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Profile: Jack Straw
Positions that Jack Straw has held:
September 17, 2002
Iraq’s offer is “bound to be treated with a high degree of international skepticism. We shall continue to work with our international partners for an effective resolution before the security council.”
October 30, 2002
“It could well be the case that there were links, active links, between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime before Sept. 11. What I’m asked is if I’ve seen any evidence of that. And the answer is: I haven’t.”
[Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2002]
Jack Straw was a participant or observer in the following events:
Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]
Peter Ricketts, the British Foreign Office’s political director, offers advice to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who is to provide Tony Blair with a note (see March 25, 2002) before he sets off for a planned meeting with Bush in Texas. In the memo, Ricketts recommends that Blair back the Bush policy on regime change, in a broad sense, because it would allow the British to exert some influence on the exact shape of the administration’s policy. “In the process, he can bring home to Bush some of the realities which will be less evident from Washington,” he says. “He can help Bush make good decisions by telling him things his own machine probably isn’t.” But he acknowledges that the British, in backing US plans against Iraq, may have a difficult time convincing Parliament and the British public to support the use of military force against Iraq because of scant evidence supporting Washington’s allegations against Iraq. “The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September.” He adds that the “figures” being used in a dossier on Iraq that Downing Street is drafting needs more work in order for it to be “consistent with those of the US.” He explains: “[E]ven the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile, or chemical weapons/biological weapons fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up.” He also says the US has little evidence to support its other allegation. “US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda is so far frankly unconvincing,” he says. [United Kingdom, 3/22/2002 ; Daily Telegraph, 3/21/2005; Guardian, 4/21/2005; Los Angeles Times, 6/15/2005]
In a memo to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw advises the prime minister on his upcoming visit to Crawford, Texas (see April 6-7, 2002), where he is to discuss Britain’s role in the US confrontation with Iraq. Straw says that they “have a long way to go to convince” their colleagues in the Labor Party that military action against Iraq is necessary. He notes that “in the documents so far presented, it has been hard to glean whether the threat from Iraq is so significantly different from that of Iran and North Korea as to justify military action.” He points out that “there has been no credible evidence to link Iraq with [Osama bin Laden] and al-Qaeda” and that “the threat from Iraq has not worsened as a result of September 11.” Another issue that needs to be resolved, according to Straw, concerns establishing a legal basis for military action. “I believe that a demand for the unfettered readmission of weapons inspectors is essential, in terms of public explanation, and in terms of legal sanction for any subsequent military action.” The “big question,” Straw notes, which seems “to be a larger hole in this than anything,” is that the Bush administration has not “satisfactorily answered how that regime change is to be secured, and how there can be any certainty that the replacement regime will be better. Iraq has had no history of democracy so no one has this habit or experience.” [United Kingdom, 3/25/2002 ; Washington Post, 6/12/2005]
Numerous US and British, current and former, intelligence, military, and other government officials who have inside knowledge refute claims made by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein’s regime has or is seeking ties with international militant Islamic groups. [Wall Street Journal, 8/15/2002; Washington Post, 9/10/2002; Baltimore Sun, 9/26/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/13/2002; Radio Free Europe, 10/29/2002; International Herald Tribune, 11/1/2002; CBC News, 11/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2002; New York Times, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003; Independent, 2/9/2003]
Entity Tags: Michael Chandler, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, Rohan Gunaratna, Vincent Cannistraro, Tony Blair, Saddam Hussein, Youssef M. Ibrahim, Jean Chretien, Jack Straw, Michael O’Hanlon, George W. Bush, Anna Eshoo, Baltasar Garzon, Igor Ivanov, Brent Scowcroft, Daniel Benjamin
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Top British officials attend a meeting to discuss Britain’s potential role in the Bush administration’s confrontation with Iraq. According to the minutes of the meeting, transcribed by Matthew Rycroft, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of the British intelligence service, MI6, says that during his last visit (see July 20, 2002) to Washington he noticed a “perceptible shift in attitude. