The Carp of Truth: Jack Straw, Colin Powell and the Smoking Guns of War Crime
Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth:
And thus do we of wisdom and of reach,
With windlasses and with assays of bias,
By indirections find directions out.
-- Shakespeare, Hamlet
Britain's "Chilcot Inquiry" into the origins of the invasion of Iraq has largely faded from the headlines, following Tony Blair's bravura display of pious bluster before the panel of Establishment worthies last month. And in truth, it has been a rather toothless affair, with the already deferential worthies further constrained by the narrow confines placed upon their investigation by the government: chiefly, the cloak of secrecy wrapped around the many documents that detail the deceptions and manipulations of the Bush and Blair regimes as they schemed their way to war.
But as Chris Ames points out in the Guardian, in the wind-up of its first phase, the Chilcot panel seem to be trying to tell the public, obliquely, about some of the smoking guns in these buried documents: an official record of knowing deceit that confirms, yet again, the damning fact that the US and UK were determined to invade Iraq no matter what: with or without UN backing, whether or not Iraq had WMD -- and as we have pointed out here for many years, even if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power. The documentary evidence shows that every single purported reason or justification for the war -- the WMD, connections to 9/11, the repressive nature of Saddam's regime -- was false to the core, and known to be false by the leaders who put these explanations forward.
The Chilcot panelists were terribly craven when it came to confronting Tony Blair -- and they are likely to be equally circumspect when they politely pose a few inquiries to Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, sometime in the next few weeks. But they seem to have chosen the odious figure of Jack Straw -- foreign secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion, now serving, laughably, as justice secretary -- as the outlet for their frustrations at the strictures of the inquiry and the soft-shoe shuffling they've encountered from witness after witness.
And while their kid-glove massage of Blair was inexcusable, the Chilcoteers are quite right to focus on Straw. Like so many of his "New Labour" colleagues, this pathetic figure began his career as a radical leftist, honed his political teeth fighting for the poor and disadvantaged during the ravaging Thatcher years -- then transformed himself into a scurrying toady for the powerful and the privileged, championing war, Big Money and neo-Thatcherism, launching stern crackdowns on the "anti-social" lower classes, and imposing draconian "security" measures that have far outstripped even the liberty-gutting policies adopted by the U.S. government.
What's more, aside from Blair, Straw was the only top UK figure completely "in the loop" throughout the long, complex manipulations toward war. Along with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Straw played a key role both in the transatlantic talks that engineered the act of aggression and the hugger-mugger manipulations at the UN.
And so, to close out its first phase, the Chilcot Inquiry recalled Straw -- who had already given one sweaty, white-knuckle performance on the witness stand a few weeks ago. With the implacable politesse of the true British mandarin, panelist Sir Lawrence Freedman seized the opportunity to suggest to the right honorable minister that the right honorable minister might, perhaps, be lying through his right honorable teeth in denying that Colin Powell had informed him quite clearly that the Americans were going to war, come hell or high water, in March 2003. As the Guardian notes, Freedman's questions "make it clear that [he] has obviously seen some very interesting paperwork. Here is the exchange, from the Guardian:
Freedman asked: Can you start by confirming that you knew that military action was planned by the US for the middle of March come what may? You were copied in, presumably, to reports of conversations between the prime minister and the president?
Straw replied: Yes, I don't think there was any key document that I should have seen that I didn't.
Freedman: Was there any point where [Colin] Powell said to you that even if Iraq complied, president Bush had already made a decision that he intended to go to war?
Straw replied: Certainly not to the best of my recollection.
Freedman went on: I was going to suggest you might want to look through your conversations and check.
Mr Straw at last got the hint: I will go through the records because I think you are trying to tell me something.
Yes, Mr Straw. He is trying to tell you, and the world, that he has the paper in his hand documenting your conversation with Colin Powell: a clear admission of the war crime of military aggression, as it reveals that there was not even a pretense of a legally justifiable casus belli among the American and British leaders -- just the cold, pre-determined intention to attack.
(And Powell, as we all remember, was the "good American," the "honorable American" in the run-up to war, a "decent man" who somehow got "railroaded" into making a false case for war before the entire world at the UN. A man so honorable and decent that the progressive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama proudly claimed him as one of his advisers, even as the million corpses from the war that Powell and Straw knowingly and willingly helped launch were rotting in the ground.)
