Blair and Iraq
Somehow I failed to catch the short article A Very British Deceit in the September issue of the New York Review of Books, written by the superlative QC, Philippe Sands. I have now caught up.
Here is one man who has incisively dissected every aspect of the legal and moral shambles that was, and is, post 9/11 Western military intervention in foreign lands – in particular the road to war in Iraq and the US official sanction of, nay insistence on torture.
This latest article exposes the machinations surrounding the Goldsmith memo to the Prime Minister dated 30 January 2003 and its revealing marginalia: David Manning’s shortest of pencilled précis which unnecessarily, but unequivocally and rightly, reinforces the need for a further UN resolution pre invasion; the snappy and somewhat bumptious notation (“Specifically said we did not need further advice this week”) by the talented and intellectual youngster, Ryecroft, so reminding his boss that any repetition of Goldsmith’s reservations concerning legality would not be welcome on the eve of a tricky meeting with Bush (and certainly not in writing), and probably ducking out of the line of fire by making the point that he had indeed passed on Blair’s instructions to Goldsmith. And, finally, Blair’s jotting that he does not understand. His keen lawyer’s mind understood the advice, what he didn’t understand was why he was having to cope with an Attorney General who wasn’t towing the party line.
How power corrupts. But then the lies and duplicity have been smelt by all and still nothing happens. All Blair and Bush need to do is brazen it out – oh and not travel abroad to, or through, the wrong country. I hear that the admirable Spaniard, Senor Baltazar Garzon – who managed to keep Pinochet banged up in the UK for a year or so – has swivelled his telescope towards Texas. Unfortunately someone has probably told Bush he needn’t worry about renewing his passport.
And why does this issue exercise me so much? Because I was involved. As a soldier you place the first level of your moral probity in the hands of your government – not all of it, just the first general level. You trust your government to send you to war for what is legal and right. It is not because you are worried about being put in harm’s way for bad reasons (that comes with the territory for a soldier) but because you are being asked to make life and death decisions over your enemy whether that be at the point of your bayonet or the point of your pencil at the planning table. Whatever he thought were the wrongs of the Saddam regime, Blair sent us to war on the back of a lie - to kill on the back of a lie - and that is perhaps the most egregious moral betrayal a soldier can suffer at the hands of his leader.
Hypothetically imagine yourself to be Lord Goldsmith’s son and a soldier. Imagine that on the eve of deployment to Kuwait 24 hours before the invasion begins, you find your father sobbing over a glass of whisky late at night in a darkened study. He confesses to you his weakness in abrogating his legal and moral responsibility and tells you what his genuine view of the war is. What to do? In such a hypothetical situation (reality rarely provides situations which are so manifestly clear) you would have no moral alternative but to refuse to soldier and take the consequences, which would not be pleasant.
One addendum to all this and it’s about torture: The defence of torture you hear constantly in the US is that of the ticking bomb scenario. It is true that if I lived in Manhattan and I knew that there was a terrorist nuclear device about to annihilate NYC, yes, I would want Jack Bauer somewhere to be holding the terrorist responsible and pulling out his nails or carving off his genitalia. But I want him to be working for a moral and responsible government, not for a government that is telling him it’s OK to torture and commit criminal acts in its name. So, Jack is between a rock and a hard place. Hypocrisy – probably. Welcome to this wonderful world in which we face paradox every day of our lives. Claudia Card’s Confronting Evils does address this very specific argument and even using the real example of an Australian policeman who beat a suspect, and in so doing found and saved an abducted child, she still argues it is wrong to use force. I won’t go into her arguments here but she sets out her position with the sense of someone who can give no ground and finds paradox difficult to accept within rigorous academic debate. Unlike most of the rest of her book, here she is unconvincing and her reasoning is suspiciously specious.
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