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy.” Furthermore, he states, Bush’s National Security Council indicated it “had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record.” He also noted that there “was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” [United Kingdom, 7/23/2002; Salon, 5/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Foreign Minister Jack Straw appears to agree with Dearlove’s assessment, saying that it seems clear that President Bush has already decided on using military force to depose Saddam Hussein. But Straw notes that the Bush administration’s case against Saddam was “thin.” The Iraqi leader “was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran,” the minutes say, summarizing his remarks. [Guardian, 5/2/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] There is no indication in the minutes that anyone present at the meeting disputed Dearlove’s or Straw’s observations. [United Kingdom, 7/23/2002] Furthermore, the account provided by the intelligence official and Straw are corroborated by a former senior US official who is later interviewed by Knight Ridder. It is “an absolutely accurate description of what transpired,” the official will say. [Knight Ridder, 5/2/2005] Straw proposes that the next step would be to “work up an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors,” which “would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.” [Guardian, 5/2/2005; Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Britain’s attorney general, Lord Peter Goldsmith, warns that “the desire for regime change [is] not a legal base for military action,” the minutes say. But Blair says that “it would make a big difference politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the UN inspectors.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2005] Finally, the officials agree that the British government “should continue to work on the assumption that the UK would take part in any military action” but “not ignore the legal issues.” [Guardian, 5/2/2005] The minutes do not provide any indication that officials discussed how war might be avoided. [Salon, 6/10/2005] The minutes of this meetings will be revealed by the British Sunday Times three years later (see May 1, 2005). Commonly referred to as the “Downing Street Memo,” the minutes will re-spark the controversy over politicized intelligence.
Entity Tags: Richard Wilson, Michael Boyce, Peter Henry Goldsmith, Richard Dearlove, Jonathan Powell, Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw, Alastair Campbell, Francis Richards, Sally Morgan, John Scarlett, Tony Blair
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The US and Britain announce that they will act without UN approval if the UN fails to pass a resolution authorizing the use of force. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw warns that the US and Britain will take military action against Iraq with or without UN approval. He says, “We reserve the right to act within international law in respect of the use of force which may or may not be covered by a new resolution. It is entirely appropriate for America, as for us, to reserve their position if the United Nations does not meet its responsibilities.” [BBC, 10/18/2002; BBC, 10/18/2002]
When asked about claims that Iraq has ties to al-Qaeda, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw responds: “It could well be the case that there were links, active links, between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime before Sept. 11. What I’m asked is if I’ve seen any evidence of that. And the answer is: I haven’t.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/4/2002]
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw says that another UN resolution will be needed before taking military action against Iraq. Straw tells the BBC, “The most likely course of action, if military action is required—which it is not at the moment—is that we go to the Security Council, which is where there would be discussion. Our preference has always been for a further resolution for the Security Council, and that would then be put to the House of Commons for further endorsement, just as this original 1441 resolution (see November 8, 2002) is being put before the House for endorsement on Monday [November 25].” [BBC, 11/22/2002]
In a private note to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he is concerned that weapons inspectors will fail to uncover a smoking gun. He says he hopes that UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix will turn up enough evidence to declare Iraq in breach of its UN obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). [Sands, 2005; Guardian, 2/3/2006]
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw tells the BBC that prior to using force against Iraq, there should be a second Security Council resolution. He also says that there should be “a substantive vote in the House of Commons before action takes place.” [New York Times, 1/15/2003]
Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque. [Source: BBC]The Metropolitan Police mount an early morning raid on Finsbury Park mosque, sending in 200 officers.
Decision to Launch - The raid is primarily the result of intelligence about Kamal Bourgass, a man implicated in an alleged ricin plot (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass was in possession of an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals, discovered by police during a raid in Wood Green days earlier (see January 5, 2003). These “poison recipes” were in Bourgass’s writing, and the envelope had the address of the Finsbury Park Mosque with the name of “Nadir,” an alias used by Bourgass. [Observer, 4/17/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254] Like other illegal immigrants, Bourgass had used the mosque as a place to stay and as his postal address for correspondence with the immigration service. He had stayed there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. [BBC, 2/7/2006] In addition, one of many suspects detained by the police around Britain at this time tells police that the photocopier in the mosque’s office had been used to copy some “recipes” written by Bourgass. Other suspects detained have links to the mosque, and have worked or slept there. Finally, two suspects the police want to detain are known to sleep in the mosque’s basement.
