Back to website

Mo Mowlam: Will they trust him?

Sending Peter Mandelson to the EU will exacerbate worries about British duplicity

25 July 2004

I have known Peter Mandelson for a long time, and one year I even managed to end up on holiday with him. I was travelling alone in Spain and so was he, so we agreed that we would meet up there. He was a charming and civilised man to be with, and we had a good time. Later, when he was trying to get his current parliamentary seat in Hartlepool, he stayed with me in Redcar, my constituency, just across the Tees. This was a less congenial setting for him. I only had a two-up, two-down terrace house in the back streets. Peter, I remember, never looked comfortable at breakfast time, lying on the sofa bed in the sitting room and speaking on his mobile phone. He only stayed once, being very aware of his creature comforts and his status.

Peter will enjoy his new job. The salary, perks and status will feed his ego, and the power will also help. But will he be able to wean himself off British domestic politics, in particular life in No 10? When Peter was Northern Ireland Secretary, a very demanding job and a place that absorbs all your energies, I was alarmed to see how often he was to be seen in No 10. Already he has said he will be spending "the bulk of the week" in Brussels. He has a craving to be at the centre of things, but will he find Brussels such a centre?

I hope he does, because with only one commissioner, in future that person is going to have to work doubly hard at making the EU work at this particularly challenging time of enlargement, and in representing Britain's interests. One aspect of the man worries me, though. As I say, he can be very charming, and if he wants something from you, he can make you feel that you are the most important person in the world, that he is your best friend. But if you have offended him, or are simply of no use to him at that moment, he can be rude and dismissive. Simply, he is disliked and not trusted by his colleagues, as is evident from the number of members of the Cabinet who are appalled at the idea of him returning to the Cabinet.

Trust will be a key element in our dealings with other EU countries. There are already deep divisions between Britain and many countries in Europe, not only because of Tony Blair's slavish devotion to the United States over and above Europe with regard to Iraq, but also our posturing over the EU constitution and our reluctance to join the euro. It will be extraordinarily difficult to manage these issues, and will Peter help? If his fellow commissioners come to feel about him the way his former Cabinet colleagues do, what will this do to help our reputation and position in the EU? Feelings of a duplicitous Britain will increase. We will not be trusted. This is the enormous risk in his appointment.

Peter is very effective at political and media manipulation - ask any political journalist - but left to his own devices he can be foolish and show a lack of judgement. His desire to control events, whatever those events are, can lead to trouble. His second sacking from the Cabinet illustrates this. Although he was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing about the Hindujas' passports, what is significant is the Prime Minister's decision to sack him. Tony simply did not believe him when he mounted his defence. From his experience of the man, he could believe that Peter had overplayed his hand, and fundamentally lacked judgement. He did not trust him. It is hard to square this with his protestation yesterday that he is the best man for the job.

So why appoint him now? Anyone else who had been forced to resign from the Cabinet twice would never have come back. He may have remained a friend of the Prime Minister and his family. He may have remained a confidant. But to put him back in the mainstream of political life would have been impossible. When I first read reports of his comeback as an EU commissioner, I thought that it was just Peter up to his old tricks. Just floating a story to boost his ego and to see if any one took it seriously (and I didn't believe they would).

But then, lo and behold, he gets the job. In typical Peter fashion, we soon see stories in the press that Tony really wanted to bring him back into the Cabinet, but had to settle on the European Commission. Here we have Peter as victim, and it softens the blow for the rest of the world when they sigh in relief that at least he did not get back into the Cabinet. This is pure Peter manipulation.

But why did Tony do it? Governing Britain well is surely more important than his feelings for one man, however good a friend he is, and however much he feels guilty over the second Mandelson resignation. Is this the way to win an election? Although outside the world of Westminster Peter is less well-known and his reputation may not be as sullied as it is in professional political circles, if people remember him at all - apart from for the Dome - it will be for his mortgage arrangements rather than his brilliant media manipulation, and for being a close friend of the Prime Minister.

Cronyism, the way he prefers to have his friends about him rather than his elected colleagues, was one of the first accusations made against Tony. He will favour those he likes and knows well above those who are most competent for the job. So why perpetuate this reputation in such an obvious and risky way? It is partly because Tony likes to prove that he can do what he likes, however unpopular that decision is. And he particularly likes doing this when it means offending his own party and supporters. He takes a perverse delight in upsetting the Labour Party - and this appointment will upset many there.

