What a month! So much has changed in this country since our last newsletter went to press.
We’ve voted to leave the European Union, even though no one on the Brexit side seems to have had any plan for what to do next.
Following various resignations and back-stabbings we have a new Prime Minister and a complete change of ministerial positions. What ‘Brexit deal’ this government manages to negotiate remains to be seen. After an attempted coup the Labour party is in complete disarray.
The long-awaited Chilcot Report was finally published, acquitting Blair of “sexing up” the infamous “dodgy dossier”, while blaming him for not sufficiently challenging the so-called intelligence which was used to justify the invasion.
CND held its planned Parliamentary lobby on 13th July, but Theresa May took advantage of the general disarray to rush through the vote on Trident replacement on the following Monday. The Labour Party took three distinct positions in the debate – for, against and abstention from the group fronted by Clive Lewis and Emily Thornberry who argued that the schedule of this vote played into the Tories’ hands. The House voted to renew Trident.
Read more about these stories below….
Many of us were upset and shocked by the referendum result - a feeling echoed in the following excerpt from an article by Laurie Penny in the New Statesman on 24th June.
Full article at: www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/06/i-want-my-country-back.
Anyone feel like they’ve got their country back yet? No? That, after all, was the rallying cry of the Leave campaign – the transatlantic echo of "Make America Great Again".
I want to wake up tomorrow in a country where people are kind, and tolerant, and decent to one another. A country where people – all people – can feel at least a little bit safe. I want to rub the sleep of neofascist nightmares from my eyes and find myself in a country where we do not respond to the killing of a politician by voting against everything she stood for. A country where we are polite to our neighbours. A country where we have dealt like adults with the embarrassing fact that we once conquered half the world, instead of yearning for a time when our glory was stolen from enslaved people a convenient ocean away and large parts of the map were the gentle pink of blood in the water. I want to go back to a Britain where hope conquers hate; where crabbed, cowed racism and xenophobia don’t win the day; where people feel they have options and choices in life and are less likely to press the big red button to bring the house down on top of us. I want my country back.
That country, of course, is fictional. But it’s no less so than the fantasy Britain the other side have been plugging for years, editing out all the ugly parts of the past and photoshopping it into the backdrop for an image smeared indelibly across the back of all our sickened eyeballs this morning. If they’re allowed their fantasy, can I have mine, too?
There are huge areas of post-industrial decline and neglect where people are more furious than Cameron and his ilk could possibly understand, areas where any kind of anti-establishment rabble-rousing sounds like a clarion call. In depressed mountain villages and knackered seaside towns and burned-out former factory heartlands across the country, ordinary people were promised that for once, their vote would matter, that they could give the powers that be a poke in the eye. Westminster may have underestimated how very much it is hated by those to whom mainstream politics have not spoken in generations.
I wish I could tell you that we’re about to turn this around, that we’re about to collectively realise, even at this late hour, the magnitude of our mistake – that we will discover a new capacity for tolerance, a new resilience, a way to recover ourselves and remember our common humanity. I wish I could tell you that the cannibalistic, scattered Left will rally. Today, I don’t want to make any promises. All I see is a lot of racist crowing on the internet telling me people like me had better go back – where? I was born in London.
I believe we can still be better than this. I want my country back, and it’s a country I’ve never known, and getting there will take more strength, more kindness, more resilience than this divided nation has mustered in living memory. Meanwhile, I’m putting the kettle on again. Today is a day for mourning, for re-tweeting sick memes and holding our loved ones close. Tomorrow – well. Tomorrow, we get to work.
Chilcot’s 2.6 million word report, which took seven years to produce, was finally unveiled on 6th July. It was not the whitewash many of us had feared, but fell short of putting all the blame on Blair. Instead it blamed MI6, who over-promised about their ability to gather reliable intelligence from within Saddam’s regime. The agency realised that one of its key sources was a fabricator even before the invasion, but Chilcot says MI6 kept this concealed not just from the public, but also from Blair. He concludes that the legal basis for the invasion was ‘far from satisfactory’ and confirms that the cabinet never tested the advice from the attorney-general after he had an eleventh-hour change of mind. The report fails to offer a verdict on whether the war was unlawful on the grounds that the committee was not qualified to judge.
