A Whiter shade of White


What a surprise. Blair's week of hell has turned out to be no such thing. Few anarchists would have been shocked by this.

The Labour backbenchers have shown their usual lack of guts, many undoubtedly preferring to rebel just enough to secure a future career in the party hierarchy than be bothered about a broken election manifesto promise (never mind such minor things as principles). The only good news is that Blair's majority was slashed, although it is doubtful it will cause him to reconsider his ways -- listening Tony does not have a reverse gear.

Lord Hutton's report has been even more beneficial. An appointed law lord, a classic representative of the British ruling establishment, has found the government not guilty. The word "whitewash" springs to mind, particularly given that Hutton decided to ignore and what he concluded. For while his report bordered on the laughable on many occasions, it went well into farce territory when he pondered whether the "desire of the prime minister to have a dossier which, while 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"! Blair has many qualities, but being able to "subconsciously" influence people is more fitting to the realms of comic book superheroes than, say, a public enquiry.

It must have only been Hutton who failed to notice all those memos from Downing Street officials to Scarlett asking for multiple changes in wording. After all, how could those result in pressure to harden the dossier? A far better explanation is subconscious influences, although that was merely a "may have." Yes, of course, these memos had no effect on the intelligence chief's concern to accurately report the intelligence available. It merely took numerous rewrites to do this. It was a mere coincidence that each one hardened the claims contained within.

So when Blair's chief of staff asked John Scarlett to redraft that part of the September dossier which suggested Saddam Hussein might use chemical and biological weapons "if he believes his regime is under threat" and he did so, well, that was simply Scarlett "subconsciously" pleasing his master. Similarly, when Blair's chief of staff warned that a preliminary version of the dossier contained no evidence that Saddam was a threat, "let alone an imminent threat," and a mere week later another version was produced which included the claim that the Iraqi dictator had the capacity to launch WMDs in 45 minutes that was simply a product of good fortune. Or when Campbell asked Scarlett to change a claim that the Iraqi military "may be able" to deploy WMD within 45 minutes to "are able" that, too, simply shows that the subconscious works in mysterious ways.

Not that such redrafting amounts to the "sexing up" BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan quoted Kelly as complaining about. No, not at all. Nor was "sexed up" the same as being "over-egged," to use the expression of Brian Jones, who managed scientists working at the Defence Intelligence Staff. He said this to Hutton when discussing how the assessments of the Iraqi threat were being (ab)used as the dossier was compiled. Another unnamed official at the inquiry also told how he and Dr Kelly had discussed concern about the role of government "spin merchants" in the dossier.

But that was not the only thing Hutton failed to notice. He ignored crucial facts and testimony, such as the transcripts of interviews between a BBC Newsnight journalist and Dr Kelly which corroborated much of what Gilligan claimed, including the scientist's statement that the 45-minute claim was "got out of all proportion."

But, no, the dossier was not "sexed up." Why? For Hutton, the term "sexed-up" has two meanings. It "could mean that the dossier was embellished with items of intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable to make the case against Saddam Hussein stronger, or it could mean that whilst the intelligence contained in the dossier was believed to be reliable, the dossier was drafted in such a way as to make the case against Saddam Hussein as strong as the intelligence contained in it permitted." Hutton took his remit to be the former, not the latter. For if it were the latter then "it could be said that the Government 'sexed-up' the dossier." So it is a happy coincidence for Blair that Hutton limited the scope of his enquiry to the former definition. Unless, of course, Blair's powers for "subconsciously" influencing others was at work here too.

Perhaps that explains Hutton's failure to comment on how Blair could chair the meeting at which the strategy for outing Kelly was adopted and also later deny having anything to do with it? Perhaps Hoon shares Blair's powers? After all, Hutton failed to complain about Hoon testifying his ignorance of the strategy to "out" Dr Kelly while the MoD press chief later admitting the Defence Secretary had been at a meeting when "the approach we were adopting" was discussed. But in Hutton's world there was no "underhand strategy" to name Dr Kelly, so ignoring Campbell's diary entries in which he confessed his desperation to get the scientist's name out. Hutton also concluded there was no leaking, while failing to wonder how the Times obtained the information that made it possible for journalists to identify Dr Kelly. It is one of the many "awkward questions" that the Hutton report leaves unanswered.

Perhaps he was picked precisely on his ability to ignore what he, and all of us, heard at his inquiry? Subconsciously, of course.

So it appears that Campbell's strategy has paid off. By narrowing down everything dodgy about the Iraq war to the single question of what a BBC reporter said in a few seconds one early morning, Campbell has sidetracked the key issue. Namely, whether the war in Iraq was really necessary or were WMD simply used as a fig leaf for imperial ambitions and reasons of state. It constrained the scope of the Hutton inquiry marvellously -- a constraint which Hutton himself seemed to have tightened voluntarily ("subconsciously"?) himself. Significantly, Hutton felt capable of breaking those constraints and widening his remit when it came to attacking the BBC. Unsurprisingly, the results were exactly what Blair and Campbell could have hoped for.

So, to summarise. Hutton attacked the BBC for allowing one of their journalists to criticise the government on the basis of one uncorroborated report from a source. Yet he failed to attack the government for making the 45-minute claim on the basis of a single uncorroborated report from within Iraq.We should never forget that while Gilligan's report was wrong in one important respect, the rest of it was right. The 45-minute claim was inserted late, there was disquiet in the intelligence communities about the dossier and there was an anonymous, single source for the information. All of which Hutton strangely ignored. Sexed up? Fucked up, more like.

What is amazing is that Campbell could accuse the BBC of running an anti-war agenda. In fact, the BBC was the most pro-war of the 5 channels. But then again, some people seem to think that the corporation is a hot-bed of hard leftism. Two things are true. Firstly, Hutton's report will ensure that it becomes even more subservient to the government (its loyalty to the state can be taken for granted). Secondly, it gave a clear message to any civil servant thinking of becoming a whistleblower what to expect if they decide to follow their conscience.

What Hutton did not address is the simple fact that 16 months after the publication of the government's dossier, not a single WMD has been found. Not even one that could be prepared and used against another country in 45 minutes.

And on the basis of the Hutton report John Reid, the health secretary, asserted he wanted to see a shift from the culture of a general allegation that "all politicians are self-serving and prepared to lie even about the greatest and gravest matters like going to war"! And people wonder why we anarchists are revolutionaries...


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