Tony Blair jauntily brandished his barrister’s shoulder at Michael Howard in the House of Commons yesterday as the two locked horns over the Butler Report. Howard made the crucial point that intelligence, described by experts as “sporadic, patchy, little and limited”, had been transformed by Blair into intelligence that was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Blair had argued that non-compliance with UN resolutions was a sufficient basis for war, but he knew the British public would not support a war without a “current and serious” threat from Iraq’s WMD. So he & his coterie at No 10 conspired to mislead, first by creating, then “fixing” a dossier which went (by the extraction of vital caveats) from saying, in effect, “WMD’s might be there”, to “WMD’s definitely are there – and can be deployed in 45 minutes”. Does being prime minister give Blair a license to hoodwink? Are we to be mesmerised as he puts on a showy point-scoring performance, and seeks to avert our gaze from this act of deliberate deceit? If we are living under a political system which cannot bring to book a prime minister who cons the electorate into supporting a war, shouldn’t that system be changed?
Meanwhile, more eyebrow-raising confessions and denials from his pals in the cabinet. Jack Straw, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, admitted to the House of Commons this week (see article below) that he knew about the withdrawal by MI6 of dubious intelligence referred to in Tony Blair’s dossier as early as 8th September 2003. But he allowed the public, and British soldiers, to go on thinking that the basis for going to war, as expounded in the dossier, was sound. He reported it to the Intelligence and Security Committee, but apparently did not relay it to one key member of the cabinet. Geoff Hoon claimed on Channel 4 News this evening that he was unaware of MI6’s withdrawal of this intelligence until the time of the Butler Report. Are we to accept that Straw did not think it was necessary to tell Hoon, the DEFENCE SECRETARY, that the main basis for going to war with Iraq had virtually evaporated?
By Joe Churcher – PA News July 20, 2004
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw knew in September that a key source of intelligence on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capability had been discredited, it emerged today.
Last week’s Butler Report disclosed that information from the source – said to be a major contributor to the Government’s controversial dossier – had been withdrawn by spy chiefs.
Downing Street insisted last week that Prime Minister Tony Blair only learned of the move as a result of Lord Butler’s inquiry into the use of intelligence in the run up to the war.
But in a written parliamentary answer published today, Mr Straw said: “I became aware of the withdrawal of this reporting when I agreed, in response to a request from SIS on 8 September 2003, that the reports in question should be disclosed to the Intelligence and Security Committee”.
Lord Butler’s revelations led to accusations that the Hutton Inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly had been misled by spy chief John Scarlett.
Mr Scarlett, who as chairman of the Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee oversaw production of the dossier, did not mention to the inquiry that the source had been discredited.
The claims were denied last week by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman who said that the issue “was still being investigated as a sensitive operational matter” when Mr Scarlett, soon to take over as the new head of MI6, gave evidence.
He said it would have been “completely wrong and improper” to air it in public.
Mr Scarlett appeared before Lord Hutton twice, once on August 26 and again on September 23.
Mr Straw was replying to a question from Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price (Carmarthen E and Dinefwr) who asked him “when he was informed that SIS had withdrawn reporting from the source who claimed that production of biological and chemical agents had been accelerated by the Iraqi regime because the source had subsequently been deemed unreliable”.