The Hutton Report is likely to damage the government to some extent but it will not end the debate over the decision to go to war, nor will it bring an end to the bloody insurgency.
Lord Hutton is due to report very soon. None of us knows how stringent he will be. Will he say the Prime Minister lied? If we compare Tony Blair’s claim to the media, immediately after Dr Kelly’s death, that he had nothing to do with naming Kelly with the evidence of Sir Kevin Tebbit – the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence – it is clear that they cannot both be telling the truth. If Hutton drew attention to this, could the Prime Minister survive?
My expectation is that Lord Hutton, being a Law Lord, will be less direct than this. But I cannot see how he can fail to conclude that the Ministry of Defence failed in their duty of care to Dr Kelly. The crucial question is whether it was proper to name Dr Kelly in an effort to undermine Gilligan and the BBC. If Lord Hutton considers it a proper use of state power to ‘out’ Dr Kelly, then there is little case to answer. If he considers it wrong, then it is hard to see how the blame can be laid at Geoff Hoon’s door, when it was Tony Blair who chaired the meetings that decided to name Dr Kelly.
My conclusion is that No 10 wanted to use Dr Kelly to attack Andrew Gilligan and the BBC; and that the intolerable pressure placed on him, led him to take his own life. The case for the defence, is that Gilligan’s report was misleading and ‘a slur on the Government’ and it was therefore perfectly proper to name Dr Kelly and place him before two Select Committees, in order to restore the reputation of the Government.
But it should be remembered that the broadcast in question was made on 29 May, long after Baghdad had fallen. And Alistair Campbell made a fuss about it at the end of June when he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. There was no question of any threat to national security. Gilligan simply suggested that the Government knowingly exaggerated the threat from WMD and that the dossier issued in September had been “sexed up” in order to help make the case for war. The evidence made available during the Hutton enquiry supports Gilligan’s claim. Susan Watts, the Science Editor of Newsnight, showed in her evidence to Hutton that Dr Kelly did say the intelligence was being exaggerated under pressure from Alistair Campbell. John Scarlett – the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee – made clear in his evidence that the claim that WMD could be used in 45 minute referred to battlefield weapons only. The dossier made no such qualification and was thus a serious exaggeration. I conclude that Gilligan’s story was basically true and that Alistair Campbell launched his attack on Gilligan in order to divert attention away from the question of whether the country had been deceived in the rush to war.
It is notable that the leaders of the intelligence services, senior civil servants, the Prime Minister and senior staff at No 10, the Secretary of State for Defence and his Permanent Secretary were all closely involved in the hunt for Gilligan’s source. And that Dr Kelly was closely interrogated about whether he had said what Gilligan claimed. There is a serious question here, of whether the resources of the state were misused in order to attack a journalist, who said no more than other journalists had written, simply because he had irritated and embarrassed the Government.
Whitehall regularly holds leak enquiries. They usually end with a failure to find who was responsible. Mostly the leaker is a Minister or special adviser, enquiries only take place when the leak displeases the powers that be. the evidence is unclear. All our political reporters now rely on constant leaks and briefings from No 10. It is only the unauthorised briefings – especially when true and embarrassing – that invoke the pressure brought to bear on Dr Kelly. Given that Dr Kelly had come forward voluntarily it was appropriate to consider whether he had acted beyond his authority. We now know from Sir Kevin Tebbit this was not considered serious enough for disciplinary action. I believe that it was inappropriate and sinister that such senior figures in the Government machine were involved in Dr Kelly’s case, when the issue was simply one of political embarrassment that did not justify disciplinary action. It remains to be seen whether Lord Hutton finds this improper.
Lord Hutton’s terms of reference are “urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly”. It is likely that he will confine himself to the narrow question of the pressures that led Dr Kelly to take his life.
But behind this lies the question of whether the country was deceived to justify a rush to war that has taken more than 20,000 lives and continues to cause considerable loss of life. We now know that Dr Kelly was not opposed to war, but did object to the exaggeration and inaccuracy in the dossier. This means that the case of Dr Kelly and the question of whether there was deceit and exaggeration in the rush to war are intertwined. This is why so much of the evidence that was exposed by the Hutton enquiry was important and revelatory on the question of deceit and exaggeration in justifying the rush to war. It is unlikely that Lord Hutton will comment on the wider question. But the judges are angry with Blair and the senior military very critical of the war; Hutton is retiring immediately after the report issues and therefore has no need of the patronage that the Blair regime uses so ruthlessly. Here lie some tantalising possibilities. But the likelihood is that the report will be damaging, but not devastating for the Blair regime.
But we must always remember that Alistair Campbell launched his attack on Gilligan and the BBC long after the broadcast was made and was almost certainly engaging in deliberate diversionary tactics. Dr Kelly’s suicide is a tragedy, but so is the loss of every single life in the course of the Iraq conflict. If Blair lied about the naming of Kelly that is serious. But if he engaged in a campaign of deception, exaggeration and half truths in order to support the US rush to war, that is very serious. The big question remains, why Blair supported a rush to war on false pretences and why there was such a massive failure to consider the suffering of the people of Iraq. The legal case for war was based on the threat from WMD. Now it is clear that there was no such threat, the Prime Minister emphasises how much the people of Iraq suffered under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a vicious dictator and the suffering of the people of Iraq was increased enormously by twelve years of UN sanctions. It is for this reason that most people in the UK were willing to support the threat to use force to back up the authority of the UN. The majority of us were also willing to support UN authorised military action if all other means failed. But the US was determined on regime change and domination of post war Iraq and Tony Blair was determined to support them. If the action had been guided by a commitment to protect the people of Iraq, there would have been a bigger effort to exhaust all other means to achieve our aims and more careful preparation for a UN authorised reconstruction effort.
The Hutton report is likely to damage the Government but it will not end this debate or bring to an end the insurgency in Iraq. The Iraqi people are a proud nationalist people – as all who worked in the UN Oil for Food programme will testify. And Iraq is situated in a region which is boiling with anger that the US has been the key supporter of Israel in its grave abuse of international law at the expense of the Palestinian people over the past 50 years. The US has also propped up corrupt dictatorships that have misused the region’s oil wealth and oppressed and humiliated the Arab people. American troops are now in a vulnerable position on Arab soil. It is highly unlikely that the people of the Middle East will let America out of Iraq without trying to use the opportunity to achieve a settlement over Palestine.
Beyond Hutton, my optimistic scenario for 2004 would be an American President elected to get out of Iraq who is therefore forced to drive an Israeli/Palestinian settlement. The pessimistic scenario sees conflict and suffering from generation unto generation. The biggest mystery is how extremist, Likud supporting, neo- conservatives hijacked US foreign policy and pretended that September 11th had any link to Iraq. The saddest question is was our Prime Minister a knave or a fool? I fear the answer is something of both.