committee in response, the so-called Scientific Panel of the Interim Committee on Nuclear Power, an ad hoc line-up consisting of Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi. They signed off on a short paper titled Recommendations on The Immediate Use of Nuclear Weapons.

Ernest Lawrence later told a friend that they only debated the matter for ten minutes prior to signing the document. That bears some repeating: the architects of the atomic bomb spent ten minutes debating whether or not it should be used. The Manhattan Project had by then been running for about three years.

After Hiroshima, Ernest Lawrence told everyone he had been in favour of the demonstration option all along. James Franck abandoned atomic physics and worked on photosynthesis instead. Only one scientist ever left the Manhattan Project on the grounds of conscientious objection. He was a Pole named Jospeh Rotblat. When he asked to leave, he was immediately and groundlessly traduced as a Soviet spy.  Unknown sources fabricated evidence to this effect.

(That Rotblat was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize is a reflection of how independent the Nobel Committee, and Sweden, used to be. Would Martin Luther King get a Peace Prize from today’s Committee? I think they would be more inclined to J. Edgar Hoover’s view. But I digress.)

One should bear Joseph Rotblat in mind on the rare occasions when the employees of secret institutions are openly seen to display objective thought. The treatment of Edward Snowden shows that nothing has changed. This is how institutions work. Such entities cannot question themselves, and reflexively abhor constituent individuals who can. This tendency is probably strongest in “secret” institutions, because the nature of that secrecy acts to further prohibit scrutiny while providing easier ways to castigate dissent. Meaningful self-inquisition is vital for institutional functionality, and it is a virtual impossibility in places like GCHQ, SIS, MI5, the DIS, or indeed anywhere in the MOD.

You could improve the efficicency of this place simply by setting it on fire.

You could improve the efficiency of this place simply by boarding it up.

My second lesson on how the institutional mindset affects intelligence agencies was provided by a reading of Kim Philby’s autobiography. As far as I’m aware, Kim Philby is the greatest British spy who ever lived. He spied for the other side, of course, but the fact remains (and tells us something about the nature of the intelligence world itself, but I digress).  Anyway, during World War Two, the British Legation in Berne had a German walk-in carrying suitcases full of Nazi documents. It took a lot of nerve to cross the Swiss border with a suitcase full of secret Nazi paperwork, so the Brits rejected him out of hand as a plant. Undeterred, the German promptly walked over to the Americans’ newly opened OSS office, then headed by Allen Dulles, where he was warmly welcomed. The documents he carried proved to be authentic and were highly valued by all customers. Dulles reckoned he was the best Nazi source of the war. He was almost certainly Fritz Kolbe.

One of the greatest walk-ins of all time. We told him to bugger off.

One of the greatest walk-ins of all time. We told him to bugger off.

Philby recounts how senior officers at SIS responded to news of their mistake not by accepting and learning from the obvious truth, but by continuing to dismiss the intel as fake without even attempting verification. The worst of the bunch were Claude Dansey, then Assistant Chief, and Felix Cowgill, Six’s head of counter-espionage, both of whom sought to repress any product from the Berne walk-in purely to protect their own reputations and advance their own careers. Bear in mind this was before 1943 was over; prescient minds may have seen which way the war would end, but there was still an awful lot of it left. Philby was only able to authenticate this valuable information, via the Government Code and Cypher School, because his superior, Cowgill, went off to America for a few weeks. And he was only able to secure authorisation for distribution from Dansey by offering to fake its origin, so that when the OSS’ Berne stuff arrived on British desks it looked like it was from a British source (with this in mind I am extremely curious about the actual origin of things like the Oslo Report).

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Dansey thought he was pretty amazing.

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Claude Dansey considered himself pretty amazing.

I find the attitudes Philby relates very telling. They are entirely in accordance with the institutional mindset. Namely, that the first priority of any member of any institution is always their standing within that institution. Their second priority is the reputation of the institution itself: Dansey did tell Philby he didn’t want SIS to be overshadowed by the OSS, but this only as a subsequent justification when his transparent careerism came to light. These priorities, together with the incapacity for objective judgement outside the institutional lens (see above), comprise the Iron Law of Institutions, which needs to be borne in mind whenever one considers any intelligence agency or service. We might call it spookthink.

Spookthink does a lot to explain Iraq, and indeed Iraq does a lot to affirm the Law. There are a lot of people who could probably have stopped us waging an illegal, destructive, misguided war if they a) had some objective, non-institutional idea about the failings of their department/s and b) hadn’t cared more about their own good standing (as they saw it). Perhaps, like Dansey did, some of these folk argue they only sought to protect the reputation of their employer instead. If so, that reputation was upheld only in certain parts of Washington, and perhaps not even there. Amongst the British people, and maybe most of the world, it remains irrevocably damaged.

Two conclusions spring to mind. One: institutions are probably the worst entities which could exist for collecting and analysing secret, important information (“intelligence” is wholly an institutional term). Two: if, as Karl Popper argued, our institutions are what safeguard open society, they might just as easily close it too. Perhaps, by dint of their very structure, they might be more inclined to do so.

