The great whitewash
Rod Liddle says that Lord Hutton gave the
government the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to the point of
appearing either hopelessly naive or a visitor from a kinder,
So what were you all waiting for? You surely
could not have been expecting an inquiry, headed by an eminent law
lord, to deliver an indictment of the government? They don’t do
that, law lords. Certainly they haven’t in my lifetime. And it
hasn’t happened now, with Lord Hutton.
But even by the
standards of his equally well appointed and eminent predecessors —
Lord Franks, Sir Richard Scott, Sir Anthony Hammond, Lord Denning,
all of whom found it necessary to exculpate the political
establishment when push came to shove — Lord Hutton has flung the
whitewash around with a copiousness, a completeness, which must have
surprised even the inhabitants of Downing Street. The only thing we
can learn from the Hutton report is that next time we yearn and
clamour for an inquiry into some piece of governmental chicanery, we
should avoid at all costs importuning a senior member of the legal
community to write it. Instead we should get someone a little more
sentient, a little more observant, a little less inclined to accept
without question the protestations of innocence of the ruling
political elite. A plumber, for example. Or maybe the members of
Atomic Kitten. Be a bit cheaper, too.
The Hutton inquiry
established in the public mind — beyond all question — the
government’s disingenuousness and deceit over the gravity of the
threat posed by Iraq to the West. And then the Hutton report passed
over, or ignored, or rather airily dismissed all of this stuff. Lord
Hutton was merely following precedent here: the same sort of thing
happened, if you remember, with the Scott inquiry into the selling
of weapons to Iraq and, even more brazenly, Lord Franks’s inquiry
into the government’s failure to prevent the Argentine invasion of
the Falkland Islands. The ability of law lords and the like to hear
a mass of evidence and, having done so, to draw precisely the
opposite conclusion to that reached by the rest of the country is
almost as entertaining as their penchant of law lords for
pronouncing simple words in a bizarre or anachronistic manner.
Weapons of maaaarse destruction indeed, Lord Hutton?
us help his lordship. Let us remind him of the salient facts
established by his own inquiry but by which he seemed unimpressed,
or maybe just bored.
Firstly, the BBC was not merely
justified in but should be congratulated upon broadcasting a story
that was important, significant and in the public interest. There
are some, around here, who consider it the most important political
story of the last 20 years or so.
Secondly, that the story
was not merely fundamentally correct as it stood on 29 May, but has
since been endlessly corroborated. The story was this: a senior
member of the intelligence community had deep misgivings about the
way in which the government was using the information he and his
colleagues had gathered — and that, what’s more, it was Alastair
Campbell or his office that was primarily responsible for ‘sexing
up’ the September dossier which so wilfully exaggerated the threat
posed by Iraq.
We should concede here — as the BBC conceded
— that the wording of one of Andrew Gilligan’s 18 interviews on 29
May went a shade too far. The allegation that the government knew
that the claim that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be
deployed in 45 minutes was false and could not be corroborated. You
and I might suspect that it’s true, but we can’t prove it — and so
Andrew Gilligan should not have made the allegation. He has already
admitted this point. But we might also acknowledge that this
particular rogue interview, at seven minutes past six in the
morning, did not form the basis of the original complaints from Mr
Campbell. It is doubtful that he even heard it. The complaint, then,
was that a) Gilligan had only one source and b) his source was
insufficiently senior. We now know precisely how ‘important and
credible’ Dr Kelly was, and we have more recently heard his views
repeated by other members of the intelligence services.
Hutton decided, for reasons which entirely elude me, that the
September dossier was not ‘sexed up’. Let’s examine what we know, as
a fact, about this.
Firstly, the 45-minute claim evolved
from ‘a mere possibility to a certain judgment’ (Andrew Caldecott
QC) in the September dossier; the late rewrite of the document was
suggested by Jonathan Powell, the Downing Street chief of staff.
This change had the effect of presenting Saddam Hussein as an
offensive rather than a defensive threat (and we have discovered
more recently that he was not even that). As Caldecott said, ‘This
was not cosmetic. It was substance.’
Further, Hutton decided
that the government was entirely justified in meddling with the
September dossier, because the dossier was for public consumption.
Clearly his lordship has no greater opinion of the unwashed British
public than he has, more specifically, of journalists. He did not go
into detail about the nature of the changes made to that dossier at
the behest of Alastair Campbell — who, in a break with tradition,
was allowed to chair meetings of the intelligence staff. We might
direct his lordship’s attention to the way in which the very title
of the document was changed. Originally it was entitled ‘Iraq’s
Programmes for Weapons of Mass Destruction’, which had the whiff of
accuracy about it. Later it became ‘Iraq’s Weapons of Mass
Destruction’ — as if they already had them and were about to use
them; which is, of course, what the government wished us to believe.
At every possible point, Lord Hutton gave the government the
benefit of the doubt, sometimes to the extent of appearing either
hopelessly naive or maybe a visitor from a gentler, kinder planet
where chicanery never takes place. Listen to this, for example: ‘The
desire of the Prime Minister to have a strong dossier may have
subconsciously influenced John Scarlett and the joint intelligence
committee to produce a strongly worded document.’ Subconsciously!
The suggestion here that the PM’s need for a ‘strong’ (or, to use
another description, ‘blatantly inaccurate’) document was not made
explicit to the hapless Scarlett and the JIC almost beggars belief.
Indeed, the politicisation of the security services has been one of
the darkest aspects of this whole affair.
There was not,
according to Hutton, a plan to identify Dr Kelly to the media —
despite the fact that Hutton agreed that Tony Blair had chaired
meetings about the naming of Dr David Kelly. What did he think was
discussed at these meetings?
And, similarly, at every
juncture, Lord Hutton stuck the boot into the BBC and, while he was
about it, Dr David Kelly. For Hutton, Kelly’s previous eminence and
chance of a knighthood were destroyed by his regrettable decision to
talk to journalists, and — the implication is — he got what he
deserved. Which is a strong message to be sent out to any other
public servants who feel appalled at the way politicians use or
abuse their services.
At the BBC, it looks as if there will
be resignations. The chairman of the BBC, Gavyn Davies, may well
feel that his position is untenable following such trenchant
criticism from his lordship. Davies is no great friend of mine,
believe me — but on this issue he was steadfast and principled. And
that principle grew from a sense of outrage at the way in which
Alastair Campbell attacked and attacked the corporation on the
broadest possible front, vilifying its output, its broadcasters and
its ethos. Davies behaved with a great deal of dignity and no little
strength. I dare say we can all brace ourselves for another
pointless political row as to who should be allowed to take his
place. My guess is there may not be too many takers right now.
And finally, back to those weapons of mass destruction. Tony
Blair apparently thinks that they will still be found. He’s about
the only person left standing who does believe such a thing. Even
Bush and Rumsfeld have given up the ghost on that one. Hans Blix,
the UN’s chief weapons inspector, says that Iraq hasn’t had WMD for
ten years. In fact, every inspector dispatched to Iraq says that
there are no weapons of mass destruction. That was the essence of
Gilligan’s story: the PM and the PM’s office felt that they could
not go to war except on the issue of Saddam’s preparedness to attack
the West. And having decided upon this, they then went about
ensuring that the public believed that Saddam was prepared and
equipped to attack the West despite the considerable evidence to the
contrary. In other words, he led us to war on a false pretence. Only
Lord Hutton seems unable to see this.
I think, as a country,
we’ve had enough of law lords.
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