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History > 2009 > UK > War > Iraq (I)




Families' fury

as body of last British hostage

set for release

• Cleric's freedom is key to handover
• McMenemy's father angry at 'lies'
• Moore well treated in final months


Thursday 31 December 2009
21.33 GMT
Martin Chulov, Robert Booth and Julian Borger
Article history: none


Parents of some of the five British hostages kidnapped in Iraq have attacked the UK government's handling of the crisis, claiming they were lied to by officials during their two-and-a-half-year ordeal.

Dennis McMenemy, the father of Alan – whose body has still not been returned – accused the Foreign Office of "deceit, lies and cover-up" over the kidnappers' links to Iran, while Peter Moore's natural mother, Avril Sweeney, said the government had "never told the truth".

Iraq government officials today told the Guardian that McMenemy's body was likely to be handed over once a Shia cleric, Qais al-Khazali, whose transfer to Iraqi custody was the key to the release of Moore, is freed.

The delivery of McMenemy's remains will bring to an end the longest hostage ordeal involving British nationals anywhere for more than 20 years.

McMenemy's father complained that he had not had any contact from the Foreign Office since he learned that Moore was to be released today, despite making several calls. He is still hoping that his son is alive, although the foreign secretary, David Miliband, has said the evidence suggests that Alan McMenemy has been killed.

The Foreign Office said tonight it returned Dennis McMenemy's calls today. McMenemy is angry that the Foreign Office never mentioned the kidnappers' links to Iran, even though the possibility was much discussed by hostages' families. Sweeney, for her part, dismissed Miliband's assertion that there had been no deal to secure Moore's release.

Moore was at the British embassy in Baghdad today and was said by family members to be in good spirits and healthy. He was quoted as saying he had suffered "rough treatment" during his captivity, but had been treated better in the last six months, even being allowed access to a television and PlayStation.

Foreign Office sources said he was preparing to fly back to Britain, where he will be placed in a safe house for around 10 days and given "gold star service" from doctors and psychiatrists. The priority is to reunite him with his family as soon as possible, the source said.

The developments follow the Guardian's revelation that Iran's Revolutionary Guard led the operation to capture Moore, a British IT consultant, and his four British bodyguards, from Iraq's finance ministry in 2007. According to Iranian and Iraqi sources, the hostages were held inside Iran. The former US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told the BBC he was "90% certain" that the Britons had been held in Iran.

The Foreign Office insisted it had seen "no evidence" to back up claims that Iran was directly involved in the kidnap of five Britons and the murder of four of them. However, a former intelligence chief at the Iraqi ministry of defence described to the Guardian yesterday how the kidnappers made sure that the hostages would think they were in Iraq by ensuring that those who took care of them were Iraqis.

An Iranian source with knowledge of the kidnapping also said: "At all times they were surrounded by Iraqi voices. Everything was done to make sure they had no idea they were in Iran."

Iraq's Shia Islamic groups and the Shia-led government are preparing a warm welcome for Khazali, 26, who played no role in the kidnapping of the five Britons but whose fate came to determine more than anyone whether they would live or die. Officials say he is not considered to have committed a crime under Iraqi law and is being hailed as a man who could lead a Shia bloc in an Iraqi national reconciliation process.

An Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, confirmed that if Khazali was not wanted for any offence he would be freed. "We are continuing to negotiate about the release of the body of the fourth guard and we hope to close this sad chapter within days," he said.

The report of Iranian involvement was denied by the Iranian government yesterday and by an Iraqi negotiator involved in the talks over the Britons' fate, Sami al-Askari.The Guardian understands the handing over of McMenemy's body was expected to have taken place before Moore's release. It is now likely as soon as Khazali is freed from Iraqi custody. Officials say he is not considered to have committed a crime under Iraqi law, and is expected to play a leading role in Iraqi politics.

Khazali was handed over to Iraqi forces by the American military 48 hours before the six-year US detention programme in Iraq was due to end. He was among the last Shia prisoners to be freed from a group that at one stage contained thousands of detainees.His transfer, linked to the release of Moore, had been long anticipated and, in accordance with a deal outlined by a Shia militant leader in March, it was immediately followed by the announcement of Moore's release.

The Foreign Office maintained tonight that Britain does not broker agreements with kidnappers, claiming that the timing of Khazali's transfer and Moore's release was a coincidence.

A Foreign Office statement said: "Separately, the government of Iraq is carrying out a process of reconciliation with groups willing to renounce violence and enter the political mainstream." It added: "Hostage taking is not compatible with political reconciliation."

The release of the bodies of three of Moore's four guards, however, coincided closely with a phased release of Shia prisoners belonging to the hardline group the Righteous League – which was a key player in the kidnapping – and loyalists of the Shia cleric Muqtadr al-Sadr. This was a key demand of the Righteous League.

The Righteous League is a proxy of an arm of the Iranian military's Revolutionary Guard unit, known as the al-Quds brigades, and maintains close links to Iran.

The Guardian revealed that Iran had ordered and directed the kidnapping. Guardian sources, including an Iraqi cabinet minister, revealed that all five Britons are believed to have been transferred to Iran within days of their kidnapping.

The Tehran government denied Iranian involvement, as did Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi negotiator involved in the talks over the Britons' fate.

    Families' fury as body of last British hostage set for release, G, 31.12.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/31/british-hostage-iraq-body-release






Tony Blair branded 'war criminal' after Iraq memorial service

• Father of soldier killed in Iraq criticises Blair
• Rowan Williams decries human cost of conflict


Friday 9 October 2009
16.38 BST
James Sturcke and agencies
This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 16.38 BST on Friday 9 October 2009.
It was last modified at 16.53 BST on Friday 9 October 2009.


Tony Blair was branded a "war criminal" today by the father of a soldier killed in the Iraq war after a memorial service to honour the dead at which the Archbishop of Canterbury criticised "policy makers" for failing to consider the cost of the conflict.

Rowan Williams, who has previously described the decisions that led to the war as "flawed", praised the "patient and consistent" efforts of troops on the ground.

But he used his address at the national service of remembrance in St Paul's cathedral to remind his audience that the conflict, which claimed the lives of 179 British service personnel, remained highly controversial.

Among those in the congregation listening to his words was former prime minister Tony Blair, who led the country into war and who was confronted at a reception after the service by Peter Brierley, whose son, Lance Corporal Shaun Brierley, 28, was killed in March 2003.

Brierley refused to shake Blair's proferred hand, saying: "I'm not shaking your hand, you've got blood on it".

"I understand soldiers go to war and die but they have to go to war for a good reason and be properly equipped to fight," Brierley said.

"I believe Tony Blair is a war criminal. I can't bear to be in the same room as him. I can't believe he's been allowed to come to this reception. It comes back to me every day, every time I see a coffin come off a plane; it reminds me of what happened to Shaun."

Addressing the congregation, Williams said: "Many people of my generation and younger grew up doubting whether we should ever see another straightforward international conflict, fought by a standing army with conventional weapons.

"We had begun to forget the realities of cost. And when such conflict appeared on the horizon, there were those among both policymakers and commentators who were able to talk about it without really measuring the price, the cost of justice."

The archbishop alluded to the controversial nature of the campaign, known as Operation Telic, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets in protest in the runup to the war.

"The conflict in Iraq will, for a long time yet, exercise the historians, the moralists, the international experts. In a world as complicated as ours has become, it would be a very rash person who would feel able to say without hesitation, this was absolutely the right or the wrong thing to do, the right or the wrong place to be."

Iraq veterans and bereaved families joined the Queen, Gordon Brown and senior military leaders for the service.

Servicemen and women injured fighting during Operation Telic, and the families of those killed in the conflict, were also among the congregation.

Other senior royals attending included the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William, the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Princess Royal.

In April, Britain ended combat operations in Iraq with a sombre remembrance service for the 178 service personnel and one civilian Ministry of Defence worker who died during Operation Telic. The event brought to a close the six-year campaign that began in March 2003.

In July an inquiry into the Iraq war, headed by Sir John Chilcot, was formally launched.

    Tony Blair branded 'war criminal' after Iraq memorial service, G, 9.10.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/09/rowan-williams-iraq-war-memorial






Families of dead soldiers sue MoD over 'vulnerable' Snatch Land Rovers


June 19, 2009
From Times Online
Deborah Haynes, Defence Correspondent


The families of four soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan are suing the Ministry of Defence, claiming that the lightly armoured Snatch Land Rovers their loved ones died in should never have been on the frontline.

Their lawyers want the relatives of other servicemen and women killed or injured in the combat vehicle to come forward as they too might be eligible to seek damages.

Karla and Courtney Ellis, the sister and eight-year-old daughter of Private Lee Ellis, 23, today became the fourth family officially to serve a claim. Private Ellis was killed in a roadside bomb in southern Iraq in February 2006.

Lawyer Jocelyn Cockburn, of Hodge Jones & Allen, said: “It is a claim for negligence and under the Human Rights Act that the Snatch Land Rovers were too vulnerable to the roadside bombs and other explosives used by the insurgents, and should never have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Her firm is also representing the other three families who have issued claims since last year against the MoD, on behalf of Marine Gary Wright, who died in Afghanistan in October 2006, Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, who was killed in Iraq in August 2007 and Private Phillip Hewett, 21, who also died in Iraq in July 2005.

“If there are other families of those killed or even injured in a Snatch who think they may have a claim, they should get in touch,” Ms Cockburn told The Times.

Once all cases are served they will be put on hold until the High Court makes a decision on whether the Secretary of State for Defence was wrong to refuse last year to hold a public inquiry into the Snatch Land Rover.

A preliminary request for a judicial review is due to be held in the next two or three months.

The families believe the combat vehicles lack sufficient armour and the Defence Ministry should never have allowed their continued use. Snatch Land Rovers are good for providing quick transportation but do not offer the same protection against bomb blasts as the better-armoured Mastif.

A Ministry of Defence Spokesman said: “Over the past 14 months, the MoD has received four compensation claims following deaths involving Snatch landrovers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MoD pays compensation wherever there is a liability to do so. In these cases we remain profoundly aware of the enduring grief of the four families who lost their loved ones in combat."

Over the past four years at least 37 military personnel have been killed in Snatch Land Rovers during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The toll raised concerns about the protection the vehicles provide against the threat of roadside bombs - the greatest risk in both conflict zones.

A former senior SAS officer in Afghanistan, who resigned from his post last October, has said the Government has “blood on its hands” over the deaths of four soldiers killed when their Snatch Land Rover hit an anti-tank mine in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan in June 2008.

Among the dead was Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British servicewoman to die in the country.

Major Sebastian Morley said army commanders and Whitehall officials ignored his warnings that “unsafe” vehicles would lead to the deaths of soldiers.

Ms Cockburn hopes that a landmark Court of Appeal decision last month that troops serving overseas were covered by the Human Rights Act even in the battlefield would help to strengthen the families’ cases.

    Families of dead soldiers sue MoD over 'vulnerable' Snatch Land Rovers, Ts, 19.6.2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6537095.ece






Straw vetoes publication of cabinet Iraq war minutes

Justice secretary refuses to comply with information tribunal's order to release minutes of two meetings


Tuesday 24 February 2009
16.39 GMT
Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent, and Katherine Baldwin
This article was first published on guardian.co.uk at 16.39 GMT on Tuesday 24 February 2009.
It was last updated at 19.03 GMT on Tuesday 24 February 2009.


Jack Straw today said he would take the unprecedented step of vetoing the release of cabinet minutes relating to the decision to invade Iraq.

The justice secretary made his announcement in response to a decision from the information tribunal, which last month ordered the publication of the minutes of two cabinet meetings, held on 13 and 17 March 2003.

It is the first time the government has used its power to veto the release of documents under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act .

In a statement to MPs, Straw said he had not taken the decision "lightly".

He added that the public interest in disclosure of the minutes could not "supplant the public interest in maintaining the integrity of our system of government".

"It is a necessary decision to protect the public interest in effective cabinet government," he said.

Straw's decision was supported by the Tories, although the shadow justice secretary, Dominic Grieve, said the government should have made it clear earlier that it was not going to release the minutes.

Under the FoI legislation, the government does not generally have to release information relating to the formulation of policy.

However, the tribunal ruled that this was an exceptional case because of the public interest in knowing what was said as ministers discussed the decision to approval the invasion.

Straw told MPs he disagreed with the tribunal's findings.

He said confidentiality was most important when the cabinet was discussing the most sensitive issues.

"Cabinet is the pinnacle of the decision-making machinery of government," Straw said.

"It is the forum in which debates on the issues of greatest significance and complexity are conducted.

"This matter – whether the nation took military action – was indisputably of the utmost seriousness."

He said he disagreed with the argument that the "momentous" nature of the decision meant the minutes should be made public.

"The convention of cabinet confidentiality and the public interest in its maintenance are especially crucial when the issues at hand are of the greatest importance and sensitivity," he said.

"Responsibility for cabinet decisions is with the government as a whole, not with individual ministers ... that remains the first principle of the ministerial code.

"If permitted to demonstrate their degree of attachment – or otherwise – to any given policy, ministers could absolve themselves from responsibility for decisions which they have nevertheless agreed to stand by.

"The conventions of cabinet confidentiality and collective responsibility do not exist as a convenience to ministers.

"They are crucial to the accountability of the executive to parliament and the people.

"The concomitant of collective responsibility is that debate is conducted confidentially. "In short, the damage that disclosure of minutes in this instance would do far outweighs any corresponding public interest in their disclosure."

Straw said the decision to go to war had already been extensively investigated by a series of official inquiries.

"The decision to take military action has been examined with a fine-toothed comb," he said. "We have been held to account for it in this House and elsewhere."

He also said although 1,500 FoI requests relating to government information had been considered by the information commissioner, the government had not, until now, used its power, under section 53 of the FoI Act, to issue a ministeral veto.

The two cabinet meetings were particularly controversial because they occured at a time when ministers were considering the legality of going to war.

Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general at the time, initially suggested that the legality of the invasion was questionable,

He subsequently issuing legal advice saying it would be safe for Tony Blair to proceed with the attack. Campaigners wanted to see the minutes to find out whether this issue had been fully debated by ministers at the time.

Responding to Straw's statement, Grieve said the decision not to release the minutes "... classically illustrates what has been wrong with the government's approach to freedom of information and propaganda".

Referring to the fact that Straw had been foreign secretary at the time of the invasion, Grieve questioned how it would look to the public "for someone so closely involved in the key decisions now to be personally blocking the release of that information".

However, he said the Conservatives agreed with the decision.

David Howarth, the Lib Dem justice spokesman, said: "This decision has more to do with preventing embarrassment than with protecting the system of government."

Like Grieve, he called for a full inquiry into the Iraq war.

Kate Hudson, the chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "This disgraceful decision is yet another attempt to suppress public debate on the biggest political scandal in decades.

"The use of the veto cannot be justified in any way – there is no risk to candid discussions in cabinet as such minutes do not single out those making each point.

"We had hoped that, with the withdrawal of the last British troops expected in a matter of months, the government would have released these minutes in preparation for the full inquiry into the Iraq war, long promised by Gordon Brown."