One surprising revelation was the note written by Blair in late July 2002 which he begins by promising Bush ‘I will be with you, whatever’. From this moment on he was committed to war, whatever the arguments against it. But his senior colleagues had it in their power to halt the march to war and didn’t. The late Robin Cook was the only member of the cabinet to quit and his resignation speech has been vindicated by subsequent revelations and events. The rest of the cabinet went along with it, including Clare Short.
It was after the invasion that things went catastrophically wrong. The danger that the fall of Saddam would unleash sectarian conflict in Iraq was both predictable and predicted. Bush simply didn’t want to know about it. Tony Blair didn’t want to think about it until it was too late. The post-invasion failures to establish order and maintain essential services destroyed the myth of allied military invincibility and betrayed the promise to Iraqis that they would have a better life. Chilcot is withering about the performance of the British military. The report has also amplified claims that the war fuelled the rise of Isis and detonated the conflict in Syria.
At a press conference after the publication of the report, in an apparent state of denial and with a sickening display of self-justification, Blair continued to maintain that he was right to go to war and that the outcomes could not have been foreseen. He did not say ‘sorry’.
Jeremy Corbyn apologised on behalf of the Labour Party to the country and especially to the families of the 179 British personnel killed in the war and its aftermath.
The following piece was posted by Phillip Clarke, a former military intelligence analyst, on the Veterans for Peace UK website, 08/07/16
When John Chilcot said ‘…flawed intelligence and assessment…’ at the unveiling of the long overdue Iraq Inquiry report I was immediately reminded about a discussion I had with a senior military officer in 2000. Working in an intelligence team as a desk head, a senior officer said to me ‘I have a theory – find intelligence to prove it’. So I went away, did much analysis and reported back that the officer’s theory was incorrect and that in fact my assessment based on intelligence was the opposite of the theory. I did try to explain that one makes assessments based on all the intelligence collected, not select intelligence to back up a theory and completely ignore intelligence that did not support one’s theory. My report was dismissed and the senior officer found a pliable intelligence analyst to write a report using incorrect intelligence to support his theory.
Unfortunately, during my time working in intelligence this theorising and presenting reports that senior leaders thought officers and ministers wanted to hear became the normal way of working and reporting. The ‘dodgy dossier’ Blair and Campbell presented to Parliament to justify the war in Iraq was an example of this.
The background to this was in 2001 the Cold War was over, Northern Ireland was over and intelligence services were desperately trying to justify their existence and protect budgets. So leaders of the various UK intelligence services pandered to political leaders, civil servants and senior military officers in an attempt to keep their budget lines and status. They ‘encouraged’ intelligence analysts to over emphasise threats; they could not believe their luck when 9/11 occurred. The 9/11 attacks should have prompted political leaders to thoroughly review how the intelligence services managed to completely fail to predict this attack. Instead the intelligence services used this as an opportunity to increase budgets – yet they still do not manage to do their job properly, as we have seen with the failure to predict 7/7, the Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria and the rise of Daesh.
Until the intelligence services and their leaders are held to account and they learn to stand up to ministers rather than pandering to political whims, the constant failures and production of flawed intelligence and assessment will continue.
This is an extract from an article by Katharine Gun, published in the Guardian, 08/07/16
Original article at www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/08/chilcot-iraq-war-gchq-inquiry.
Following the damning Chilcot report, much will be said about the decision to go to war in Iraq. But one thing will be missing: the information I leaked in the run-up to the war. It won’t get an airing because I was never questioned or asked to participate in the Chilcot inquiry.
Back in early 2003, Tony Blair was keen to secure UN backing for a resolution that would authorise the use of force against Iraq. I was a linguist and analyst at GCHQ when, on 31 Jan 2003, I and dozens of others in GCHQ, received an email from a senior official at the National Security Agency. It said the agency was “mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN security council (UNSC) members”, and that it wanted “the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises”.
