Magazine article The Spectator

High Crimes and Misdemeanours

Magazine article The Spectator

High Crimes and Misdemeanours

Article excerpt

Next month a group of British MPs will launch impeachment proceedings against Tony Blair. This is a very dramatic and powerful act, rooted deep in British history. Though once a commonplace sanction against abuse of power by the executive, the instrument of impeachment has not been used since 1848, when it was alleged that Lord Palmerston, while foreign minister, had entered into a secret treaty with Russia.

Nevertheless, impeachment remains part of parliamentary law, a recourse for desperate times. Many MPs feel certain that the moment critique has now arrived. They remain in a state of despair at the way the Prime Minister systematically misled the House of Commons and the British people over the Iraq war. For several weeks a powerful draft document - provisionally entitled 'A Case to Answer: A Report on the Possibility of the Impeachment of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the Invasion of Iraq' - setting out the charges, has been in private circulation. It is powerful and compelling, and will soon be published. It sets out with great clarity the numerous falsehoods and misrepresentations made by Tony Blair, both to the British people and within the House of Commons.

It has only been possible to write this document since the publication of the Butler report in July. Though Butler's conclusions were insipid and in one or two cases contradicted the evidence he himself presented, his report has nevertheless brought a great many fresh intelligence documents into the public arena. When these documents are compared with contemporaneous statements made by the Prime Minister, the audacious scale of the deception perpetrated against Parliament and the British people becomes very clear.

Tony Blair was not merely wrong about Iraqi WMD in retrospect. Thanks to Butler, it is now possible to show that his statements clashed with the state of knowledge within the intelligence community at the time. It is possible to demonstrate that the Prime Minister was guilty of at best a culpably negligent failure to acquaint himself with the true state of affairs, at worse mendacity and bad faith. Tony Blair at no stage gave the British people the chance to make up their minds ahead of the war, because the relevant evidence was manipulated and in some cases suppressed.

The Prime Minister made numerous assertions about weapons of mass destruction that were contradicted by his intelligence assessments. On 3 April 2002 he made the following confident assertion to NBC news: 'We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons.' Compare this (and numerous other pronouncements of equal certainty made by Tony Blair around the same time) with what the Prime Minister was being told by the Joint Intelligence Committee. Its assessment of 15 March 2002, brought to light by Butler, stated that 'intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is sporadic and patchy . . . from the evidence available to us, we believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of chemical warfare agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons.' The discrepancy between the Prime Minister's version of events ('we know he has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons') and the JIC's cautious view that Iraq 'may have hidden small quantities of [chemical] agents and weapons' beggars belief.

There was a similar massive discrepancy between Tony Blair's apocalyptic claims about the threat posed by Iraq in the wider Middle East, and the sober guidance he was receiving from the intelligence services. The resolution before the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, supporting the war on Iraq, read as follows: 'This house recognises that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and its continuing non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions, pose a threat to international peace and security. …

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