Bale Baleiwai: 13 years in the British Army and given three weeks to leave Britain

Lance Corporal Bale Baleiwai has spent his whole adult life in the British Army. He has a glowing service record, a row of medals and a starring role in Army recruitment advertising.

His reward is a deportation notice. After 13 years fighting for Britain, it has given him three weeks to leave the country. “When I had the uniform on, I was a British soldier,” he says.

“Now I have taken it off, I’m just a problem they want to get rid of.”

Read the full, extraordinary story of Isimeli “Bale” Baleiwai here.

Sign the petition against his removal here.

Our report on the broader plight of Commonwealth Army veterans facing deportation is here.



Campbell on the stand: fascinating signs that the inquiry wasn't buying it

Alastair Campbell’s evidence session at the Chilcot Inquiry this afternoon told us far more about the members of the inquiry than about their star witness.

Campbell, inevitably, ran a classic “no surrender” defence.  Nothing was admitted; no ground conceded. Incredibly, he even said that he “defend[ed] every single word of the dossier” and “every single part of the process” which created it. Virtually every single word of the dossier has, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Every word of the dossier, said Campbell, was the work of the intelligence agencies and John Scarlett, the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee. There was no pressure on Scarlett and Campbell and his fellow political appointees had no role whatever in “beefing [sexing] it up.” As I detailed in my previous blogpost, these claims are demonstrably and documentably false.

It was never at all likely that an old pro like Campbell would collapse on the witness table, tearfully confessing his crimes and lies. But the behaviour of Chilcot’s committee, the people on the other side of the table, was much more interesting and unexpected.

They asked often exactly the right questions. For the first time, they referred, in detail, to the mountains of documentary evidence that they had, evidence that directly contradicted many of Campbell’s claims both today and previously.   They met the former Chief Persuader’s evidence with noticeably more scepticism than they’d employed with any previous witness.

I was particularly pleased that they did seem to get the detail of Campbell’s key alteration to the dossier, when the nuclear threat posed by Iraq was hyped up on his direct request. As other witnesses to Chilcot have said, the actual intelligence was quite clear: Iraq was not a nuclear threat. But after documented interventions by Campbell, the dossier ended up claiming that Saddam, under certain circumstances, could have the Bomb within one to two years.

Campbell claimed that his interventions were simply clarifying the dossier’s nuclear wording because he “couldn’t understand” it. It wasn’t, in fact, a matter of expression, but of meaning – the meaning was changed – but the committee didn’t press.

Still, they at a couple of points expressed the mandarin equivalents of “This is wrong” and “I don’t believe it.” It remains to be seen whether this is more than token independent-mindedness – but if it is more, it augurs well for the final report.

Alastair Campbell in the witness box: this time, the truth?

Tony Blair’s former press secretary, Alastair Campbell, gives evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry today. High on the agenda, one hopes, will be his involvement in the famous September 2002 weapons of mass destruction dossier. As an aide-memoire to readers and fellow journalists, I detail below the main, shall we say, inconsistencies about which Mr Campbell should (but probably won’t) be asked.  

Mr Campbell’s claims:

1. In evidence (Q1092) to the Commons’ foreign affairs committee (FAC), he claimed: “The entire document was the product of the pen of the Joint Intelligence Committee chairman [John Scarlett].”  

2. Campbell also claimed: “The allegation… that I, or anyone in Downing Street, exaggerated and distorted intelligence…is totally untrue.” (para 9 of his memo to the FAC.)

3. Campbell or his deputy, Godric Smith, repeatedly claimed that there had been no political interference whatever in the dossier. For instance, at the Downing Street press briefing of 4 June 2003 (on page 6 of this PDF): “The dossier was entirely the work of the intelligence agencies… Suggestions that any pressure was put on the intelligence services by No 10 or anyone else to change the document were entirely false.”

The reality:

1. The foreword of the dossier was written by Campbell, as this memo of 17 September 2002, a week before publication, makes clear. In his own evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry a few weeks ago, Scarlett himself belatedly admitted this too. The foreword was where the dossier’s most incendiary statements appeared, such as the claim that the intelligence on Saddam’s WMD was “beyond doubt.” 

2. The 17 September memo also shows that Campbell suggested 15 changes to the executive summary and main body of the document to Scarlett. Most were accepted and their effect was to harden up the document’s language from possibility to probability, or probability to certainty.

3. Among the most serious: following Campbell’s suggestion in the memo, a false statement, unsupported by intelligence reporting, was inserted in the dossier that Saddam had continued to “make progress” with his illicit weapons programmes.

