Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740-759)|
2 JULY 2003
Q740 Mr Howarth: Can I just take
you back to the plan for the post-military operation? Mr Hewitt,
you suggest that the Americans were expecting that the remnants
of the Iraqi authorities would take over. That certainly squares
entirely with what we were told in Washington in February; that
the guys who were running the utilities, if they remained in place,
were going to take over. Quite clearly that did not happen. Did
you discuss in your separate units what the transition arrangements
were going to be; whether there was a clear game-plan to secure
the place and then was there a plan to bring in the agencies to
come and do the humanitarian work? That is what we were expecting
and it just did not seem to happen.
Mr Hewitt: The only thing I hesitate
on is in the sense that when you are with a tank company which
is part of a brigade and part of a division you do not necessarily
know the whole plan.
Q741 Mr Howarth: But you had these
discussions and briefings with the General, General Blunt?
Mr Hewitt: Yes, absolutely.
Q742 Mr Howarth: Did he mention any
of this at any point?
Mr Hewitt: No. As I say, I have
forgotten which day the statue came downI think it might
have been Tuesday
Mr Thompson: The 9th.
Mr Hewitt: By the end of that
week I was talking to him and we kind of went back over the campaign
of the 21 days in some detail, and at that stage there was not
the level of concern there clearly now is as regards putting together
a structure that provides security. Certainly in terms of the
conversations within the tank company that I was travelling with
and reporting from, there was no plan. I can remember we stoppedthis
is in western Baghdadat an electricity sub-station (and
like most of the city there was no electricity there) and were
trying to work out how we could find someone who could open up
the sub-station so that at least some element of electricity might
be restored. But nobody knew where to find anybody and nobody
knew exactly who was in charge of this; people had gone home,
they were with their families. This is an impression, so I do
not want to be totally conclusive about it, but the impression
that I formed, certainly from the unit, was that there was no
plan for the post-war Iraq. There were occasional stories about
"We are going to bring some food in" and there were,
maybe, some trucks that may be coming in from Jordan. However,
my commander never said anything to me about "We are going
to have the NGOs turning up, we have got to do this, we have got
to do that". I think once the government had fallen in Baghdad,
once people were in the streets and the old regime seemed to have
gone, I formed the impression certainly from a military point
of view that that was pretty much as far as the planning had gone,
and from that moment on it was reactive. It could be, and this
is conjecture on my behalf, that those first crucial days will
turn out to be very, very costly days because I think some of
the faith that I certainly saw in the streetspeople running
alongside tanks saying "Thank you, Mr Bush, thank you, Mr
Blair"I only saw for about 24 hours; within 48 hours
there were people who were much more concerned about the gunfire
at night, concerned about the lack of security, and those early
days were very important days, and I suspect history will look
at them with some attention.
Mr Neely: My experience was very
different. The Marines that I was with were very concerned that
peace-keeping should involve the creation of a local authority
and that there should be security not at the point of their gun
but, also, through local representatives. I know within hours
of going into Um Qasr they were out in the local community looking
for Shi-ite clerics, looking for teachers, some of whose names
they had. I remember one intelligence officer, in particular,
was leading this effort to gather a group of people that initially
they could liaise with and who, after a while, they could hand
control over to. I think I am right in saying that Um Qasr, in
fact, was the first Iraqi town which the British handed control
over to the Iraqis. Again, everyone's experience is different
but certainly the commanding officer of 42 Commando was very concerned
Q743 Mr Howarth: It is a bit of a
paradox, really, because when we were in Washington, the whole
talk was about post-conflict reconstruction and here there was
absolutely no discussion at all, and what you are telling us is
that actually the country which was having the great debate about
post-conflict reconstruction actually had no plan at all and the
guys who apparently were not talking about it at all had a very
clear idea which they seemed to have achieved. Is there a lesson
for us from this war in how we deal with the transitional phase
Mr Neely: Sadly we are learning
lessons every day, at the moment, on how important it is. I would
not dare comment on how we might do it, but it seems
Q744 Mr Howarth: We are going to
have to dare to comment, so perhaps you could help us and point
us in the right direction.
Mr Neely: It just seems amazing
to me that you can plan for a year for a war and win it so successfully,
and yet during that war you did not plan for what happens after
the four weeks and screw it up so monumentally. That is what surprises
Q745 Mr Crausby: The use of cluster
bombs remains controversial. I wonder what experience you had
of cluster bombs and their use? In particular, did you see any
evidence of the use of cluster bombs either in urban areas or
close to urban areas?
Ms Gillan: No.
Mr Thompson: No.
