Profile: Claire Short
Positions that Claire Short has held:
- British secretary for international development under Tony Blair
June 17, 2003
“Three extremely senior people in the Whitehall system said to me very clearly and specifically that the target date was mid-February.”
Claire Short was a participant or observer in the following events:
Claire Short, the British secretary for international development who later resigns in protest of the impending invasion of Iraq, will say in June 2003 that three senior British Intelligence officials told her before the war that Bush and Blair’s decision to attack Iraq had been made sometime during the summer of 2002 and that it would likely begin in mid-February 2003. “Three extremely senior people in the Whitehall system said to me very clearly and specifically that the target date was mid-February.” Furthermore, Short will learn, the decision by Blair’s government to participate in the US invasion of Iraq bypassed proper government procedures and ignored opposition to the war from Britain’s intelligence quarters. [Guardian, 6/18/2003 Sources: Claire Short]
The British join the US (see Mid-February 2003-March 2003) in a campaign to pressure UN Security Council members to commit to voting in favor of a second UN resolution. “[E]normous pressure was brought to bear,” British cabinet member Claire Short will later tell the BBC, who cites as an example the efforts of Valerie Amos. According to Short, Amos “went round Africa with people from our intelligence services trying to press them” to support a second resolution. “I had to make sure that we didn’t promise a misuse of aid in a way that would be illegal,” she added. [BBC, 2/26/2004 Sources: Claire Short, Valerie Anne Amos]
The US and British conduct a spy operation targeting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other top UN officials. But news of this will not surface until February 2004. “[T]he UK… was… spying on Kofi Annan’s office and getting reports from him about what was going on,” former British cabinet member Claire Short will tell BBC Radio 4’s Today. When asked to elaborate, she says, “Well I know—I’ve seen transcripts of Kofi Annan’s conversations.” [BBC, 2/26/2004; Independent, 2/26/2004; New York Times, 2/27/2004; Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Claire Short] And in an interview with The Guardian one day later, Hans Blix will say that he believes he too was bugged. [Guardian, 2/28/2004 Sources: Hans Blix] Under international treaties, it is illegal for member states to spy on UN offices. [New York Times, 2/27/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/28/2004]
Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]
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