17 September 2001
In 2001, Alastair Campbell, as Tony Blair’s director of communications, was one of the few officials in almost daily contact with the prime minister. On 17 September, six days after the attack on the World Trade Centre, he noted in his diary that the PM had lunch with the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Campbell recalled that Berlusconi was ‘reasonably supportive of the idea of military action (against Afghanistan) ‘provided not too many people die.’ Blair, who had already decided to support an assault if the Taliban refused to hand over the prime suspect, Osama Bin Laden, was bewildered by Berlusconi’s halfhearted backing. He urged the Italian prime minister that ‘there was no such thing as a painless war,’ and explained that he was exasperated with ‘people (who) show support up to the point where the shooting starts.’1
Alastair Campbell doesn’t mention whether Blair confided that just two days earlier he had himself agreed with Campbell that the evidence against Bin Laden wouldn’t stand up in a British court. Britain couldn’t have handed over Osama bin Laden to the United States under an extradition request on the same grounds, although he now was arguing that they should embark on war with the Taliban which he himself was admitting might involve a large loss of life, for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden, and without Britain or the United States even handing over the little evidence there was to support such a claim.2
- Alastair Campbell and Bill Hagerty (editors), The Alastair Campbell Diaries: Volume 4 The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq, Arrow Books, London, 2013, p. 16.
- Ibid., p. 13.
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