In other words, the US planned to use intercepted communications of the security council delegates. The focus of the “surge” was principally directed at the six swing nations then on the UNSC: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan. I was furious when I read that email and leaked it. Soon afterwards, when the Observer ran a front-page story: “US dirty tricks to win vote on Iraq war”, I confessed to the leak and was arrested on suspicion of the breach of section 1 of the Official Secrets Act. I pleaded not guilty and offered a defence of necessity – in other words, a breach of the law in order to prevent imminent loss of human life. This defence had not and, to my knowledge, has still not, been tested in a court of law.
I believed that on receiving the email, UK parliamentary members might question the urgency and motives of the war hawks, and demand further deliberations and scrutiny. Unfortunately, that did not happen. It couldn’t, for now we know via Chilcot that Blair promised George W Bush he would be “with him, whatever”.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced I would be charged, but had a change of heart after my legal team demanded to see all the legal advice to Blair in the run-up to the war.
Chilcot’s report does not apportion blame. But it does provide ample evidence of what many of us knew all along: that this was an illegal war, that military intervention was by no means a last resort, that all avenues were not exhausted and that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the UK. Furthermore, the post-invasion plan for Iraq looked like it had been scribbled on the back of a beer mat. Blair was warned by the intelligence services that the threat levels to the UK would increase and that Iraqi weapons would fall into the hands of al-Qaida. The consequences of his lack of concern can be felt to this day.
We know a lot more now than we knew before, but what about the email I leaked? Who did the NSA talk to in the UK to OK it? Did it talk to anyone? How did an NSA official feel bold enough to write to UK civil servants anticipating their cooperation in an attempt to undermine the UN’s diplomatic processes, in a secret effort to garner information to secure “results favourable to US goals”? How far did the surveillance operation proceed? Whose communications did they intercept and record? What, if anything did they discover and did they use any information they may have gathered? Was this email sent to other organisation or agencies besides GCHQ? It seems reasonable to ask why this crucial information was not included in the Chilcot inquiry?
It was a huge relief when the CPS dropped its charges. But I had admitted the leak. Why did it decline to offer evidence?
Chilcot has shone a light on what happened, but it is clear there are still bits of the puzzle that are missing. Now that we know better, will we do better?
The Iraq War Families Campaign Group (IFCG), which represents the families of the 179 servicemen and women killed in the conflict, is seeking to hold to account those responsible for the war and the deaths of their family members. They have set up a crowdfunding link to raise £150,000 to commence legal action against Tony Blair:
Roger Bacon (from Walton on Thames) and Reg Keys, whose sons Matthew Bacon and Tom Keys were killed in the War, say “Before Matthew, Tom, and so many of their fellow servicemen and women died, we knew the risks all British military personnel assume when serving Queen and country. However, the long-awaited Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot) Report has confirmed that there were serious failings in the lead-up to, planning and conduct of the War, which led to so many unnecessary deaths. Our armed forces must never again be so callously sacrificed by political ambition and the irresponsibility and failings of Government and Whitehall. Now it is down to us, the Families, to ensure that justice is done. Not only for the sake of our children, siblings, parents and spouses, whose lives we can never get back, but to deter our state officials from ever again abusing their positions with such tragic and far-reaching consequences.”
A petition has been launched to bolster the campaign to hold Tony Blair to account by obtaining a House of Commons' vote holding him in contempt of Parliament.
CND called on members to come to London to lobby their MPs on Trident. Some Kingston Peace Council/CND members made appoint-ments with their MPs, while others wrote to theirs.
Hilary Evans and six other constituents (not all KPC) met Twickenham MP Tania Mathias. They concentrated on national security aspects, as they have found from past experience that that seems to be the sticking point with her, but didn’t make any inroads.
Rosemary Addington was the only Kingston & Surbiton constituent to see James Berry MP. She put forward a wide range of arguments and gave him some literature, including the CND booklet ‘Trident and jobs’.