The Master of Pembroke College.

The Master of Pembroke College. Worryingly.

 

Where Are You, Steven Hayden?

I’m trying to find one Steven Hayden, a former Chief Petty Officer of the Royal Navy, who once lived in Purbrook in Hampshire. He had/has a family and would be around 47 years of age now.

If you know him, if you knew him, or if you are him, could you please drop me a line? I heard he was at Leydene in the early nineties, was then attached to Naval Intelligence for a spell, did some time in the Adriatic listening to Serbian comms, and was next posted up in Lincolnshire (New Waltham, maybe?). In 1997, if the Rumour Mill is grinding the right way, he was on HMS Beaver when it Crossed The Line. It would be good to hear any of that confirmed by someone real.

At the moment I’m not 100% sure the gentleman ever really existed, despite the fact he was tried in court. Well, to be clear, he pled guilty to (deep breath) “without lawful authority [making] a damaging disclosure of a document relating to security or intelligence which was in [his] possession by virtue of [his] position as a Crown servant”. He told the court he sold a classified warning about Iraqi anthrax to The Sun for £10,000.  If you have long enough memories, this was a ridiculous story about the Iraqi military attacking Britain by smuggling anthrax into the country via duty free bottles of alcohol and perfume.

'Saddam's Anthrax In Our Duty-Frees', 25 March '98. Utter bollocks.

‘Saddam’s Anthrax In Our Duty-Frees’. Utter bollocks.

“Because of the national security implications,” the BBC reported, “the details of the offence cannot be reported and were explained during a closed session.” Right. What could possibly have been sensitive about it? You can’t expect you can protect your source if you splash his (obviously duff) product over every docks and airport in the country. In truth the warning Hayden passed on was itself deliberate misinformation. It was supposed to be leaked to the media. That was why it had been written, and that was why it had been distributed as an all-ports bulletin. With perfect timing it hit the papers a few days before America planned to bomb Iraq in 1998, thereby generating a groundswell of supportive public opinion; a good little bit of psyops from somebody.

“Saddam Hussein is plotting to flood Britain with deadly anthrax disguised as duty-free goods,” blasted The Sun. “Saddam could kill the world. Before long, the boil on the world’s backside must be lanced. Before its poison spreads too far.”

That could practially have been drafted by an intelligence officer (think Colin Wallace). It’s almost too perfect.

The tell here is that the US had planned to bomb Iraq the next week, but within days Scott Ritter, as team leader out in Iraq, decided to pull back from a deliberately provacative UNSCOM inspection, so it was cancelled. This was top secret stuff. Very few people knew about that. Instead the bombs fell in December, six months later.

Some people thought it a little unprofessional of The Sun to publish such a panic-inducing, unfounded story. Guess who didn’t? The following day, in a piece titled “Blair: Well-Done My Sun”, the paper reported how the Prime Minister “last night praised the Sun’s ‘responsible’ reporting of Saddam Hussein’s threat to unleash deadly anthrax on duty-free shoppers. The PM rejected claims that our story yesterday about a secret ‘all-ports alert’ was likely to cause panic.”

The reason it didn’t cause panic was because it was ridiculous. But Blair had already begun his toxic love-in with the worst of the British media. It bode ill for an awful lot of people.

Hayden did a year in jail. Rather unfairly, and entirely inevitably, nobody from The Sun was ever prosecuted. Apparently they’re allowed to bribe intelligence officers with envelopes full of cash (assuming an exchange or offer of money was ever made in the first place. Decades later Rebekah Brooks admitted in court to authorising the payment, but I’m not sure I believe a word she says).

Lancaster and Hayden arrive at court.

Lancaster and Hayden arrive at court.

I would contact the lawyer who defended Hayden, former Lieutenant Commander David Lancaster, but he’s not exactly high profile these days either. Lancaster was an equity partner in Hampshire law firm Warner, Goodman and Street, and had a lot of RN personnel on his case book, Wrens in particular. In this sense Lancaster was a logical choice for Hayden to make: by all accounts the lawyer did a good job for his RN clients, which made him fairly popular amongst the rank-and-file. He stood up for their employment rights, and rebuffed lazy prosecutions from the service’s Regulating Branch, which was often profoundly unethical.  He succeeded against the Ministry of Police too. David Kelly could have done with someone like Lancaster in his corner.

They got him in the end, though. An undercover reporter from the regional BBC programme Inside Out pretended he’d been charged with possession of a Class A drug, and approached Lancaster for help. He then used a hidden camera to film Lancaster offering him some rather too handy advice. As a result Lancaster was struck off and sentenced to three years, over what was an imaginary fifty quid wrap of cocaine, for a case that didn’t exist. Hardly cutting-edge journalism. I have a pretty strong suspicion it was the Ministry of Defence police who stuck the BBC team onto Lancaster in the first place.