But he also risks adding a destabilising element to the whole European issue. Yes, the Tories have deep problems with Europe, but New Labour is also split. We know that Tony still harbours a wish to take Britain into the euro. We know he has committed himself to the risky enterprise of winning the referendum on the constitution. But certainly on the first of these he is at loggerheads with his Chancellor, Gordon Brown. And since Peter chose Tony over Gordon when the Labour leadership became available in 1994, Peter and Gordon have not got on. Peter, a strong pro-European, is likely to want to promote Europe. But will this always be done in a way that is most advantageous to the Government? I fear not. Left to his own devices, Peter will make mischief. He has riled Gordon in the past with his statements to the press. Can he be trusted not to embarrass the Chancellor when he is asked about the euro?

When Peter lost his Cabinet position for the second time, I felt sorry for him. I knew how important being in government was for him. He had been in the shadows for so long, first under Neil Kinnock and then working for Tony. But he had now lost his opportunity for a second time to share the limelight. Knowing his love of status and luxury I took him to the Savoy for breakfast (a financially reckless thing to do, I discovered). What upset me, though, was that the man I found on that occasion was not the civilised charmer I had known in the past. He was arrogant, vain and self-obsessed. Not one word did he utter that did not concern himself. I hope he can see more broadly in his new job.

The writer was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1997-99

British Army officers stripped of veto powers over Iraq abuse cases

By Severin Carrell

25 July 2004

Ministers have stripped Army commanders in Iraq of their power to veto criminal investigation of their troops after a string of cases alleging mistreatment of Iraqis.

The Independent on Sunday has also learnt that the Ministry of Defence is overhauling the controversial system of paying compensation to aggrieved Iraqis for alleged ill-treatment, deaths and damage to property. An MoD document seen by the IoS reveals that ministers have ordered a major review of the way unlawful killings and alleged abuses by British troops are investigated, as part of a wider review of armed forces procedures.

It could see a complete ban on the right of regimental commanders to stop the military police and Army Prosecuting Authority from charging soldiers. The change has already been made in Iraq, where responsibility for ordering a criminal inquiry was secretly passed in February to the Army's most senior officers.

The move follows the refusal of a commanding officer to let Army prosecutors charge a soldier for the alleged killing of an Iraqi called Hassan Abbad Said. Ministers were forced to ask the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police to take over the investigation. The case is one of at least 13 alleged incidents of misconduct now close to going to trial.

This week the most controversial of these cases - the alleged murder of the hotel receptionist Baha Mousa by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment last September - will come before a British court for the first time.

Mr Mousa's death, first revealed by the IoS in January, will be at the centre of allegations in the High Court that the MoD has broken the Human Rights Act by failing to prevent the deaths and abuse of 29 Iraqi civilians by British troops, and failed to carry out independent investigations into these cases.

Mr Singh, (Rabinder, QC) from Cherie Blair's Matrix Chambers, will claim the MoD has a legal duty under Article 2 of the convention not to kill anyone without justification, and to accept full legal liability for any unjustified deaths - even when British troops control another country, such as Iraq. Failing to prevent torture and degrading treatment, denying water and food and using solitary confinement is outlawed under Article 3 - issues central to the Mousa case.

He claims the MoD has broken the law in four key areas: it failed to carry out an independent inquiry or inquest; failed to accept legal liability for the deaths and ill-treatment; refused damages in direct compensation for a death; and illegally used ad hoc "ex gratia" payments.


They died in Basra's squalor. At last the truth begins to emerge in a London court

As judges consider the Army's conduct, Severin Carrell examines the accusations, and describes how six people met their deaths

25 July 2004

More than a year after the Iraq war was declared over, and 10 months since Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, was allegedly kicked and beaten to death by members of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, the first legal challenge to the conduct of British forces in Iraq will be heard in the High Court this week.

The death of Mousa last September while in the custody of the QLR, revealed by Robert Fisk in The Independent on Sunday early this year, is among six cases being brought before the Royal Courts of Justice in London. At the three-day hearing a team of prominent human rights lawyers will ask the High Court to order a full independent inquiry into the conduct of British forces in Iraq.

The lawyers accuse the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces of repeatedly breaching the Human Rights Act 1998. If they succeed, the MoD could face drastic changes in the way British troops behave in wars and peacekeeping operations - curtailing their right to use "lethal force" in hostile areas or during riots, and a possible ban on certain wartime tactics, such as dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas.

Ministers could also be ordered to overhaul their payments of informal "ex gratia" sums to aggrieved Iraqis - a practice the MoD admits "leaves us open to potential criticism of inconsistency". Its case will be put by Professor Christopher Greenwood QC, who advised the Government the invasion of Iraq was legal. The hearing will focus on six deaths drawn from a dossier of 29 killings and severe beatings compiled by the Birmingham-based firm Public Interest Lawyers.