High-Level Approval - Due to the politically sensitive nature of the operation, it is approved in advance by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In the 24 hours before the raid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says publicly that many terrorists are under surveillance and Blunkett says he is happy for counterterrorist units to take “whatever steps necessary, controversial, or otherwise.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254-256]
Searches, Discoveries - Armored officers batter down the doors to begin days of searches. In addition, they make seven arrests. After the trial and conviction of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for hate crimes in February 2006, police will reveal their discoveries from the raid. The police uncover chemical weapons protection suits, pistols, CS spray, and a stun gun. Other military paraphernalia include a gas mask, handcuffs, hunting knives, and a walkie-talkie. The police also find more than 100 stolen or forged passports and identity documents, credit cards, laminating equipment, and checkbooks hidden in the ceiling and under rugs, as well as more than $6,000 in cash. A senior police officer will say, “The fact that they were happy to keep this sort of stuff in the building is an indication of how safe and secure they felt they were inside.” Authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill will comment, “This was exactly the kind of material that informants like Reda Hassaine had told the intelligence services about years before” (see 1995-April 21, 2000).
Afterwards - Despite the haul, Abu Hamza is neither arrested nor interviewed, although police believe he must have known what was going on. The items seized will not be mentioned at his trial, or, with the exception of the photocopier, the ricin trial. However, they lead to police inquiries in 26 countries, which McGrory and O’Neill will call “a clear indication of the reach and influence of the terrorist networks operating out of Finsbury Park.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 260-262; BBC, 2/7/2006]
Britain’s GCHQ. [Source: BBC]British officials order translators and analysts working at the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to cooperate with a US surveillance operation (see January 31, 2003) that is targeting diplomats from the “swing nations” on the Security Council—Chile, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Angola, Guinea, and Pakistan. China, too, is likely a target of the mission. The espionage campaign is “designed to help smooth the way for a second UN resolution authorizing war in Iraq.” [Observer, 2/8/2004 Sources: Unnamed sources close to the intelligence services] The operation is likely known to the director-general of GCHQ, David Pepper, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, “who has overall responsibility for GCHQ.” [Observer, 2/8/2004] The operation reportedly causes “significant disquiet in the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic.” [Observer, 2/8/2004]
British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally admits that he was wrong to have claimed that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of giving the order (see September 24, 2002 and September 24, 2002). Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, reveals that MI6, the British intelligence agency, has formally withdrawn the claim, as well as other intelligence concerning Iraq’s ability to produce biological weapons. The claim has been heavily refuted for well over a year (see Late May 2003 and August 16, 2003). Straw refuses to say that it was a mistake to overthrow the Saddam government, saying instead that “deciding to give Saddam Hussein the benefit of the doubt would have required a huge leap of faith.… I do not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did.” He notes that other governments, most notably the US government, were also convinced that Saddam had an array of WMD which could have been quickly deployed against targets in the region. Conservative MP Gary Streeter says the Blair administration owes the nation a “full apology”: “Not an apology for the intelligence but an apology for the way that the intelligence was conveyed by the government to the country.” [Age (Melbourne), 10/14/2004] Liberal Democrat Party leader Charles Kennedy accuses Blair of “avoiding answering” questions about the absence of Iraqi WMD. Liberal Democrat deputy leader Menzies Campbell says: “The withdrawal of the 45-minute claim drives a horse and cart through government credibility.… The building blocks of the government’s case for military action are crumbling before our eyes.” [Belfast Telegraph, 10/13/2004]
Five prisoners are released from Guantanamo, following a Pentagon announcement the release would take place two weeks earlier. They are Mamdouh Habib, an Australian, and the four remaining Britons: Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Jamaal Belmar, and Martin Mubanga. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says the Britons’ release is the result of his “intensive and complex” discussions with the US. [New York Times, 1/12/2005; New York Times, 1/26/2005] Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock says the Australian government requested Habib’s repatriation to Australia after the US said it did not intend to bring Habib to trial. [ABC News, 1/11/2005]
Two Men's Passports Confiscated - However, upon their return to England, the passports of Mubanga and Abbasi are confiscated by the British authorities using a little-known Royal Prerogative. Home Secretary Charles Clarke writes to the men saying that they are too dangerous to Britain and its allies to be allowed to travel, and that granting them passports “would be contrary to the public interest,” as there are “strong grounds for believing that, on leaving [Britain], you would take part in activities against [Britain] or allied targets. We therefore decided to withdraw your passport facilities for the time being.” [Evening Standard, 2/15/2005]
Abbasi's Radical Connections - Abbasi is an associate of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see 1999-2000) who had traveled to Afghanistan and been involved in fighting against the US-led invasion (see December 2000-December 2001), and had been slated for a military tribunal (see July 3, 2003).
Deal with Blair - The New York Times will suggest that the release of the four men is politically motivated and designed to bolster British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign to gather support for the Iraq war was damaged by the news of the military prosecution of Britons at Guantanamo. According to the Times, “Mr. Blair’s critics saw his inability to regain custody of a total of nine British detainees at Guantánamo as proof of his subjugation to Washington,” and the announcement of the men’s release apparently shows that Blair can stand up to the US. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, says there are no plans to use military force against Iran. “All United States presidents always say all options are open. But it is not on the table, it is not on the agenda. I happen to think that it is inconceivable,” he says, referring to President Bush’s history of stating “all options are on the table” when describing the situation with Iran. [Associated Press, 9/28/2005; Daily Telegraph, 9/28/2005]
Bisher al-Rawi, a long-time British resident originally from Iraq, has been held in the Guantanamo prison since March 2003. He had previously worked as an informant for MI5, a British intelligence agency. MI5 had the CIA arrest him based on information it knew to be false, apparently in an attempt to pressure him to resume working as an informant. Al-Rawi had been keeping his MI5 ties secret, but in March 2006 his lawyer exposes them in an article in The Independent. A similar article soon appears in the Washington Post. [Independent, 3/16/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2006] That same month, he sues the British government for passing false information about him to the CIA. The British had been refusing to help him get released from Guantanamo on the grounds that he is a British resident and not a British citizen. But on April 20, it is reported that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has formally written to the US and demanded his release. The Guardian reports, “Government officials [do] not deny that Mr. Straw’s change of heart was to do with Mr. al-Rawi’s links with MI5.” Al-Rawi’s lawyer says: “I see this as a positive development. I’m only left to ask the question what took so long. Did they need the judicial challenge to do the right thing?” [Guardian, 4/20/2006]
Former British prime minister Tony Blair admits that he brushed off pleas from his ministers and advisers to try to prevent President Bush from going to war with Iraq, and that he turned down an eleventh-hour offer from Bush to pull Britain out of the conflict. Blair says he was convinced that Bush was doing the right thing in invading Iraq. He also says he wished he had published the full reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee instead of the cherry-picked “September dossier” that made false accusations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—a dossier that Blair says was one of the main factors in his losing the leadership of his country (see September 24, 2002). Blair, speaking as part of a BBC documentary, confirms what many people already believe: that he never used his influence as the leader of America’s strongest ally to try to force Bush away from military confrontation with Iraq. Instead, the invasion “was what I believed in, and I still do believe it.” The documentary shows that many of Blair’s closest advisers in and out of government, including foreign policy adviser David Manning, UN ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, foreign secretary Jack Straw, and even the US’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, all had serious doubts about the rush to war. But Blair says of his position, “In my view, if it wasn’t clear that the whole nature of the way Saddam was dealing with this issue had changed, I was in favor of military action.” Blair says he and Bush affirmed their intentions to invade Iraq in September 2002, during meetings at Camp David (see September 7, 2002). Bush promised to try to get a second resolution against Iraq in the UN; in return, Blair promised to support Bush in his planned invasion should the UN resolution not pass. Blair also says that, just before the House of Commons voted to authorize Britain to use military force against Iraq (see March 18, 2003), Bush called Blair to offer him the opportunity to withdraw. Blair declined. “He was always very cognizant of the difficulty I had,” Blair recalls. “He was determined we should not end up with the regime change being in Britain and he was saying to me, ‘Look I understand this is very difficult and America can do this militarily on its own and if you want to stick out of it, stick out of it,’ and I was equally emphatic we should not do that.” [London Times, 11/17/2007]
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