Oddly enough the reporter chiefly responsible for Lancaster’s retreat-from-view has also gone-to-ground: he hid out in mid-Wales for a couple of years then re-emerged as an author. His past does not appear in his author bio.

Puzzling business all round, no?

 

(I can’t suppose this might be anything other incidental, but one of Lancaster’s wins against the Minstry of Defence police was presided over by a Judge Andrew Chubb, yet another ex-Navy officer, whose charred body was found in the ashes of his garage a few days later. His garage had exploded. The widow Chubb might know something more about it but she moved to Australia and refused to leave for a second inquest. People have always speculated on Chubb’s death, because his life included not only a mysterious explosion but a divorce, a big house, and a possibly crazy mistress, but there are plenty of other reasons why people might be murderously angry with judges. The Daily Mail is the sort of paper where you can read your fill on this: here.)

 

2015: A Year of Blow-back Beckons

If the Charlie Hebdo shootings signify anything, it’s that the year ahead will be one of blow-back for Western foreign policy. Despite the bold assertions of Obama’s State of the Union address, the high tide mark of Western influence has been reached. Ponder what is currently happening at home and abroad, and consider the context.

The so-called “Arab Spring” delivered the opposite of what our pundits and politicos promised. After a Western-sponsored coup d’etat Egypt is now a military dictatorship busily jailing and executing the elected Muslim Brotherhood it displaced. Meanwhile, GCC sponsorship and a NATO bombing campaign has turned Libya into a violent Islamist basket-case. In Yemen, despite widespread popular unrest, Saudi-puppet President Saleh hung on to power, ruling from Riyadh. Eventually his vice-president succeeded him, a man of almost identical political leanings, with what is claimed to be 99.8% of the vote (he was the only candidate in the election).

In Bahrain the government simply blamed the Shia for the uprisings and sprayed the protestors with bullets, torturing more than a few and cracking down on any sort of free speech and political assembly, a process which continues to this day. The Bahraini King did establish an Independent Commission of Inquiry to look into it all, which did confirm that yes, widespread human rights abuses from torture up to murder had taken place. It then suggested “recommendations” which would “improve accountability and bring government practice into line with international standards”. A tyrannical massacre was thus reduced to a matter of management, practices and standards. Bahrain’s Commission was such a staggering example of cynical state arrogance that I am sure it could only have been suggested by the mandarins of the British civil service.

In Tunisia alone things worked out reasonably well but the worst of the Arab Spring took place, of course, in Syria, where a brutal dictatorship had a long history of meeting popular uprisings with bloody suppression. The leaders there stood their ground, and what happened next revealed the true dynamics behind this so-called Arab Spring: the demonstrators turned out to be foreign-paid or foreign-born Islamist guerrillas with no central agenda, manifesto, or negotiating platform. Western media repeatedly and consistently misreported this fact, spreading instead all-too-familiar disinformation about WMD and human rights, and clinging to the manufactured Manichean narrative of good-democratic-Western-minded freedom fighters versus evil Arab dictator.

The reality is that Syria’s foreign-sponsored civil war made the incumbent government truly popular amongst the people who actually had to live in the country. Assad went from being a dictator to an elected president, one who had voluntarily disarmed his country of WMD under international supervision, and who was tabling substantial domestic reform. In contrast his opponents, those we pay and support, were silent, squabbling killers posting crazy YouTube videos. We know them now as the Islamic State. The idea that we could ever productively support a credible “moderate resistance” in Syria was either a fig-leaf to cloak our anti-democratic alliance with the Emiratis, or utter stupidity.

For those who could see all this, Kiev’s Euromaidan was simply the opening of a new front. Moscow had been one of Assad’s key supporters; Putin had been clear that Russia would veto any UN proposal for Western air strikes against the country. Russia had by then learnt the lessons of Libya: apparently we hadn’t. Thus the States, Israel, and the Emiratis lent their unconditional support to whoever promised they could shift the Ukraine out of its Russian orbit, a task almost as impossible and destructive as forcefully dislodging Gaddafi or Assad or Saddam. They were driven by the same “levitating self-confidence” (as John Le Carre put it) which saw them invade Iraq. Now, as will generally happen when you decide to challenge observable reality, everything is unravelling. Can we really insist it is perfectly legitimate to fund guerrillas in Syria, against an elected President, and at the same time isolate Russia on the grounds (for which we provide no evidence) that it is funding resistance fighters on its own doorstep? Fighters, one might add, who are resisting an unconstitutional government, and who are acting in pursuit of regional self-determination? It’s utter nonsense. Obama has no right to speak of advancing democracy in the Ukraine. Territorial integrity, perhaps, but no more.