It will be attended by Col Daoud Mousa, Baha Mousa's father, and the receptionist's friend Khifeh Taha, who was detained at the same time and sustained acute kidney failure and severe bruising after allegedly being beaten for three days.

According to a four-strong team of barristers lead by Rabinder Singh QC, these cases prove the Army did not guarantee the "right to life" of Iraqi civilians and failed to prevent torture and inhuman treatment, in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights and the 1998 act.

Mr Singh, from Cherie Blair's Matrix Chambers, will claim the MoD has a legal duty under Article 2 of the convention not to kill anyone without justification, and to accept full legal liability for any unjustified deaths - even when British troops control another country, such as Iraq. Failing to prevent torture and degrading treatment, denying water and food and using solitary confinement is outlawed under Article 3 - issues central to the Mousa case.

He claims the MoD has broken the law in four key areas: it failed to carry out an independent inquiry or inquest; failed to accept legal liability for the deaths and ill-treatment; refused damages in direct compensation for a death; and illegally used ad hoc "ex gratia" payments.

Compensation deals vary widely. The Mousas were offered up to 4,500 - provided they dropped any legal action. The family of Waleed Fayayi Muzban, who was shot dead by British troops in his people carrier, was given 540. Only in the Mousa case is a prosecution expected, but no soldier has yet been charged. The MoD has also admitted in a submission to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights that the army's Special Investigations Branch (SIB) launched its inquiry "within 30 minutes of his death being confirmed".

The MoD will robustly defend its behaviour at this week's hearing. In the most detailed defence of its conduct - a 22-page document passed to The Independent on Sunday - ministers insist MoD policy and training complies with all UK and international law.

The document - a rebuttal of three Amnesty International reports alleging abuses by British troops - states all soldiers are "made fully aware of their [legal] obligations ... as well as the legal principles of distinction, immediacy, necessity and proportional- ity". "It goes without saying that torture is a crime under English criminal law," it adds.

The MoD insists all allegations are investigated thoroughly. Detectives in the SIB and the Army Prosecuting Authority - services it insists are impartial and independent - have carried out 79 investigations into alleged killings, abuse and destruction of property, and are now considering more than a dozen prosecutions. It has also paid out more than 140,000 in compensation - but rarely admits it was at fault.

Yet in many of the alleged abuses and killings no evidence was found of wrongdoing by troops, the MoD insists. Some families refused to allow corpses to be exhumed or autopsies to be carried out, and in others, witnesses refused to talk.

But the MoD has slowly accepted these scandals have revealed weaknesses in its policies. It banned the use of hoods in Iraq after the Mousa case; has now named 25 Iraqis whose deaths were investigated; and has admitted its compensation scheme is flawed. The High Court has to decide if this is enough.

Muhammad Abdul Ridha Salim

The 45-year-old teacher was visiting his brother-in-law late on 5 November 2003 when British soldiers burst into their house at Al Andalus, in Basra. Fearing an attack by criminals, the teacher and his brother-in-law rushed downstairs, and confronted a soldier.

Mr Salim was shot in the stomach. In the confusion, his sister screamed at the troops and was bundled into a side room. Mr Salim died later in hospital. In a letter to the family, Major S Routledge, of the King's Regiment, admitted the raid had been a mistake. They had been given an anonymous tip-off that 10 men, armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, were gathering at the property. Maj Routledge admitted: "It appears that the British forces were deliberately misled and it is regrettable that this incident led to the death."

Hazim Jum'aa Gatteh al-Skeini

He and another man were on their way to a funeral near Basra after dark on 4 August 2003 when they were shot by British soldiers, dying almost instantly.

The commander of the King's Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Ciaran Griffin, told Mr Gatteh's tribe his troops had mistaken mourners firing into the air for a gun battle but implied Mr Gatteh was illegally carrying a gun. He expressed regret at the "misunderstanding" and offered the family 540. "In retrospect it became clear [the] two men ... had not intended to attack anyone," he said.

Raid Hadi al-Musawi

The 29-year-old policeman was coming home at about 10pm after dropping off a box of "suggestions and complaints" at a local judge's house on 27 August.

As he neared his home, close to Al Farahidi police station in Basra, a British armoured patrol allegedly shot at him without provocation. He died nine weeks later from his wounds. His mother, Nuzha Habib Yaaqub Ubaid al-Rayahi, said: "From what I have been told, the British Army fired on my son for no reason... I understand also that there were no other parties involved in shooting in this incident."