Ms Gillan: Depleted uranium, yes,
cluster bombs, no.
Q746 Mr Crausby: It is almost as
mysterious as Special Forces!
Mr Thompson: That is why we say
they are all snapshots of a war.
Q747 Mr Crausby: Overall, it was
a snapshot situation, was it not? I think embedded journalism
in that sense does give you a snapshot. Overall, do you have a
verdict on embedded journalism? Was it successful? Everybody I
talk to seems to think that it was successfulthe MoD are
pleased, all the people that were involved are pleasedbut
it just strikes me that sometimes it cannot always be the case
that that can be a success for everybody. I just wondered what
sort of a result you would have had without embedded journalism.
Do you think you would have done all the things anyway? What part
of the war did you not see, as a result of embedded journalism?
Mr Thompson: Cluster bombs and
Special Forces, by the sounds of it!
Ms Gillan: One of the things that
we have all said time and again is that we each had an incredibly
different experience and each embed has had a different experience.
I think you will find some that were incredibly frustrated, especially
if you were watching that programme on BBC2 with the people embedded
in the forward press information centre, who did not get access
to anything. The three of us all got good access. We were all
on the front-line. It took me by surprise how far forward I actually
was. I do not think we had anticipated getting the amount of access
that we did. I was basically there with a unit that was actually
fighting and I was right there with them. The restrictions that
we all had were that you basically do not have control of anything
at all: where you go, what you do, when you go. Simple day-to-day
things: when you go to the toilet, whether you can have a shower,
where you are going to move to, who you speak to. You do not have
a translator. In fact, the troops that I was with did not even
have a translator and resorted to the "ordering a bottle
Q748 Chairman: We can understand
you perfectly well!
Ms Gillan: They did the "ordering
a bottle of beer in Benidorm" tactic, which you have just
done to me, which is shouting in a loud voice! Lack of translators
is always a problem but there are a number of restrictions in
being embedded that you just have to take with the role, and you
understand that being embedded is giving you a microcosm of a
picture, it is never going to be anything other than that, and
you cannot pretend to be the great war correspondent because you
are only representing this small view. Jeremy will tell you the
difference in being unilateral; you know how much more access
you can get. However, you do get a good picture of a slice of
life and it is much more human, colourfulwhat it is like
to be a soldier; what it is like to fight; what is happening in
this very small battle space, but not anything greater than that.
Q749 Mr Crausby: Was it a hit or
Ms Gillan: It was a hit, although
I would have changed a few things if I had had the chance.
Mr Hewitt: I think embedding was
a success (I was with the Americans) but it was a success with
some caveats. I was never censored, I never had any minder standing
over me, I could broadcast live from the battlefield and there
were no black-out periods. The only things I could not report
on were future operations. I could quite often, despite the health
warnings put out by the BBC and others, say precisely where I
was, and it did give us a front-row seat at that part of the war
you were at. Then you have to look at what embedding does not
allow you to do. It does not allow you to go and investigate a
story in the way that we normally do. There was a case in point
where I was contacted about a very controversial incident where
some people had been shot at a road block by soldiers from the
3rd Infantry Division. I was about eight miles away from there
and there was great interest in trying to investigate how come
some people had been killed there. I had to explain I could not
then turn my unit round and say "Look, for me can you go
back there and we can look at it?", but I was very close
to it. When you see the enormous firepower being used, you do
not see where that lands. You do not, without great difficulty,
know how the Iraqis are actually responding or what their view
is, because the relationship between certainly the American troops
and the Iraqis was often non-existent. So in reporting a war you
had to be very careful not to extrapolate from what you were seeing
into the wider picture, and it has certainly been my view that
war is a very difficult place to report from. A lot of people
do presume they know the big picture, but they rarely do. Actually,
we need unilaterals like Jeremy, we need people in Baghdad, war
needs as many sources as it can get, but in terms of wanting to
see first-hand what was happening, what was being done, if you
like, in our name, it was a fantastic opportunity. I saw things
going into Baghdad which I do not believe I could have seen and
which are some of the big questions of the war unless I had actually
been travelling with units that were involved in a lot of very
dangerous action. As I say, I saw some of the big questions in
relation to how civilians got to be killed. So I think there is
a purpose in being embedded beyond what Audrey was sayingthe
fact that she did get a very great sense of what ordinary soldiers,
the 18 and 19-year-olds who were doing most of this, actually
think. As I say, I think it was a success, a hit in your words,
but I know that it has its limitations.
Mr Neely: Likewise, a success.