The underlying point is that the West and its proxies have failed. Inevitably. Assad is staying, at least until his third seven year term expires in 2021. If social media is anything to go by, the chatter I’ve picked up suggests that Syrians are now more concerned with Lebanon and Iran than with the dwindling proponents of the Civil War, which is now in endgame, something that may be reflected in Israel’s airstrike against Iranian brigadier general Mohammad Ali Allah-Dadi. Terrorist bombings will continue, but recede to what the Royal Ulster Constabulary used to call “a tolerable degree of violence”.  Meanwhile IS will hold on to Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, which will become a dwindling pocket of heavily bombed jihadis. The House of Saud’s proposed security wall is a trick borrowed from Israel, and reveals not just a similar siege mentality, but the unspoken alliance which now exists between the Arab monarchies and the Zionist project. That alliance is one aspect of an over-arching change, further seen in the news that Saudia Arabia is re-opening its Embassy in Baghdad after a period of twenty-five years (that it didn’t open one during the American occupation is telling).

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how high the Saudis build their wall. Acceptance of Assad is inevitable, as is rapprochement with Iran. As rapprochement nears, the propaganda against it will grow ever more ridiculous (see for example this piece of abject fantasy in Der Speigel). But it will happen. Then, in a process which has already started, a few hundred active, armed Islamist jihadis will return to their native Europe. Until now the West has either covertly facilitated or deliberately ignored their activities, because they were aligned to foreign policy goals. When the GCC realise Iran isn’t a threat, and the Emiratis reach an accomodation with Tehran,the only purchase anyone will have on these people will be their government handlers – assuming they had any.

Officially, the War on Terror has gone on for fourteen years, but these networks present something new. Until now, those Muslims arrested by British police for UK terrorism offences have generally been entrapped halfwits guilty of little more than saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, or downloading a dodgy PDF. The calibre of Islamist now returning from the Middle East is quite different. Consequently we will see an even greater reduction in our human rights and civil liberties: witness John Sawers’ witless appeal for The End Of The Internet As We Know It. While some of this blather is probably retrospective justification for collection techniques already underway, if there is anything more they can grab, the intelligence community will take it. Secrecy will become the new privacy, and not everyone will be able to afford it.

Much has been written about the increasing militarisation of US police departments, particularly in the US, where social division and material inequality only worsened during the country’s first black Presidency. The tear gas and Pentagon-supplied armoured vehicles of Ferguson are a symptom of this. Remember, this was a country that responded to the flooding of New Orleans by building impromptu prison camps. The American state is terrified of large public protest; as terrified as the Gulf monarchies, probably. The UK government isn’t that much different. From 2005 to 2010 they banned protest anywhere within half a mile of Westminster.

The reason the American government is so senstive about this is because they have spent the last two decades paying for “colour revolutions” in countries of interest, not just covertly but overtly, through the National Endowment for Democracy. Similarly, the Emiratis have been paying for the boots-on-the-ground in Libya and Syria and parts of Iraq, and look what they’ve achieved. There is a general strategy here.

Supposedly, we have spent the years since 9/11 making the Middle East safe for democracy. We have failed. Instead, we have become much more like the Gulf monarchies we prop up. Our democracies have grown brittle and autocratic. Our governments are unrepresentative. Our media is supine and craven. Our institutions are hollowed out. Our societies are divided by caste. This is the blow back of our long War on Terror: we have finally created an environment conducive to real terrorism.

 

 

“We tortured some folks” and the death of journalism

One of the many pressing books sitting in my to-read pile is Janet Malcolm’s seminal The Journalist And The Murderer. It opens with the following sentence:

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.”

It has taken me the better part of a decade to properly accept this fact. The journalist of my childhood was, after all, a hero. Superman was a journalist and so was his girlfriend. Spiderman was a photojournalist. Tintin was a reporter. The films I watched and the books I read were full of heroic journalists, each and every one a brave upholder of truth, fighting a lonely struggle against injustice and deceit (Humphrey Bogart’s last movie remains a personal favourite). What a charming and romantic notion, and what dangerous ignorance too.

An avid and regular reader of the national press, my love affair with Fleet Street ended in 2003, when it effectively cheerleaded the coming of the Iraq War. The same goes for broadcast news, although I developed a general aversion to television around the same time. This wasn’t a conscious decision, I just couldn’t bear to see it anymore: the cynical, self-righteous masquerade of modern journalism. The hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry and the subsequent criminal trials were all pretty damning, but the media have done far worse things than hack phones. There is an immorality at its core. Consider President Obama’s recent capitulation on some of the war crimes carried out during the War on Terror:

We tortured some folks,” he told a White House press room.

“It’s important for us not to feel to sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough jobs those folks had,” he added (by “folks” he meant torturers, one assumes).

A collective sigh of relief ran around the room. The press – the American press in particular – had for years been tiptoeing around the subject, using the euphemisms supplied to them by government, or sometimes inventing their own. “Brutal questioning,” “enhanced interrogation”, “harsh measures”, etc. Nobody present in that room asked “how many folks have we tortured”? It could have been thirty. It could have been three thousand. But questions beget answers, and answers can unsettle the easy narratives that big brand media relies on. It soaked up and absorbed the President’s seemingly off-hand remark with the minimum of fuss.

