blogorrhoea
Thursday, January 29, 2004
 
OF RESPONSIBILITY AND INFERENCES

It [the dossier] concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes ... and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.

Thus did Tony Blair (try to) sell the war to the House of Commons on 24 September 2002.

Following the publication of the Hutton Report, BBC Chairman Gavyn Davies has resigned on the following grounds:

" ... whatever the outcome, I have been brought up to believe that you cannot choose your own referee, and that the referee's decision is final. There is an honourable tradition in British public life that those charged with authority at the top of an organisation should accept responsibility for what happens in that organisation. I am therefore writing to the Prime Minister today to tender my resignation as Chairman of the BBC, with immediate effect."

So here the boss is taking the responsibility not only for the essence of every one of the Beeb's Andrew Gilligan's 19 reports on the WoMD issue, but for every single sentence, for only in one unscripted sentence did Gilligan suggest Number Ten might have known the notorious 45-minute claim was unsubstantiated and doubtful (which is not to say Number Ten did not know, just that Gilligan hasn't been able to prove it). In short, the governors did not cross-check every unscripted sentence uttered by their staff, and the executive has consequently had to assume full responsibility.

So the Prime Minister did not ask for everything in the JIC Report to be substantiated or cross-checked, and, on the most generous reading possible, publicly made a claim that turned out to be incorrect. On the strength of this and other incorrect claims, he took Britain into an illegal and bloody invasion which killed (what I infer to be) tens of thousands of Iraqis and not a few Brits. But not for him "the honourable tradition ... that those charged with authority at the top of an organisation should accept responsibility for what happens in that organisation." On the best possible inference, Blair's own organisation got their facts horribly wrong. But honourable traditions are for lesser beings (we'll find out soon if Joint Intelligence Chiefs are sufficiently lesser). Instead Blair claims vindication and demands an apology.

He's going to get away with this even though Hutton agrees Number Ten had the JIC Report 'sexed up' in the sense that it was, well, sexed up:

"Mr Alastair Campbell made it clear to Mr Scarlett on behalf of the Prime Minister that 10 Downing Street wanted the dossier to be worded to make as strong a case as possible in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's WMD, and 10 Downing Street made written suggestions to Mr Scarlett as to changes in the wording of the draft dossier which would strengthen it ...

... I consider that the possibility cannot be completely ruled out that the desire of the Prime Minister to have a dossier which, whilst consistent with the available intelligence, was as strong as possible in relation to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's WMD, may have subconsciously influenced Mr Scarlett and the other members of the JIC to make the wording of the dossier somewhat stronger than it would have been if it had been contained in a normal JIC assessment ...

... it could be said that the Government "sexed-up" the dossier."

Okay, so nothing in the dossier was known to be untrue. But it had been changed, by Scarlett, at the behest of Alistair Campbell, on behalf of the Prime Minister (Hutton's own words), to suggest a stronger case than the intelligence community thought was tenable. When Hutton argues none of the changes to the document were meant to mislead - merely to strengthen - he is drawing lines so fine as to be invisible. Not to know something is wrong is not in itself to judge it to be right. Might the reasonable citizen not infer from Hutton's own words, that what was merely not known to be wrong was indeed deliberately presented as expertly judged to be right? They bloody well might were they to read those words:

"... the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons section of the Defence Intelligence Staff, headed by Dr Brian Jones ... did suggest that the wording in which the claim was stated in the dossier was too strong and that instead of the dossier stating "we judge" that "Iraq has:- military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them", the wording should state "intelligence suggests"

By the way, what I haven't found in Hutton's findings, but have found in the records of the Inquiry, is direct reference to the evidence presented to him by the Beeb's Susan Watts, who actually had the ill-fated Dr Kelly's voice on tape. And on that tape he admits many in the intelligence community were openly voicing their reservations concerning the 45-minute claim throughout the week leading up to the PM's use of said claim to justify the war he was about to add to Britain's CV.

There were a lot of people saying that. I mean, it was an interesting week before the document got out, because there were so many people (inaudible) saying, "well, I'm not sure about that" or in fact they were happy with it being in but not expressed the way that it was.

Oh, and why would Number Ten be so intent on sexing up the JIC Report in the first place? May the reasonable citizen not infer that the maligned Gilligan's fateful throwaway line constituted a rather more tenable inference than those festooning the final draft of the JIC Report? May the reasonable citizen not also infer the Prime Minister was committed to the war before the JIC dossier ever got to that final form?

In short, I'm with National Union of Journalists president Jeremy Dear, who sez it all:

"Whatever Lord Hutton may think, it is clear from the evidence he heard that the dossier was 'sexed up', that many in the intelligence services were unhappy about it, and that Andrew Gilligan's story was substantially correct."

Gilligan was substantially right, and to the degree he was wrong, if wrong he was (and we still do not know that he was wrong), this may have contributed to a tragic but unforeseeable death.

Blair was substantially wrong, and this drew Britain into contributing to a number of tragic and wholly foreseeable deaths the obscene magnitude of which is (a) being officially and studiously ignored and (b) still mounting.
 
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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