Lord Hutton has acquitted Blair of all responsibility that the September dossier was improperly influenced by political pressure.
Tony Blair is a very lucky man. Lord Hutton has completely acquitted him of the criticism that the September dossier was improperly influenced by political pressure – unless it was “subconsciously influenced” by a desire to please the Prime Minister on the part of John Scarlett and members of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He has also found that the Government did not behave in a way which was “dishonourable or underhand or duplicitous in revealing Dr Kelly’s name to the media”.
Lord Hutton criticises Andrew Gilligan for suggesting that the Government “probably knew the 45 minute figure was wrong before putting it in the dossier”. And he criticises the Governors and editors at the BBC for not checking Andrew Gilligan’s account more carefully before responding to the complaint.
There was unsurprisingly jubilation in Government quarters at this outcome to Lord Hutton’s inquiry. But I am afraid it will not be the final word on many of the big questions of how we got to war in Iraq. If we step back a little from the detail of Lord Hutton’s findings, I think we should ask whether it is right to treat one broadcast at 6.07am on the Today programme, after the conflict in Iraq was over, as of equal significance to a dossier that was made available to the public by the Government in order to make the case for war.
It seems to me – despite Lord Hutton’s careful findings – that it remains the case that the Andrew Gilligan story was basically true, reflected what Dr Kelly said to him and that Andrew Gilligan is guilty of nothing more than sloppy wording when he said – at 6.07 in the morning the Government inserted the 45 minute probably “knowing it tobe wrong”. The problem with Lord Hutton’s findings is that the whole world now knows that the dossier was inaccurate. We know from evidence given to Hutton himself, that the 45 minutes claim was provided by one source which had reason to try to influence UK thinking. We also know that that source claimed that battlefield chemical weapons, might be capable of being made available within 45 minutes of an order to prepare them. And that the thinking of the intelligence agencies was that Saddam Hussein might use such weapons if attacked.
We have only to look at the press reports, the day after the dossier was published to understand the way in which the operation led by Alistair Campbell was exaggerating the threat to Britain from Iraq’s WMD.
In recent statements the Prime Minister has rested his case – that there were WMD in Iraq – on the intelligence he received. But the truth is that the intelligence was exaggerated. The intelligence agencies thought that Iraq had chemical and biological programmes and probably some capacity to use some chemical weapons within Iraq. We now know that they were wrong in that assessment. But there is no doubt at all that the intelligence was exaggerated for political reasons. This issue is causing enormous controversy in the USA and it has been repeatedly made clear by former Security Services staff in the US and Australia, that the intelligence was exaggerated in order to make the case for war. Lord Hutton does not of course comment on the discredited claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium from Niger.
The questions of how far the intelligence was wrong and to what extent it was politically exaggerated remains very important to the reputation and public respect for the British intelligence agencies. Lord Hutton’s report will not settle that question.
But behind all this and the tragedy that befell Dr Kelly, lie the big questions on which the Hutton Report does not comment. I am afraid that it is still clear that our Prime Minister committed himself to support a US war in Iraq before the summer of 2002. He therefore lost the leverage the UK could have exercised to persuade the US that we should agree to act together to deal with Saddam Hussein but because there was no imminent threat, we should start with implementing the road map to Palestinian statehood. He should also have insisted that we should work through the UN and exhaust all possible means before resorting to war. This was the proud role the UK could have played – acting as a bridge between the US and Europe and helping to end the central cause of division and bitterness in the Middle East. Instead, I am afraid that it remains the case that the Prime Minister promised us that there would be war only if authorised by a Second UN Resolution. But he had also promised the US we would be with them. And when the Security Council would not support war before Dr Blix completed his work, he excused his failure to keep his promise on the Second Resolution by misleading us on the French position. In fact, President Chirac said he would veto any resolution at that time, but would support the UN authorising war if Dr Blix’s efforts failed. Instead, we were repeatedly told that the French had said they would veto any Second Resolution.
On top of this, the Prime Minister promised a UN mandate for the reconstruction of Iraq. But when the US refused to give the UN its proper role in bringing into being an interim Iraqi government, the Prime Minister gave in again and thus failed to legitimise and internationalise the reconstruction process.
Lord Hutton’s findings are very important. I fear he may have overestimated the nobility of the style of the No 10 operation under Alistair Campbell’s tutelage. However, I have always taken the view that the central issue in relation to Dr Kelly was whether one considers it legitimate to have “outed” him in order to use him to counter Gilligan’s story. Clearly, Lord Hutton thought Gilligan’s insult was so great that it was legitimate to put Dr Kelly into the public domain. It therefore follows that his criticism on this issue would be confined to the lack of support provided to Dr Kelly during this process.
Lord Hutton does not of course deal with the big question of whether the Prime Minister was less than honest with his country on the road to war. I am afraid it remains my conclusion that through a series of deceits, half truths and omissions, the Prime Minister got the UK into a war in support of the US which has strengthened Al Qaeda, further destabilised the Middle East and increased the suffering of the people of Iraq.
I have no doubts that the Prime Minister thought he was doing the right thing and still thinks he did the right thing. The question remains whether it is acceptable for a Prime Minister to be economical with the truth when committing the country to war.