Hannan Mahaibas Sadde Shmailawi

She was preparing for supper with her husband, Hameed Abdul Rida Awaid Kareem, a porter at the Basra Institute of Education, and her children on 10 November when shots were fired into the room, hitting her in the head and legs.

Ms Shmailawi, 33, was rushed to hospital by the King's Regiment soldiers involved, but was dead on arrival. The reason why troops opened fire remains unclear, but a note by a Major Routledge admits his unit was responsible. Mr Kareem said British engineers who saw the incident said the soldiers had been on the institute's roof and asked them where Mr Kareem lived and if he was armed. They were told he had permission to carry weapons. Mr Kareem said: "There was no opportunity to protect my wife. [We] could not understand why British soldiers would fire into our home."

Waleed Fayayi Muzban

While driving home from work in his nine-seater Kia people carrier at about 8.30pm on 24 August, his vehicle was hit by a barrage of bullets. He died instantly.

Army documents suggest a unit with the King's Own Scottish Borderers were involved. With the help of local community leaders, Mr Muzban's family tried to reclaim the vehicle from the British Army, but officers tried to buy it from them. His brother, Fadil Sayay Muzban, claimed a British official said "the vehicle was hit from behind [and] this would adversely affect their legal position". Eventually, the family took 540 compensation, but it was unclear whether that was for Mr Muzban's death or the vehicle. Their British lawyer, Phil Shiner, has accused the Ministry of Defence of withholding evidence by refusing to hand the vehicle over.

Baha Mousa

The receptionist at the Al Haitham hotel in Basra was arrested in a dawn raid on the hotel by a squad of Queen's Lancashire Regiment troops searching for an illegal weapons cache.

Along with seven others, Mr Mousa was taken for interrogation after another man escaped during the raid, on 13 September 2003. Mr Mousa was then allegedly beaten to death at the Army's headquarters in Basra. Medical records showed he died of "asphyxia" - a consequence of being hooded during the beatings.


Butler 'wrong' on Iraq uranium link

By Raymond Whitaker

25 July 2004

A leading nuclear expert has pointed out a technical error in the Butler report on WMD intelligence in Iraq, and criticised the committee's finding that intelligence on Saddam Hussein seeking uranium from Africa was "credible".

The Butler report demolished the most controversial allegation in the Government's September 2002 WMD dossier - that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in 45 minutes - but observers were surprised that the uranium claim passed scrutiny.

American investigators have dismissed the suggestion that Iraq was seeking uranium from the west African state of Niger in a quest for nuclear weapons, because it was based on forged documents. It was also inherently implausible, they added, since Iraq had 550 tons of "yellowcake" - uranium which has undergone the first stage of processing. But the Butler committee accepted the Government's contention that it had separate intelligence, which has never been disclosed, to support the claim.

Norman Dombey, retired professor of theoretical physics at Sussex University, said yesterday that the Butler report wrongly described Iraq's stocks of uranium as unprocessed. But Professor Dombey, credited with pointing out numerous flaws in the story of an Iraqi defector whose nuclear claims were widely circulated in the US during the 1990s, was more critical of the committee's intelligence findings on the Niger issue. "The Butler report says the claim was credible because an Iraqi diplomat visited Niger in 1999, and almost three-quarters of Niger's exports were uranium. But this is irrelevant, since France controls Niger's uranium mines," he said.

Last year this newspaper interviewed the now-retired diplomat, Wissam al-Zahawie, who said he had been sent on a tour of African countries in 1999 to invite their leaders to a trade fair in Iraq. In Niger he met only the President, who was assassinated two months later. British intelligence on the issue appears to be based entirely on speculation by other Niger officials about the purpose of Mr Zahawie's visit.

Professor Dombey pointed out that the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report in the US quoted widespread scepticism about the British information on Niger. One agency said "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are highly dubious". Asked by the committee to comment on Britain's WMD dossier, the deputy director of central intelligence, John McLaughlin, said "they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch" on the African uranium question, adding: "I think they reached a little bit on that one point." Another senior official singled out the same part of the dossier, saying: "They put more emphasis on the uranium acquisition in Africa than we would."

Despite doubts at the time, George Bush said in his January 2003 State of the Union address that "the British government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa". The head of the CIA, George Tenet, who has since stepped down, apologised for its inclusion. But Britain stood by the claim, saying it was not based on the forged documents that had fooled other countries. Other US intelligence on the issue was conspicuously thin, the Senate committee noted.