I was hugely sceptical of joining this unit. I had spent a career
avoiding being too close to the military in various other conflicts
but I wanted to be at what the Marines call "the tip of the
spear", first in, in a hugely controversial war. I knew the
first week would be a massive story as British forces were going
to be at the heart of it. Similarly, it surprised me, and I would
do it again. I never felt censored
Q750 Chairman: Not too soon, I hope.
Mr Neely: And it depends where.
I never felt censored, I never felt muzzled. It gave me more access
than, probably, I had ever had to a front line before, even as
an independent. I also think it was win-win all round because
I think the Marines felt they had got some of the publicity they
desired in their on-going battle with the Paras for publicity.
Againa huge caveatnothing, apart from the first
night and the helicopter crash, seriously went wrong. The war
was a success for them. My main caveat is I wonder how the embedding
would have worked if this had been a long war with heavy casualties.
Mr Thompson: I make the case for
the unilaterals. My view is that journalists are, by instinct
and by nature, unilaterals; we are independent. The exception
to the rule is being embedded, and it is one that we should look
at very carefully as it comes up. There have been pool, or embedded,
arrangements ever since the Crimea War. I have not been around
quite that long but I have managed to avoid it for 30 years because
I am happier doing my own thing and not being attached. But I
think it worked very well. The combination of the two worked well
this time. However, I would argue that there should always be
the freedom to have independents and unilaterals, and if the Ministry
of Defence tried to stop us doing it I still think we would try
and be in there. There needs to be an accommodation of both. I
do not like the idea of being totally reliant, which you are.
Even with the lack of censorship, there is no doubt that you are
dependent, as an embed, on those around you: you are dependent
for your safety, your security, your transport, your fuel, your
food, your water, for your information, when you can film, when
you cannot film, when you can fire up your satellite dish, when
you can broadcast. There are a lot of restrictionsmaybe
not censorship, but there are restraints. I did not have those
restraints. I imposed some self-disciplines when I was around
military, both British and American, and I hope that plays both
ways and they trust you that you are grown-up enough and disciplined
enough to abide by some rules that are not going to let them down
and not going to let you down. To an extent, I accept, I was an
honorary embed; I had not expected to be but the way the war unfolded
I hung around longer in the field than I think most of us expected,
but particularly after casualties were taken among journalists
we were more aware than ever about the security and safety aspect.
One of the things about being independent which is very good is
that you do not get involved with Ministry of Defence media minders,
which I think you will find, from most journalists' points of
view, are the bane of their lives and are actually a nuisance
because they are usually either under-ranked or under-qualified
to do the job, in a lot of cases. There are some very good ones
but a lot of the time they tend to get in between you and the
story. A lot of our colleagues who have been embedded will tell
you that; it is not always helpful and they are not always trained
to the standards you would like, and sometimes they are an impediment
to reporting. I am also concerned about journalists seen as combatants.
Whichever way you look at it, journalists embedded are seen, or
could be seen, by the opposition to those forces as combatants.
Some of our embeds wore uniforms- not everybody did, but some
did. The opposing forces cannot tell whether you are a journalist
or a combatant, so we get drawn more and more into this area of
concern for many of us, which is the journalist seen as a combatant.
There are other areas we may be able to pick up on later, like
journalists with minders who end up armed and who get involved
with firefightswhich, again, drives you down the long and
dark road towards journalists being seen as combatants and, therefore,
raising the risk to us. So those are all areas that I think are
of concern. As Bill said, and as I think we are all aware, it
went well this time, but what if it went badly? How strained would
those relationships be with an embed? My argument is for both.
Ms Gillan: Can I just make a point
that unlike everybody else on the panel I actually was censored
and censorship was an issue. It was an issue for a number of journalists.
As we said, it is a different experience for everybody.
Q751 Chairman: We will come on to
the section on censorship.
Mr Thompson: Chairman, there was
one other point. I do not know whether it is worth dwelling on
it but there was a very fundamental difference between the American
and the British embed, in that British embeds are seen as poolsin
other words Bill's material can be used by any British broadcaster
and any world broadcaster. Gavin and all the Americans were unilateral
embeds, in other words you did not have to share that material
with anybody. It is a fundamental difference in the way that the
two military bodies choose to run their embeds. I do not know
whether it made any difference or not, but there is a difference.
Q752 Rachel Squire: I think Mr Thompson
has touched on some of this, but I am just trying to visualise.
You are effectively saying you were free to roam. Did you have
your own logistics unit that went with you to provide water etc?