Five days later the executive editor of the New York Times wrote that despite the paper having some ongoing internal arguments over the precise legal definition of the word, “from now on, The Times will use the word ‘torture’ to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.”

The New York Times will from now on use the word torture to describe torture. Because the President did.

Finally. After more than a decade. After two wars. After bombings, sanctions, and the armament of proxy groups. After half a million dead, maybe more. “We tortured some folks”. Where are these people? Where are the tortured? What happened to them? What to do they have to say?

The victims that survived have been sworn to secrecy and are monitored, to some degree, by the US government and the host government of the country to which they have been relocated. The charity groups that represent them are routinely bugged, infiltrated and harassed by the state. The media refer to them as extremists. The parts of government supposed to oversee issues of surveillance and interrogation – such as the US Congress – are spied on and bugged and lied to by the state. The NSA, the FBI and the CIA all now routinely lie to and spy on both the government and the public. Lesser law enforcement agencies, such as the LAPD, are not dissimilar. Meanwhile the media do nothing but continue to regurgitate vacuous tales of celebrity, while shamelessly promoting their friends and bosses and bosses’ friends.

In Britain the picture is no different. The Guardian, once the trusted paper of Britain’s left-wing liberals, is literally falling over itself in order to maintain the party line on Britain’s endorsement of torture. Now Obama has casually confessed, in his down-home folksy tone, both Downing Street and Fleet Street are left wondering how long the cover-up must endure. After all, protecting the Americans was apparently why neither bothered overmuch with the thorny issue of Britain’s torturing in the first place, but now the cat is out of the bag.

No Stalin, no Hitler, could corrupt the press as effectively as unfettered capitalism. Self-censorship has always been the most effective kind. And failing that, the simple strictures and structures of power will ensure that only plaint minds get promoted to the platform.

Noam Chomsky was right. Andrew Marr was wrong.

The only things you read about in the press are what the press are prepared to deal with.

I haven’t taken a newspaper for over ten years and feel far better informed as a result. I shudder to see them on the shelves whenever I am down the shops, and come to dread political discussions with friends who take their leads from the editorials of the day. If you want to understand the pitiful state of modern Britain at a glance, look at the front covers of its newspapers; not for the light they shine, but the darkness they reflect.

Shock and Awe at the Academy

RWAThis Friday night I attended the opening of Shock and Awe at the Royal West of England Academy, an exhibition of contemporary artists “at war and peace”, curated by Paul Gough. I suspect it was originally intended to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, but as the exhibition’s name suggests, it was the Iraq War which featured most prominently.

(Shock and Awe was a “rapid dominance” US military doctrine developed in 1996, and inspired by the massive “coalition” and bombing campaign of Desert Storm in 1991. Its proponents outlined the strategy by using a hypothetical future war with Iraq as an example. When war with Iraq did come, Shock and Awe featured prominently in the Pentagon playbook, and was a term used frequently by journalists and other observers to describe the saturation bombing that took place.)

That so much of this exhibition should touch upon Iraq is not remotely surprising. It is the most destructive and ruinous war we have fought since World War Two; it was an illegal war of aggression; it was war facilitated by lies and deception at the heart of government; its architects remain at liberty and much enriched. Most of all, this country’s cultural fabric and its body politic, its most basic sense of self, has never really been able to accept what we have done. We know, of course, individually all of us know, bar the wilfully ignorant or those locked in deep denial, but we lack any collective way of acknowledging this, let alone acting on it.

In terms of collective acknowledgement, our best hopes may lie in our art (or the arts). Artists are supposed and obliged to expose precisely this sort of cognitive dissonance as it affects society; their status as reflective outsiders gives them the necessary perspective to do so. In art we can see the wounds and dysfunctions of society, just as much as its hopes and strengths. This is practically a platitude, and it’s entirely unnecessary to provide examples, but I’m thinking of Otto Dix, or Goya; people like that.

So what is striking about Shock and Awe, really, is that the Royal West of England Academy is not an avant-garde institution. It is, if anything, conservative, traditional, and establishmentarian. That is not intended as criticism but as important context, because what struck me is how widespread our anger over Iraq is, and how for the most part our institutions have failed to express it. Our civil service, our media, our courts, our military, the government and the whole machinery of our democracy; our social institutions, as Karl Popper would have described them, have fallen into collective silence, or even embraced active duplicity, as regards the reality of the Iraq War. Only in art are the views of the people expressed.

I say “the people” in the most literal sense. The millions of people who protested reflected the majority of those who less obviously opposed the war. In turn, many of those who supported it now feel they were wrong, and are brave enough to say so. Every time I have spoken about my David Kelly biography at a festival or engagement, I have spoken to a room full of people. All of them know the war was wrong. They come from all walks of life – although I was astounded to meet someone who had worked, in a senior position, at GCHQ, who told me he had gone on the Stop The War march in 2003.