Michael Southgate had the following reply from Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park: The existence of nuclear weapons is a permanent threat, and I cannot imagine any scenario where they could or should be used. But for Britain to disarm unilaterally would in my view be a mistake. I am not an expert in this field and do not pretend to be, but I do not believe a single aspiring nuclear state would be deterred from pursuing their aspirations as a result of UK disarmament. Nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented; they will remain part of the international security picture at least for some time. I believe therefore that we should renew Trident, and at the same time take a far more active role in pressing for progress on multilateral disarmament.
Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton, wrote that “….. it is vital that we maintain a continuous independent nuclear deterrent as the ultimate guarantee of our national security….. we cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge …… or a major shift in the international security situation which would put us under grave threat. …… The government's policy is to…… build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines, thereby securing thousands of highly-skilled engineering jobs in the UK. ….. It is the only sensible policy for ensuring our country has a future of security.”
Prior to the parliamentary vote, an open letter was published in the Telegraph by world-renowned scientist Prof Stephen Hawking and other leading UK scientists and engineers calling on MPs to vote against the renewal of Trident. The letter highlighted the continued global threat posed by nuclear weapons – including the UK’s. It argued that the risk from these weapons of mass destruction is increasing due to modernisation programmes by nuclear-armed nations and greater cyber-security threats. But it also pointed to recent progress in new UN-mandated multilateral nuclear disarmament talks. The UK government’s position, the letter said, “is to modernise Trident but not to take part in these multilateral negotiations.” The signatories called on MPs to press the government to change its position to help reduce nuclear risks.
Also ahead of the vote Molly Scott Cato, MEP for the South West, released key findings of a report she commissioned into the many benefits of a ploughshares process at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.
While the House of Commons was debating Trident renewal, campaigners attended a vigil and rally in Parliament Square. There were many speakers, highlighting the moral, humanitarian and economic arguments against Trident and nuclear so-called deterrence.
Inside the House there were notable speeches by Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas and Mhairi Black, the youngest MP (SNP) in the Commons.
But it was no surprise that MPs voted for Trident renewal by 472 votes to 117.
Tania Mathias, James Berry and Zac Goldsmith voted ‘For’; Dominic Raab did not vote.
The organisation Trident Ploughshares asked groups and individuals to spend at least one day in the month of June at AWE Burghfield in Berkshire, where much of the work on the new Trident system will be carried out. This military base is responsible for the final assembly and maintenance of nuclear warheads.
The month had been envisaged as consisting just of daily actions, but on the first day, the police took no action to stop protestors blockading one of the two gates to the factory - the “construction gate”, so protestors decided to continue the blockade overnight. This continuous blockade was kept up for 11 days and nights and even after the night-time blockade stopped, the gate remained closed till the end of the month. It was reported construction workers had been given the whole month off. The day of the Scottish action saw activists in kilts to the music of bagpipes with a massive Loch Ness Monster passing itself off as the good monster in the loch as opposed to Trident, the evil monster in the loch. The Welsh day of action saw activists cycle-locking themselves to a 1/16th scale model of Trident. On the final day, 30th June, people wearing red paper suits put up big red Xs in many places round the perimeter fence to signify a “NO” to Trident renewal. At the end of the day these suits were hung up on the fence.
KPC joined the London Region action at the Mearings entrance on 20th July. This took the form of a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, with banners such as “We’re Mad Hatters, They’re Mad Bombers”, “Mad to spend £205 billion on Trident,” and “Mutually Assured Destruction”, emphasising the madness of nuclear weapons.
A ceremony of remembrance was held in Tavistock Square, to mark International Conscientious Objectors’ Day. Among the speakers were Jill Gibbon, speaking about her grandfather, Bert Brocklesby, who was one of those sent to France in May 1916 and given the (commuted) death penalty; Siw Wood, speaking about her uncle, Walter Roberts, who was the first man to die as a consequence of his treatment in the terrible conditions at Dyce camp; and Alexia Tsouni from the Association of Greek Conscientious Objectors.
Also taking part in the event were members of the European Bureau of Conscientious Objectors who held their annual meeting in London on the previous day.
Conscription still exists in many parts of Europe, including Greece, Finland, Turkey and Norway, and in many countries, conscientious objectors are imprisoned.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND