War Heroes, War Criminals Remembered on Memorial Day

As the United States honored war veterans on Memorial Day May 28, an investigating committee in the United Kingdom questioned former Prime Minister Tony Blair about suspicions that media mogul Rupert Murdoch corruptly influenced his decision-making.

Ton Blair and George BushBlair denied to the Leveson Inquiry any improper conduct during his decade as Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007, which encompassed Blair's support for the Iraq War favored by both Murdock and U.S. President Bush, shown at left awarding Blair the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a 2004 ceremony at the White House.

Coverage by columnist Michael Collins of the Blair testimony is excerpted below, drawn from his column, Rupert Watch: Tony Blair Lying at the Leveson Inquiry. Collins, at right, began this way about Blair, leader of the traditionally left Labour Party and thus a seemingly unlikely ally for either Murdoch or Bush:

Michael CollinsHe [Blair] retains that familiar fatuous exuberance for failed policies and continues to deny the deadly lies he told in over a decade as Prime Minister. He was, as always, quite literally unbearable.

President George W. Bush had major problems selling his disastrous invasion plans for Iraq. The public smelled a rat. Strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans opposed a preemptive invasion without confirmation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by UN inspectors. That was during December 2002 and January 2003. Bush needed something special to push his diabolic plan over the top.

The Leveson Inquiry focuses on "The relationship between press and politicians" in the wake of an electronic surveillance ("hacking") scandal by which Murdoch's minions at leading newspapers illegally wiretapped celebrities, politicians and other news-makers. Evidence has shown that the goals included inside tips on news stories, and also political blackmail to advance policies and appointees Murdoch's staff endorsed. Murdoch has blamed underlings, not himself as arrests have mounted and embarrased teh Conservative administration of Blair's successor David Cameron, like Blair, a Murdoch favorite.

Blair's position is especially interesting in that his political "Third Way" seemed initially popular as a centrist political strategy. But Blair's war and other policies aroused suspicions he was using his powers to curry favor with the powerful and position himself for riches after his political career closed. Collins, a U.S.-based commentator on cutting-edge issues, continued his coverage:

Blair and Murdoch worked together to provide Bush with the credibility to tell the most disastrous lie ever told by a president: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 29, 2003. Tony Blair is guilty of the very same crimes as Bush: murder, assault, and fraud by lying to the people to justify a preemptive attack that resulted in deaths and injuries, traumas and displacements, with a total cost that has helped ruin the U.S. economy -- $3.0 trillion. Rupert Murdoch and his minions share that guilt as the public relations shop for the road to perdition.

Blair's government released two fraudulent intelligence papers during the critical period just before the March 2003 Iraq invasion, the September 2002 report and the Iraq or Dodgy Dossier in early February 2003. Rupert Murdoch's media cartel led the charge for war. He headlined stories about both bogus reports including the outrageous claim that Iraq could launch chemical weapons at the invaders within 45 minutes of an attack and the big lie about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger to develop nuclear weapons..

During the morning hearing, Collins wrote, Blair was questioned by Queen's Counsel (QC) Robert Jay, who carefully laid the foundation for key questions while "Blair also began laying his own foundation, a staccato mantra of answers to questions not asked."

Blair emphasized the rationale for his overall media policy on at least three, perhaps more, occasions.  He had no objection to foreign ownership (read Murdoch) of British media properties. He was inclined to be a free marketer on media and thus not in favor of tight regulation.  Blair argued that the "culture and rules under which people play" were the most important factors in a positive media policy.

The former Prime Minister repeated several times that he was unwilling to risk the New Labour agenda over a fight to tighten the Communications Act given the relentless attacks he could anticipate from the tabloid press.

As Prime Minister at age 43, Blair became his country's youngest to hold the office since 1812. With victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005, Blair was the Labour Party's longest-serving prime minister, and the only person to lead the party to three consecutive general election victories. Blair remained an at times popular and at times polarizing figure after leaving office. His 2010 memoir became the fastest selling of its kind in the nation's history.  Blair announced he would donate royalties to a sports center for wounded veterans. At the same time, others accuse him selling out his constituency and veterans by conspiring with Murdoch and Bush to conduct a needless war, including war crimes.

Collins continued in that vein:

Jay raised questions about the period between September 15, 1994 and May 1, 1997. The QC referenced a private meeting that Blair had Murdoch lobbyist Gus Fisher in 1994.  Blair was clear that a Labour government would not have major concerns regarding cross-media ownership (e.g., television, newspapers, etc.).  QC Jay also pointed to the extraordinary effort Blair made to attend and speak at a News Corp conference in Australia.  Blair presented the meeting with his overall views on media ownership.  Jay asked Blair if the meeting was used to "curry favor" with Murdoch.  Blair demurred and then denied that this was the case.

Jay inquired about three calls Blair took from Rupert Murdoch just before the Iraq invasion on March 11, 13, and 19.  What were he and Murdoch talking about, the counsel wondered?  Blair said that this was "normal" when facing such a big issue (normal talking to Murdoch?).  He also noted that Murdoch had as good a read on "what was going on in the United States" as any expert he'd asked.

QC Jay then asked if there was any connection between the call with Murdoch on March 13 and the incredibly vicious personal attacks on French President Jacque Chirac the next day in Murdoch's Sun newspaper. Chirac had refused to become part of the coalition of the willing to invade Iraq.  There were rumors that Chirac was considering a UN Security Council veto of the vote that could be construed as legitimizing war.  Blair denied any part in encouraging or even knowing of the Murdoch hatchet job.

A heckler breached security and interrupted the hearing, much as another one did last summer when Murdoch testified. Collins described the scene as follows:

Just before the lunch break, a man burst through the door behind Lord Justice Leveson, grabbed the judge's table, and began shouting that Blair committed a war crime by helping JP Morgan steal $20 billion from the Bank of Iraq three months after the invasion.  As the man was hauled out through the same hallway, he shouted [at Blair], "The man is a war criminal."

This was the most direct expression of truth so far in the Leveson Inquiry. (Blair has been a consultant for JPMorgan since leaving office.)

 

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Related News Coverage

AP / Huffington Post, Tony Blair Called 'War Criminal' By Protester Interrupting Leveson Inquiry (VIDEO), Raphael Satter, May 28, 2012. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that he couldn't stand up to the Britain's media tycoons while in power, telling an official media ethics inquiry that doing so could have dragged his administration into a political quagmire. Blair's testimony, briefly interrupted by a heckler who burst into the courtroom to call him a war criminal, shed light on the canny media strategy used to create the "New Labour" image that repackaged his party as more mainstream and business friendly, bringing it back to power after 18 years in opposition.

AP / Huffington Post, Memorial Day 2012: Americans Across Country Honor Troops (PHOTOS), May 28, 2012. Boy Scouts carry a large American flag through the Memphis National Cemetery in Tennessee, where scouts also placed flags on 42,000 graves. In Little Rock, Ark., a 4-year-old girl fills her arms with flags to place on gravesites. Across the U.S. this weekend, Americans are honoring the fallen, veterans and military personnel in ceremonies and private remembrances.

OpEd News, Rupert Watch: Tony Blair Lying at the Leveson Inquiry, Michael Collins, May 28, 2012. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair testified before the Leveson Inquiry today. He retains that familiar fatuous exuberance for failed policies and continues to deny the deadly lies he told in over a decade as Prime Minister. He was, as always, quite literally unbearable. President George W. Bush had major problems selling his disastrous invasion plans for Iraq. The public smelled a rat. Strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans opposed a preemptive invasion without confirmation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by UN inspectors. That was during December 2002 and January 2003. Bush needed something special to push his diabolic plan over the top.

Update: OpEd News, Lord Justice Damns Inquiry, Michael Collins, May 30, 2012. Lord Justice Leveson concluded Monday's testimony by Tony Blair with an invitation to write regulations for controlling the press in Great Britain.  Talk about inviting the Fox into the chicken coop.  This kills any findings.  But we still have Queen's Counsel Robert Jay asking tough questions.  Leveson is a shill.

Huffington Post, Phone Hacking Charges May Be Brought Against News Corp. in U.S., Michael Calderone, April 19, 2012. The News of the World phone-hacking scandal that exploded in England last summer with a spate of arrests, resignations and several ongoing investigations has remained mostly on that side of the Atlantic.  But that could change if Mark Lewis, the British lawyer who has represented several phone hacking victims in the U.K. and who recently teamed up with two Manhattan-based attorneys, decides to file suits stateside on behalf of clients who believe their phones were hacked while on U.S. soil. On Thursday, Lewis, sitting alongside New York attorneys Norman Siegel and Steve Hyman, discussed the possibility of bringing hacking-related suits against Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. in the U.S., the headquarters of a worldwide media juggernaut. Lewis, who gained prominence for his pursuit of high-profile hacking cases across the pond, arrived in the U.S. for the Monday meeting with Siegel amid some media fanfare, including a New York Times profile. As a result of that meeting, Siegel said Thursday that there's "a reasonable basis for the proposition that three of [Lewis's] clients may have been victims of telephone hacking while they were in the United States." Lewis later confirmed he has a fourth client who may also opt to file suit in the U.S.

OpEd News, Rupert watch - Apocalypse when? Michael Collins, April 14, 2012. Rupert Murdoch is in big trouble.  It is not a perfect storm but we're getting there.  British attorney Mark Lewis is in New York to take legal action in behalf of clients who may have had their phones hacked in the United States. More significantly, News Corp withdrew its bid to buy the remaining 61% of BSkyB, the highly profitable British cable TV franchise (1.1 billion pounds 2011, News Corp owns 39% now).

PBS Frontline, Murdoch’s Scandal: Inside the Scandal That Rocked the World, Lowell Bergman and Neil Docherty, March 27, 2012 (53 minutes, 40 seconds). Frontline goes inside the struggle over the future of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch’s reputation and his family’s fortune.

Reuters, Murdoch's media empire strikes back, March 29, 2012. An angry Rupert Murdoch on Thursday declared war against "enemies" who have accused his pay-TV operation of sabotaging its rivals, denouncing them as "toffs and right wingers" stuck in the last century.

Guardian (United Kingdom), What the police now know about Milly Dowler hacking, Nick Davies, Dec. 12, 2012. Operation Weeting investigation confirms most of original phone hacking story, but it is no longer clear what prompted initial deletion that gave Dowler family false hope Milly was still alive.

 

Catching Our Attention on Justice & Integrity Issues

Judicial Watch, JW Obtains Obama Administration Records Detailing Meetings with bin Laden Movie Filmmakers, Tom Fitton, May 25, 2012. On Tuesday, Judicial Watch caused a firestorm when we released records from the Obama Department of Defense (DOD) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) regarding meetings and communications between government agencies and Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award-winning director of The Hurt Locker, and her screenwriter Mark Boal. How much of a media firestorm?  Google counts more than 700 media hits including Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, CBS News, MSNBC, and even entertainment trades like Entertainment Weekly. Why so much attention?  According to the records, the Obama Defense Department granted the Hollywood filmmakers unprecedented access to a "planner, Operator and Commander of SEAL Team Six," who was responsible for the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, to assist Bigelow prepare her upcoming feature film. The records, obtained pursuant to court order in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on January 21, 2012, include 153 pages of records from the DOD and 113 pages of records from the CIA.  To limit the damage, the Obama administration released them to Judicial Watch late on Friday, May 18. (Obviously this strategy did not work.)