And so, although the Royal West of England Academy may be seen as somewhat staid by its younger rivals, it has done a decent and important job of expressing popular disgust over our Britain’s role in the conflict. Sadly, the Royal Academy on Picadilly has yet to host a similar show, and its First World War exhibitions remain focussed entirely on the work produced by that conflict and no other. How dull, how safe, and how typical. A few years back the Iraq Triptych by Michael Sandle was given prominent display during the “open” annual summer season, and ended up winning the Hugh Casson prize for drawing, but this was as near to the bone as the RA in London has got.

At the RWA I was struck by Jill Gibbon’s sketches from the various arms fairs she has infiltrated, which offered fleeting glimpses into a hideous world. Trade fairs are always terrible events, but Gibbon’s arms fairs combine the dull, hard-drinking, portly chauvinism of the conventional conference with the hellish reality of violent, arbitrary, civilian death. Her hastily drawn outlines (all sketches were covert and in situ) of beaming, bikini-clad women posing for fat, swinish businessmen, in order to flog cluster bombs and phosphorous shells, provided the most shocking work of the show.

Mercenaries, Jill Gibbon, 2013.

Mercenaries, Jill Gibbon, 2013.

Other artists provided work that was, fittingly for a Royal Academy, more institutional in its effect: this is what we think, this is what we are. While this academic trait can be stifling in other circumstances, it seemed vital here, given the subject at hand. The work of the late Richard Hamilton was here too, but only a single commemorative medal, commissioned by the British Art Medal Trust for the Medals of Dishonour exhibition at the British Museum in 2009. As it happens, that exhibition was another rare and amazing example of a British institution reflecting the reality of our guilt over the Iraq War. Hamilton’s piece was titled the Hutton Award, with Blair on one side and Campbell on the reverse. CONFIDIMVS DEO DE ABSOLVTIONE: MMIV the inscription runs, above our former Prime Minister; DIALBATI, it declares, above Campbell. This, as you might imagine, was something that took my interest.

The focal centrepiece was undoubtedly Casting A Dark Democracy by Academician Tim Shaw, a sculpture of at least twelve feet in height, made from steel and black bin bags: a reproduction of the what was perhaps the war’s most iconic image: the hooded prisoner at Abu Ghraib, stood on a box, his arms raised, with electrodes on his fingers. It was not until I saw this that the exhibition really moved me to anger. The other exhibits reflected only what I had thought and felt for years, but was unable to read in any newspaper, or see on any television screen. This was different, because of its inversion of place.

Casting A Dark Democracy, Tim Shaw RA (image shows the sculpture as exhibted elsewhere)

Casting A Dark Democracy, Tim Shaw RA, 2008 (image shows the sculpture as exhibited elsewhere)

Standing before it I was soon reminded of the commemorative sculpture of other conflicts. Casting A Dark Democracy was a similar scale, it had a similar permanence (despite its polythene shroud), and it too spoke of the dead in a far-off land. Yet while the sculptures that memorialized the Great War typically possess a great humanity and restraint, they express not just loss but emotional restraint, stoicism, and nobility, they evince sacrifice and nobility. Sometimes, yes, there is a wonderful muted anger, but more often we have the downcast faces or the quiet contemplation of the bronze Tommies of the Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park Corner.

After the 1918 armistice, the Unknown Soldier was given form, in a way that makes us feel better. How different is Shaw’s sculpture to that idea. Dare I say, Shaw is precisely the sort of sculptor who, in an earlier age, would have made such art. He is a trusted, establishment-type professional, a member of the RA, an artist more inclined towards traditional form than conceptual innovation, and again, this is in no way intended as criticism. But what has happened to our government and our country in recent years has forced Shaw away from that safer form of expression and into potent criticism of the state. All Iraq War art is much the same: it can portray only victims and criminals. When the time comes to build our own Iraq War memorials, the commissioned sculptors, if they are any sort of artists at all, will have no choice but to follow suit. There will be no dignity to our remembrance. That was the first cusp of my anger.

The second was when I realised, very quickly, that art is not enough. There is even a sentimental decadence to such art, a woe-is-us inadequacy. Because the hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib is not the Unknown Soldier. He is a real man, and his name may be Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, but nobody knows where he is now, or what happened to him afterwards. There is a real person behind this icon, whose suffering and restitution, if any, is unknown. If we can make a sculpture, if we can profit from his image, perhaps the least we could do is try to find out. We live in an age of images, and we forget too often the chasm between image and subject.

Also exhibited was Katie Davies’ excellent video art The Separation Line, which was the best work of the whole show. In the adjoining gallery was a collection of paintings by the Nash brothers, and oddly enough, only a few doors down at the Bristol Museum, was Jeremy Deller’s wonderful English Magic, fresh from the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, at which David Kelly and Iraq constituted an important element. I hope to write at greater length about these things in the near future; either here or elsewhere.