Mr Thompson: Yes. I had a satellite
dish, I had three vehicles and I had a supply chain which, when
they could get across the border from Kuwait, supplied us with
fresh food, water and fuel. We had our own satellite equipment,
our own editing gear, our own camera gear, and I was determined
that we would not be reliant or dependent on anybody if we did
not have to be. Even when we were with British forces I was not
begging off themquite often they were begging off us because
there were shortages that they enjoyed which we could give them.
Q753 Rachel Squire: Your other comment
was that embedded journalists were more likely to be seen as combatants.
Am I not correct in thinking that it was the non-embedded journalists
who suffered the most casualties because they were not distinguished,
necessarily, when you were crossing the desert as being non-partisan?
Mr Thompson: I think the figures
are pretty close, actually. We can go into this but I do not think
there is a lot of difference between those who died in embedded
positions and those who died in non-embedded. Then, of course,
there were those in Baghdad who were there with the approval of
the Iraqi authorities. There is actually not much to differentiate.
There are dangers for unilaterals because we have found, in the
last decade or so, particularly in the Balkans and in some of
the African conflicts and here, that certainly one side will be
inclined to use ambulances and press and TV vehicles to ferry
around armed combatants. There is no doubt that certainly the
American forces had been told thatwhich was one of the
reasons there may have been journalistic casualties this timethere
were Fedayeen units driving around in either ambulances or press
vehicles. So it does raise risks for us if we are gallivanting
around on our own in open country. That is our specific danger,
but what I am talking about more is an opponent of the army you
are with simply saying "If you are a journalist embedded
with your army, you must be on their side", which goes back
to the points raised earlier about how we separate ourselves.
We know we can be objective, we claim our independence and, hopefully,
are proud of it, but not every nation that our forces may be fighting
against will make the same differentiation and will not necessarily
believe we are objective, they will think we are merely lackeys
of our military and our government.
Q754 Rachel Squire: That leads me
to another question. Was it true that you were only allowed to
be attached to British units if you, as a non-embedded journalist,
had insurance? In other words, that they did not have to take
any responsibility for you?
Mr Thompson: That is a question
for the MoD. I was never made aware of that. I did not carry a
certificate of insurance with me.
Ms Gillan: Did the embeds not
have insurance as well? We all had insurance. We all had to have
insurance. I think we signed indemnity release forms.
Mr Howarth: Who paid the premiums? Not
you, I hope!
Q755 Rachel Squire: You have given
some indication but do you want to say any more, Mr Thompson,
about the general reaction of the military authorities to your
Mr Thompson: The people I was
with throughout were an absolute delight, could not have been
nicer and could not have been more welcoming. They often said
they were pleased to have us around because we were good for morale;
we had got troops on air, their families saw their troops on air
and we were an interesting diversion as well when the days dragged
a bit. So all in all they seemed to be happy for us to be around.
The only people who were not were those involved in the forward
transmission unit, or FPIC (?) or Hub, as it is variously known,
which was meant to be the focus of the whole British journalistic
operation, particularly the embedded operation. The idea is that
the different embeds like Bill and Audrey would all be spokes
running out from this hub, and all their material, everybody was
originally led to believe, would go back into this hub where a
number of senior correspondents and their teams would be and would
process this material and send it off to Britain and their TV
and radio stations and their newspapers, and also that this would
be the font of all wisdom, the main source of all information,
the big picture, the overall view, and so on. What is quite clear
to, I think, all of us involved, whether embedded or not, is that
it was a bit of a disaster, frankly, and although the individual
embeds worked the hub became a source of great friction and frustration,
as you will hear I am sure from people like Alex Thompson tomorrow
and as you have probably seen, as Audrey was saying, from the
documentary series running. They got bogged down in the desert,
they were the bit that paused. They got stuck in the desert in
Northern Kuwait, much to the frustration of many of our colleagues
(and we would probably feel the same); they were not getting to
see anything, they were not getting much information, they were
not getting anywhereand they had been told they were pretty
much the big banana, they were going to be the main thing in the
war as far as British media was concerned. As a result of that
frustration, they got stuck into the MoD, they got stuck into
their own MoD minders, the chief press officers there and so on,
and one of the results of that is that they then sent out raiding
parties to try and hunt me down so that I could be evicted from
Iraq because, clearly, I was a thorn in their side. The senior
officer at the time, who I was with, said "Don't worry about
it" (I'll put it mildly) "it is just red tape, don't
worry about it, it will go away." He said "You are no
bother to us; in fact, we like having you around. I am sure this
problem will go away." Clearly it came down to a mixture
of frustration journalistically and for the media minders from
the MoD and from Whitehall who were involved in this hub operation.
I am sure, as a result of that, we will probably review it next
time; whether it needs to be in place or not, who knows? It was
a glitch in the system.