4. Campbell lied to the FAC about the contents of the September 17 memo, giving them only a bowdlerised version (see here, item eight) which omitted his comments on the famous “45-minute” claim and downplayed his intervention on most of the other issues.  

5. Campbell, in his own words, “bombarded” Scarlett, demanding that he make Iraq’s nuclear programme look more threatening. His suggestions were largely included in the published dossier even though they were not supported by intelligence.

In the September17 memo, Campbell told Scarlett that he and Blair were “worried about the way you have expressed the nuclear issue” – namely, that it was not made to seem alarming enough. (This was in fact the truth. As Chilcot has heard, British intelligence was quite clear before the war that Iraq was many years from a nuclear weapon and in no sense a nuclear threat.)

The following day, Campbell emailed Scarlett, saying that he had showed the draft dossier “cold” to a member of his staff who had been left (correctly) thinking “there’s nothing much to worry about” over the nuclear issue. “Sorry to bombard on this point,” Campbell says, “but I do worry that the nuclear section… as currently drafted, is not in great shape.”

The day after that, Campbell emailed Scarlett again, suggesting the insertion of a totally false claim, that the “the timelines [for Iraq obtaining a nuclear weapon] are considerably shortened however if Iraq manages to obtain fissile material illegally from overseas. In these circumstances, the JIC assessed in early 2002 that they could produce nuclear weapons in between one and two years.”

After some resistance by Scarlett, this fabrication duly appeared in the dossier as: “We therefore judge that if Iraq obtained fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources the timeline for production of a nuclear weapon would be shortened and Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in between one and two years.” (Dossier para 23, page 27.)

6. Most meetings on the dossier were attended by spin-doctors and some were actually chaired by Campbell, something which even Lord Hutton criticised.

These are far from the only interventions by Campbell – and he was, of course, far from the only Downing Street political appointee to interfere in the dossier process. Significant interventions were also made by other Downing Street and Foreign Office spin-doctors and by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell. Powell is up next Monday – we might have a look at some of his handiwork then.

It is noticeable that most of Campbell’s key lies were told to previous enquiries. Could this be the one where he finally makes his peace with the truth?

Blanket airport security: a charade and distraction from the real task

I wrote my weekly column for today’s print edition of the paper before Gordon Brown announced his inevitable “review of airport security.”  The review could, of course, be an opportunity to rethink this subject along more rational lines than now. The chances, however, are that it will recommend even heavier and more intrusive blanket checks, which the Tories have this week predictably been calling for. The column explains why this would be a pointless mistake.

PS – Love Gordon’s latest attempt at world-statesman grandstanding, a “global summit on Yemen.”  Our main terrorist threat, Prime Minister (and the West’s) is not in Yemen – it’s right here, created in part by the actions and omissions of your government.  I’m thinking of  suggesting to the Yemenis that they hold a “global summit on Britain.”

Iraq and Afghanistan: old and new British misjudgments

It’s been the turn of Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, former chief of the defence staff, at the Iraq Inquiry today – and it’s striking how closely what he told Sir John Chilcot mirrors what we reported in the Telegraph, using leaked papers, before the inquiry even started. Notice any similarities between this story – “Hoon stopped me buying essential kit for troops, says Forces chief” – and this one – “Troops rushed into battle without armour or training“? You read it here first.

On the war that’s still going on, in Afghanistan, I was depressed to read the silly bravado this week of Britain’s General Sir Graeme Lamb, adviser to the US commander General Stanley McChrystal, promising to “strike the Taliban… till their eyeballs bleed.” With all of 500 more British troops? With both sides of the Atlantic briefing about withdrawal in 2011? We need to, if not prevail, then at least avoid humiliation in Afghanistan. Gen McChrystal’s strategy offers a chance of doing that – because it is, quite rightly, more about reinforcing key cities than about the kind of completely futile taking-the-fight-to-the-Taliban stuff in the countryside that has got so many of our men killed over the last three years.

Despite being deified as “Lambo” by various hacks, Gen Lamb has form for this kind of misjudgment. As British commander in Iraq immediately after the major combat operations phase, he opined that reconstruction “really wasn’t that difficult and didn’t require that many experts… Once you knew what you needed to do, you then dispatched the nearest captain with the ‘find me a hundred trucks’  order and it all worked. It didn’t need a suit with a 2.2 in civilian affairs.”

Let’s hope General McChrystal takes as much notice of “Lambo” now as his American counterparts in Iraq did of their British allies.