Yes we have no WMD: Iraq in 2014

Ah, the undying spectre of Iraqi WMD. It cannot be found. It cannot be killed. It cannot be destroyed. It cannot be stopped. It will sail forever, like the Marie Celeste, a phantom ship that docks at no port, a tale that is told whenever there is something to be gained by the telling. It was a legend, a myth, a neocon narrative that was years in the making: for thirteen years, from 1990 to 2003, hawks, hacks and liberals alike spent money and lives building it into something that would shape the destiny of nations. Lies like that do not disappear overnight, even with deserts scoured and palaces in ruins, even with a million dead. They drift like ghosts, cropping up here and there, revenants of what may be the biggest disinformation effort in human history. So guess who’s telling the Iraqi WMD story now? Iraq.

With ISIS in the ascendancy, Nouri al-Maliki’s government is now telling the world that these encroaching Islamist rebels have seized WMD sites in Muthanna and Mosul, and so they are now in possession of deadly WMD-related materials. Except, of course, they aren’t.

The Al Muthanna State Establishment (MSE) is 45 miles north west of Baghdad. It developed binary CW burster charges for R-400 “dumb” bombs in the eighties. Production was cancelled in 1988, after which it concentrated on research, although apparently there was still enough material around in the summer of 1990 to refill a stock of R-400s. But that was the last time there was ever any WMD at Al Muthanna. Still, the BBC have dutifully reported Baghdad’s claim that ISIS are now in control of facility where some 2,500 “degraded” rockets filled with nerve agent payloads.

It’s the usual nonsense. UNSCOM went there, UNMOVIC went there, the ISG went there, several times each, and god knows who else. UNSCOM spent about two years there in the early nineties, demolishing buildings and destroying material. According to the CIA:

“Between 1992 and 1994 and again in 1996, the Chemical Destruction Group oversaw destruction of 30,000 pieces of ordnance, 480,000 litres of chemical agents, and more than 2 million litres of chemical precursors. Eventually, most of the facilities at the complex the Iraqi’s destroyed and sold for scrap.”

Want to know what these “degraded rockets” look like? Here’s what they looked like in 2004:

Al Muthanna 1Al Muthanna 2That place is like the armoury of Ozymandias. Charles Duelfer described it a year later as “a wasteland full of destroyed chemical munitions, razed structures, and unusable war-ravaged facilities.” And sampling performed during the ISG revealed no traces of CW agents – unsurprisingly. Perhaps, in the areas that UNSCOM deemed unsafe to exploit, there may have been some spare explosive or usable munition left in some forgotten corner, which were lifted by looters and used as IEDS in the post-invasion insurgency, and indeed one or two seem to have cropped up, but nothing CW-related. Iraq had declared or destroyed its WMD arsenal, in its totality, by the summer of 1991.

So what does Maliki want? The same thing politicians have always wanted when they complain of WMDs in the Middle East: American airstrikes. There is no such thing as irony when it comes to issues of survival. But considering Obama wants to plough $500m into funding “moderate” Syrian rebels, who are at the very least ISIS-affiliated, I doubt he will be in a big hurry to offer the Iraqis any truly decisive help. I am reminded of US foreign policy during the Iran-Iraq war, when it armed both sides. Or when Washington first funded the Kurdish Peshmerga of Mustafa Barzani to rise up against Saddam in 1972, even though it knew they would fail and die in their tens of thousands.

“Covert action should not be confused with missionary work,” was how Kissinger put it, when later hauled up before the 40 Committee.

Indeed. It is only through the assumption that some sort of self-interested covert agenda is in place that US foreign policy in the Middle East begins to make any sense at all. No wonder that Arabs are such vociferous conspiracy theorists (or so we are told). In the absence of any genuine national sovereignty, vortexes of conspiracy prevail.

I wonder how long it will be before the next Middle East WMD story. Days, hours?

Impeaching Blair

The fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIS) has prompted further reflection on our decision to invade and occupy Iraq. Tony Blair has written a 3,000 word essay calling for military intervention, while at the same time blaming the Iraq’s violent fragmentation not on his invasion, but our “failure” to militarily intervene in Syria.

I find it tiresome in the extreme to unpick the arguments and pseudo-arguments of Iraq War enthusiasts, although it is necessary work and somebody has to do it. The volume of these hawkish voices, their hollow self-righteousness, their cavalier attitudes towards reason and objectivity, their scandalous calls to action: that even today these people can be so widely heard and read is deeply disappointing. I am too tired for a close analysis today, but there are some broad points I would like to make in summarizing the tone of the post-Mosul hand-wringing.

The lion’s share of the recent Iraq War articles have been written by those who supported it, and who now seek to distance themselves from an obvious failure of foreign policy, if not a subversion of democracy and outright illegality. Although they now concede their earlier positions were wrong, many such people retain their original trait of denigrating the “anti-war movement”. But there never was any such “movement” in any meaningful political sense. There was simply opposition to the proposed invasion and occupation. Their own endorsement of the invasion cannot be exculpated because amongst the tens of millions who opposed it, which very possibly represented a British majority, was included the Socialist Workers Party, or the Green Party, or Respect, or pro-Palestinians, or vegetarians, or any number of other groupings that the bomb Baghdad crowd found objectionable. This is egotistical and incredible nonsense.