Q756 Rachel Squire: Picking up on
that and the lack of information and frustration and so on, are
you saying that efforts were made to censor your reports in the
Mr Thompson: Not censor my reports,
no, just get me out of the countrywhich I saw as a great
compliment and, also, an added incentive to stay there and get
stuff on air. It did not bother me but, clearly, I was annoying
Q757 Rachel Squire: Coming back to
you, Audrey, and your experiences of censorship, were efforts
made to persuade you to go home as well?
Ms Gillan: No, there were no efforts
made for me to go home. My experience was that everything that
I filed to The Guardian had to be read by somebody there,
and initially there were specially appointed media ops officers
around. First of all, there were four or five people whose full-time
job was media ops, and they were way behind. There was also within
the regiment an officer who did media ops. He actually was with
16 Air Assault Brigade HQ so he did not come to the front line,
therefore the sort of censorship came down to the commanding officer
and second-in-command. I do not imagine that they would have had
that much media training. It was a bit of a two-way street, in
some senses, because mistakes that I had made they corrected,
in the sense that I am no military expert, so sometimes if I had
used the wrong parlance for some kind of ordnance or whatever
else then they would change that. They did change things, and
an MoD official acknowledged to me last week that it was not censorship
but meddling, and there was some of that. That is simply because,
I think, there was no clear line that they were told "You
can change so much if she says where you are or gives your battle
planthese definitive things. However, if she writes something
that you do not particularly like and you think it reflects badly
on the regiment you cannot change it". No one had said that,
so therefore things like "running for cover" was changed
to "dashing to cover" because it implied cowardice.
Some quotes were criticised for being too anti-American and some
of that was changed. If there were things that seemed to be critical
of the higher chain of command they were kind of slightly worried
about that. It was not that they were doing this in a malicious
way, it was just simply that they are officers and they want all
the reflected glory for their regiment. We got into several arguments
about my stuff being too negative because other journalists were
writing much more gung-ho "We went in at dawn" type
of things, and I was not doing that, and they were kind of persuading
me to do that, but they could not work me round. I think the solution
to it would be to have a proper media ops officer. Then you are
stuck, as Jeremy said, with a minder who follows you around everywhere
and just gets in the way. I do not know what the solution is.
Other journalists have told me that the guy they were with had
a handbook and that handbook said "Never lie, never this,
never that". I never saw any of that, but I still had people
changing my copy. So I think it is definitely an issue and it
was an issue in different ways for different people. I know that
nobody read our Observer colleague's stuff at all, he could
write what he liked.
Q758 Rachel Squire: Do you think
he was given preferential treatment because he was somehow seen
as more supportive and less critical?
Ms Gillan: No. It was luck of
the draw. The way we all got our postings was just a lottery.
I just happened to have the Household Cavalry regiment and I do
not think they necessarily liked The Guardian that much.
They put up a picture of the Queen for me arriving. There was
certainly a bit of joshing going on. They ended up, all the Household
Cavalry, reading The Guardian anyway, which was quite a
fillip actually. I think the MoD chap last week was quite right
in the sense that he said it did become meddlesome and very frustrating,
but it did not interfere with the truth of the picture that I
had to portray.
Q759 Mr Roy: Just a small point.
I remember during the conflict, on a Saturday afternoon, watching
two soldiers lying in a concrete base looking as though they were
going to fire their rifles at any point. Those pictures were shown
for something like half-an-hour, and I was a bit worried, watching
it, that someone had to feed these News 24 pictures just to keep
the programme going. I did feel very uncomfortable about that.
Apart from feeling uncomfortable, and I can understand what you
are saying about censorship and such like, is there not a case
that your reporting could have helped the enemy's intelligence
gathering? Hence the reason why they needed some sort of censorship?
Ms Gillan: I can give a perfect
illustration of that, which is a mistake that I made. During the
blue-on-blue attack the convoy of vehicles that were struck by
the A10s popped red smoke, which intimates to the friendly forces
in the sky that these are their own. I wrote a big piece for The
Guardian in which I had taken out the colour "red".
However, there was a separate piece which was a first-person account
from somebody who survived in which the version that went over
still had the red smoke in it. So it was an absolute accident
but it was a serious security breach. There was an investigation
afterwards, at which it was suggested that Audrey Gillan had done
it on purpose to get an exclusive. Actually, it appeared in The
Mirror and I do not think that if I was trying to get an exclusive
I would want it to be in The Mirror! It was an accident,
but the implications of that are that if somebody in Baghdad is
reading The Daily Mirror they will know that if they pop