In its ruling last month, the information tribunal said: "We have decided that the public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the formal minutes of two cabinet meetings at which ministers decided to commit forces to military action in Iraq did not, at the time when the Cabinet Office refused a request for disclosure in April 2007, outweigh the public interest in disclosure.

"We have reached that decision by a majority, and not without difficulty.

"We concluded that there was a strong public interest in maintaining the confidentiality of information relating to the formulation of government policy or ministerial communications (including, in particular, the maintenance of the long-standing convention of cabinet collective responsibility).

"However, this is an exceptional case, the circumstances of which brought together a combination of factors that were so important that, in combination, they created very powerful public interest reasons why disclosure was in the public interest."

    Straw vetoes publication of cabinet Iraq war minutes, G, 24.2.2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/feb/24/iraq-freedom-of-information






UK Blocks Publication of Iraq War Discussions


February 24, 2009
Filed at 3:23 p.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (AP) -- Britain's justice secretary overturned an order on Tuesday that would have forced the government to make public the formal minutes of two contentious Cabinet discussions held before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It was the first time a special ministerial veto has been used to overturn a decision by Britain's Information Tribunal regarding the country's Freedom of Information Act of 2000.

The minutes detail a Cabinet's consideration of advice it was receiving on the legality of the Iraq war, and the order by Justice Secretary Jack Straw to keep them private set back a long-standing effort to seek insight into one of the most contentious periods in recent British history.

The decision to join the invasion in 2003 sparked widespread domestic opposition and helped transform public opinion of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In Britain, Cabinet papers usually remain private for at least 30 years, but those containing sensitive material can be kept closed even longer.

In the case of the formal minutes from the Cabinet meetings on March 13 and 17, 2003, Britain's Information Tribunal said in its decision last month that ''maintaining the confidentiality of the formal minutes of two Cabinet meetings at which ministers decided to commit forces to military action in Iraq did not ... outweigh the public interest in disclosure.''

But it also said some portions of the discussion that took place would remain closed, and that sensitive material would be removed in order to protect Britain's foreign policy.

The Information Tribunal typically serves as the final arbiter on freedom of information matters -- but the government can override its decision in exceptional circumstances.

Straw said disclosing the minutes would make Cabinet ministers reluctant to discuss politically charged matters in an official setting.

''In short, the damage that disclosure of the minutes in this instance would do far outweighs any corresponding public interest in their disclosure,'' Straw told lawmakers.

Straw was Blair's foreign secretary when the Iraq war began and closely tied to the decision to go to war. In a 2003 interview, Straw said he was willing to put his job on the line to secure party support for the invasion.

Peter Goldsmith, then the government's chief legal adviser, initially raised doubts about the legality of the war, but on March 17, 2003, gave an unequivocal view that military action was justified under existing U.N. resolutions.

Straw's decision comes after U.S. President Barack Obama pledged in his inauguration speech to open a new era of government accountability.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who succeeded Blair in 2007, backed a law that would have kept secret breakdowns of lawmakers expenses, but dropped the plan when opposition parties said they wouldn't support it.

The U.S. has had Freedom of Information legislation for decades, but campaigners in Britain say the country's leaders are struggling to adapt to a culture of openness.

''They simply haven't agreed to abide by the rules that they set out for themselves,'' said Maurice Frankel, of British advocacy group the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

Though Blair once promised more government openness, officials often have tried to narrow the scope of the 2000 legislation. Straw also has proposed laws that would allow inquests into the deaths of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to be held in secret.

The deaths have repeatedly embarrassed the British government by exposing lack of equipment for forces of the ground and incidences of friendly fire.

Despite Straw's decision on Tuesday, some elements of Britain's thinking in the run-up to the war have been leaked to the press, including the so-called Downing Street memos, which allegedly showed that Straw privately questioned the wisdom of the invasion.

    UK Blocks Publication of Iraq War Discussions, NYT, 25.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/24/world/AP-EU-Britain-Iraq.html