Jonathan Turley.org, Justice Department Clears Its Own Lawyers Of Intentional Misconduct In Stevens Prosecution, Jonathan Turley, May 28, 2012. The U.S. Justice Department again showed how its protects its own in scandals involving government lawyers. The DOJ has long been notorious in refusing to seriously punish its own lawyers for wrongdoing while pushing the legal envelope on criminal charges against others. The slightest discrepancy in testimony or omission in reporting can bring a criminal charge from the DOJ. The DOJ is particularly keen in finding intentional violations or substitute for intent in federal rules — bending laws to the breaking point to secure indictments. However, when its attorneys are accused of facilitating torture or lying to the court or withholding evidence, the general response is a long investigation and then a slap on the wrist. This week is no exception. Waiting until late Thursday to inform Congress to guarantee a low media coverage, the DOJ announced that it had found no intentional violations by its attorneys in the failed prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens — despite the contrary finding made by an independent investigation. Instead, the investigation again offered rhetorical punishment as a substitute for true punishment — declaring that the attorneys were only guilty of “reckless professional misconduct.” As a result, Joseph Bottini will be suspended for only 40 days and James Goeke will be suspended for 15 days. Even that level of punishment is viewed as noteworthy for the DOJ given its prior history of whitewashing misconduct by its attorneys.

Harper's No Comment, Behold the Lord High Executioner! Scott Horton, May 23, 2012. Kimberley Dozier of the Associated Press reports that the burden of making the life-and-death decisions surrounding drone use is settling on the shoulders of a single man, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan: "White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets. The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House."

FireDogLake, On Memorial Day, Debate Over Counter-Insurgency at West Point,  David Dayen, May 28, 2012.  The President laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery today, and he made a proclamation:  “After a decade under the dark cloud of war, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon,” he said at Arlington National Cemetery, drawing applause when he noted the “milestone” of it being the first Memorial Day in nine years without Americans fighting and dying in Iraq. “I can promise you I will never do so unless it is absolutely necessary and that when we do, we must give our troops a clear mission and the full support of a grateful nation.”  No wars unless “absolutely necessary.” I feel so reassured!  More seriously, I’d say this is the most patriotic thing happening in America today. It does the most to honor the troops, by rethinking a strategy that puts them into impossible situations and incredible danger.  Rethinking counter-insurgency is just long overdue. The best way to honor the service of the American military is to ensure they no longer have to fight, regardless of method. I am awed whenever I visit Arlington West, a weekly installation next to the Santa Monica Pier put on by Veterans for Peace, marking the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan. I’d be far more awed by its obsolescence.

Brandeis Magazine, A Quest for Justice: Young alumna uses expert investigative skills to help exonerate the wrongly convicted, Theresa Pease, Spring 2012. The first time Lindsay Markel ’08 went to meet the man we’ll call Theo, she did what her mother said was the polite thing to do in December: She brought a brightly decorated box of homemade Italian Christmas cookies.  “For the prison guards, it was a big joke,” Markel, 25, says with a disgruntled grin. “For me, it was a wake-up call about what this guy’s world was like. If you can’t go in wearing a bobby pin, you can’t go in carrying cookies.”  Since that day in 2008, Theo’s world has never been far from Markel’s mind. A Latino inmate in a Massachusetts prison, Theo is serving a life sentence, with no hope of parole, for a murder conviction that Markel and her colleagues at Brandeis’ Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism question. Most working days, the Princeton, Mass., native, other institute staff members and a team of eight paid student sleuths comb public records and analyze circumstances around Theo’s alleged crime, searching for clues that justice was not served....
Many people know that recent science has yielded up DNA analysis leading to the exoneration of innocent people. It’s often the stuff of TV dramas, and a real-life case was depicted to great effect in the 2010 film “Conviction,” directed by Tony Goldwyn ’82. Last year, Markel collaborated with Schuster Institute Senior Fellow Michael Blanding on an eye-opening exposé on the subject for The Boston Globe Magazine. In the article, “Failing the DNA Test,” the co-authors made a case for new legislation being considered in Massachusetts, one of only two U.S. states lacking a law specifically granting inmates the right to DNA testing that might prove their innocence.