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Old 01-10-2004, 05:14 AM   #9 (permalink)
Strange Famous
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Why wait for Hutton?

We already have all the facts we need to pronounce on the prime minister's judgment

David Clark
Friday January 9, 2004
The Guardian

This week's pre-emptive strike by Michael Howard over the long-awaited Hutton report has raised expectations of what was already shaping up to be the biggest political event of the year. In truth, far too much significance is being attached to Lord Hutton's report into the death of Dr David Kelly. The inquiry was not set up to make what must necessarily be political judgments about the conduct of those involved in the affair; nor is Hutton likely to interpret his mandate in that way. It is up to all of us to determine the importance of what he has unearthed, and for that we have no need to await his conclusions. The relevant facts are already in the public domain.
For similar reasons there is little point in pressing the case for a judicial inquiry into the wider issues raised by the Iraq war, however much we may sympathise with the motives of those intent on doing so. Many Labour MPs who opposed military action last March feel trapped between the desire to establish the truth and the certain knowledge of where it would lead. They want others to reach the conclusions that they themselves find too troubling to acknowledge. In a healthy democracy, the responsibility to decide cannot be delegated away like that. Hutton may not pronounce on the integrity of the government's Iraq policy, but he has provided us with enough evidence to form our own judgments. It's time we did so.

There is certainly no shortage of blame to be allocated on the basis of what we have learned. In its own hearings the foreign affairs select committee failed in its responsibility to hold the executive to account and instead engaged in what amounted to the politically motivated show trial of a BBC journalist. The intelligence services have been exposed both for the paucity of their knowledge about the true state of Iraq's military capabilities and their willingness to allow their already inaccurate assessments to be embellished for political effect. Both have a lot to do to restore public confidence.

The BBC does not emerge unscathed either. Andrew Gilligan was wrong to suggest that the government knew the 45-minute claim to be false, or at least he had no basis to make that claim at the time. And the BBC should not have described Dr Kelly as an "intelligence source". But let's keep these errors in perspective. The first was an unscripted slip that formed no part of the government's initial complaint. The second does not alter the fact that Dr Kelly was an important source who provided a truthful account of concerns within the intelligence community.

Gilligan and the BBC will continue to be targeted by those determined either to deflect criticism from the government or to undermine public service broadcasting. But it is worth remembering that they have done more to uncover the truth about the Iraq war than all of their critics put together. That is why they have been so viciously assailed. Besides, the BBC, alone among the parties to this saga, has been willing to own up to its failings.

There can be no moral equivalence when it comes to judging the prime minister and his government, despite the best efforts of some to spread the blame. Those charged with making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the nation must be expected to meet a higher standard of propriety than the journalists who report on their activities. It is here that the main burden of accountability must fall.

By any standard, the government's treatment of Dr Kelly was callous and cynical. Having promised to protect him from the glare of publicity, his employers cut him adrift, dropping a series of hints about his identity and inviting journalists to guess his name on the promise that it would be confirmed. As we were reminded this week by Michael Howard during prime minister's question time, this process was initiated on the direct instructions of the prime minister. His suggestion that this game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink did not amount to a deliberate strategy to name Dr Kelly is pure sophistry.

There is no defence, either, in the much-repeated claim that his naming was inevitable. It became inevitable only once No 10 decided to use him as a stick with which to beat the BBC. This might have been forgivable had it been the only way for the government to defend itself against a malicious smear. But we now know that there was no smear. The BBC's report was correct in essence, if not in every detail.

Gilligan claimed that the government's Iraq dossier had been "sexed up". A senior defence intelligence official told Hutton it had been "over-egged". The difference is one of taste rather than substance. The same official said there was no solid evidence of continued Iraqi production of chemical weapons after 1998. Yet Tony Blair's foreword to the dossier claimed that such production had been "established beyond doubt". There was a progressive hardening of the language used to describe Iraq's capabilities, a process that started after Alastair Campbell rejected the joint intelligence committee's original draft and called for something "new" and "revelatory".

All caveats and facts that might have revealed just how sketchy the real intelligence picture was were systematically filtered out and replaced with words of resounding certainty. Most damaging of all is the revelation that Blair's own chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, acknowledged that "the document does nothing to demonstrate a threat, let alone an imminent threat from Saddam". He said the final draft would need to make this clear, and yet the prime minister did the opposite, claiming in his foreword that the threat from Iraq was "serious and current".

The plain truth is that, had we known then what we know now (and, more to the point, what the government has known all along), the dossier would have been laughed out of town. But no attempt was ever made to explain that the notorious 45-minute claim referred to battlefield munitions only, and came from a single, uncorroborated source. If the attempt had been made, the Sun would not have declared: "Brits 45 minutes from doom." That was one media inaccuracy Blair wanted on the record.

Hutton has revealed a pattern of misrepresentation and selective disclosure that could only have had one purpose. Blair will continue to deny that he lied to the British people, but New Labour's media strategy is based on the post-modern dictum that perception creates reality. In this case, the perception, skilfully encouraged by Downing Street, of an Iraqi regime armed to the teeth and ready to strike, created the reality of a very big lie indeed.

Many people find it hard to separate these issues from their own opinions about whether it was right or wrong to go to war in Iraq, yet it is important that they do. Even those who think that it was, on balance, a good thing cannot afford to be indifferent to the integrity of their government and the ability of their prime minister to recognise the truth. Blair wants us to "move on", but continues to assert against all known fact that everything he said about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was right. Whether he believes this or not is no longer the issue. Fantasist or liar, Blair is unfit to govern.

David Clark is a former Labour government adviser

http://www.guardian.co.uk/hutton/sto...119390,00.html
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hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain
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