Sadly, egotism has never been in short supply as regards the cheerleaders of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Frankly I find them all utterly ghastly people. I can’t bring myself to mention their names, quote them, or link to their articles. We have all had more than enough of them by now. Politicians, however, present a different prospect. We have duty to parse their pronunciations. Most disingenuous of them all has been Blair’s insistence that the rise of ISIS inside is Iraq is not a consequence of his invasion, but of “our” failing to bomb Syria.

Whatever Blair or anyone else says, the eventual fragmentation of Iraq was predicted by every credible observer during the run-up to war, and those predictions were widely reported. In November 2002 Blair himself had a meeting in Downing Street with three academics who told him precisely this (these three being Professor George Joffe of Cambridge, Professor Toby Dodge of SOAS, and Professor Charles Tripp, also of SOAS, and whose superb History of Iraq has never been far from my desk for years).

Joffe has told the Huffington Post that Blair sat silently while they expounded on the aftermath of the coming invasion, only to finally reply with the comment “but the man’s evil, isn’t he?”

I don’t know how Tony Blair defines evil, but British policy towards Iraq has been scandalous in its disregard for civilian life since at least 1991, when we commenced destroying the country from the air, whilst enforcing the most stringent sanctions regime in human history. Our failure to respect Iraqi sovereignty, on the other hand, is as old as Iraq itself, given the Britain only created the state so as to further its own imperial interests. If you want to examine Iraq through Tony’s Manichean prism of good and evil, one has to concede that the lion’s share of the evil can be attributed to the actions of the British, and more recently American, politicians, and not least amongst these is one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

It is in this light we must consider the appeals of contemporary politicians such as Boris Johnson, that Blair “should put a sock in it.” Our greatest problem with our policy towards Iraq is one of collective cognition: as a country we have always been unable to accept the murderous destruction we have wrought upon the country. It as if the very fabric of the British state, our representatives and civil servants and media interlocutors, even our own electorate, may understand it individually but fear tremendously the possibility of expressing it as a whole. Thus it has become something we don’t talk about. Problematically, Blair can’t stop talking about it, and as time goes on his endless self-justification grows ever more appalling, as it flies further and further from palpable, ongoing reality.

I understand the perceived need not to make a fuss. I sympathise with those who feel the reputation of the government, the country, the civil service, the office of Prime Minister itself, the armed forces, our political parties and the intelligence services all stand to suffer terribly if we can officially admit the Iraq War to be a murderous, criminal, negligent, and pointless failure which was facilitated by gross deception. Yet we each of us know the truth, and so does the rest of the world. And the truth is that ultimately our institutions would be saved, not harmed, by delivering Tony Blair unto the judgement of an appropriate court, whether that be in Westminster or elsewhere.

It is not that we need closure, or vindication. We need justice. Blair knows he has a case to answer, hence his interminable excuses. In principle, if not in practice, there is no good reason on earth why even his supporters should object to him being tried. One need not presume guilt to concede the necessity of a trial. The time has come for Blair to account for himself under oath, not in the broadsheets, or on daytime television, or on his own website. As things stand now, it would appear that a Prime Minister can brazenly lie to the house in order to start an illegal war of aggression, and need fear nothing but the cynicism of the British public.

The Daily Mail observes that having Tony Blair as a Middle East peace envoy is an obscenity. Indeed it is, but it has been an obscenity for seven years now, and his posturing will continue indefinitely until someone picks him up on it.

Blair is certainly not the only person who can be blamed for the Iraq War, but in Britain, at least, he is the most culpable. Others on this isle may have been equally criminal, or perhaps more so, given the detailed deceptions they enacted on the British public (I am thinking of a few acquaintances of Malcolm Rifkind here). Yet the buck stops with Blair, and ironically, I don’t think the idea of life in a monastic-type cell would sit too badly with him. His fantasy life could have free reign there, without harming anyone. The messiah in him would relish the persecution. I can already hear his inner voice pontificating about how his incarceration would allow us to move on; how he was suffering so that we may heal. And at long last, he would finally be right.

In the Daily Mail Simon Heffer has called for a Select Committee to enable a Commons vote on trying Blair in the House of Lords, using an impeachment precedent not followed since 1806. The following day Sir Peter Tapsell, the Father of the House, raised the matter in PMQs (Cameron replied only that Labour had voted against the Iraq Inquiry on four separate occasions). Meanwhile the Arrest Blair campaign continues, but any talk of Blair appearing before the International Criminal Court is 99% fantasy as no one has formally agreed exactly what a crime of aggression is, and any such agreement is almost certainly not going to be retrospective. It’s Westminster or bust. What a shame our MPs are so terrible and irrelevant.