But, as Ames notes, these kinds of oblique references are "the best we will get for now" from the panel: "At the end, Sir John Chilcot said that, however revealing the sessions have been, the great bulk of the evidence, telling us 'what really went on behind the scenes,' is in the documents." And the documents have not been and probably will not be released -- at least not for many decades, by which time Blair and Straw and Powell and Bush will have all lived out their days in wealth and comfort.
But although documents can be kept under wraps, and testimony can be falsified or prettified, the monstrous moral rot that has infected the warmongers can never be fully hidden. "For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak/With most miraculous organ." And Straw revealed his own moral depravity, his own arrogant and unfeeling blindness, in his remarks at the end of his testimony.
In his final statement, hoping to paint himself has a decent and honorable man (like Powell!), Straw spoke of how he "grieves" for the "huge heartache" suffered by "those who lost loved ones out there." But he could not resist offering up one more transparent lie -- a lie, furthermore, contradicted by his own testimony earlier in the session. Here is the lie:
The last thing I would say is this: the purpose of the action was not regime change.
Here is his testimony about an hour earlier, taken directly from the Inquiry transcripts:
SIR RODERIC LYNE: ... The American administration's stated objective was to change the regime in Iraq, and they didn't feel that further UN authorisation for that was required. At this point, these two objectives came to a crunch and time ran out for your diplomacy.
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: In terms of the American objective for regime change had gone back to President Clinton.
SIR RODERIC LYNE: Yes, we have been through all of that.
RT HON JACK STRAW MP: We have been through all of that.
Here the right honorable Mr Straw says clearly that the American aim was regime change, and that he knew it was regime change all along. Therefore, when "time for diplomacy ran out," he willingly and deliberately helped facilitate a war for regime change -- which in the circumstances obtaining in Iraq in 2003 was, by any possible construal, a blatant war crime under international law. It was, in terms of its illegality, the precise equivalent to the crime of aggression for which the Nazi leaders were prosecuted at Nuremberg.
Note too Straw's reference to "President Clinton." He apparently thinks this nod to a good "liberal" Democratic president somehow makes his kowtowing to the barbaric rightwingers of the Bush regime less humiliating. [A good deal of his testimony is taken up with whining about the "neocons" like Don Rumsfeld who put so much pressure on everybody to go to war.] But of course this reference makes his lie about the war's aims even more egregious, for it confirms the fact that America's intention to overthrow the Iraq regime -- officially enshrined by Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton -- was known for years and years.
But Straw is not done yet. After assuring the grieving families of Britain that he himself -- yes, he, the great right honorable high minister of state -- feels their pain and shares their heartache, and after acknowledging that yes, it seems that perhaps a few mistakes were made (albeit only with the best intentions), he goes on to justify the whole mass-murdering enterprise:
But that having happened, I think there are few in Iraq, despite the bloodshed, would now say that they want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003.
Putting aside Straw's unconscious but most apt echo of the poet Paul Celan's phrase for the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust -- "that which happened" -- the moral depravity on display here is astonishing, breathtaking, obscene. The right honorable minister might consider asking the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by the invasion and by the virulent extremists it loosened and empowered: would you want to go back to what existed -- i.e., you -- before 20 March 2003? The right honorable minister might want to ask the more than four million people driven from their homes by the war and the savage sectarian conflicts and "ethnic cleansing" it unleashed and abetted: would you want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003? The right honorable minister might want to ask the tens of millions of Iraqis who have lost their loved ones: would you want to go back to what existed before 20 March 2003 -- and see if there were any alternatives for a better life other than a massive, unprovoked military invasion, mass death, mass destruction, chaos, collapse, civil war and violent terror from occupiers, mercenaries, sectarians and criminals?
O that the universe was not cold and indifferent, with no avenging furies to drive these bloodstained, sanctimonious wretches into soul-rending storms of madness and remorse. But there is not even an earthly venue where the scurrying servitors of power can receive even a modicum of justice. All we have are a few locked-down, buttoned-up, quasi-secret panels of worthies here and there now and then, to cause, at most, a moment or two of embarrassment before the servitors walk free to line their pockets and heap themselves with honors. Their only punishment, I suppose, must be to be what they are: the stunted, deadened husks of a full humanity that they have lost and will never recover.