Friday, 23 February 2007

Stale Thoughts on the Iraq War

Again, this is an old piece I've found in the files. It deals with the alleged 'sexing up' of the dossier that Downing Street used inflame opinion against Iraq - the one that contained the infamous '45 minute claim'.

The Gilligan Affair

Oscar Wilde declared that it is a terrible thing for a man to find out that for his whole life, he has been telling nothing but the truth; truth must be a terrible thing, as the fate of Andrew Gilligan bears witness. For telling something like truth, he has been forced to resign from his position of defense correspondent at the BBC. Heaven only knows what would have become on him had he told the whole truth.

It’s a witches brew, alright. The British government plagiarizes an out of date thesis from the web; Colin Powell offers a slickly packaged but empty presentation to the UN; the British government foregrounds a rather unlikely sounding piece of intelligence information about Saddam being able to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, which is repeated, without explanatory detail, in the House Of Commons, and drags Britain into a war.

Afterwards (If we can talk about ‘afterwards’ in the context of the Iraq invasion) no WMD are found, what-so-ever. No substantial evidence of development programs is found, even. We learn that George W Bush now wants to examine the evidence that he used to justify invading Iraq.

Yet, at the last count, Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies and Andrew Gilligan have lost their jobs; on the government side, Blair’s snake-in-the-grass, Alaisdair Campbell, has been forced to take his services else where. So the score is 3-1 to the government. Teflon Tony survives another attempt by the envious and the invidious to do him down.

Dyke, Davies and Gilligan have come out of this with their careers ruined. Campbell, if anything, has enhanced his reputation. Whereas before he was described as a ‘Prince Of Darkess’ or a ‘Spin Meister’, now he gets to pretend to be the plucky soldier who throws himself on a grenade. An appropriate comparison, as British and American soldiers are dying because of their leader’s lies.

Lord Hutton is a very careful and sedulous man, by all accounts. If Tony Blair is innocent of the charges that Tony Blair asked him to investigate, I am sure he is. Alas, Lord Hutton’s very scrupulousness meant that the inquiry would never look at anything beyond the very strictest – and limited – interpretation of its mission.

What it all boils down to is what was said one morning when one BBC journalist, the avuncular John Humphries, interviewed another, Andrew Gilligan. It was 6.07am, that’s right, 6.07am, and Gilligan stated that “The government probably knew that the 45 minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in.” By the time he was interviewed again by Humphries, Gilligan corrected his statement to “They [intelligence agencies] thought it was … not corroborated sufficiently and they thought it was wrong, they thought the informant concerned had got it wrong …”

The British government might not have invented the story, but they they must have thanked whatever dark deity politicians pray to, for its existence.

Not only did Tony Blair foreground the claim in his foreword to the controversial dossier, but the claim appeared three further times within that document. Not bad for one little uncorroborated story from an unreliable source.

One of the claims that the scrupulous Lord Hutton made was that Tony Blair’s desperate need to find something to pin on Saddam might have subconsciously influenced eager to please diligent intelligent wonks drawing up the dossier:

“the desire of the prime minister to have a dossier which ... was as strong as possible in relation to the posed by Saddam Hussein's WMD may have subconsciously influenced Mr Scarlett and 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”

Forgive me for sounding skeptical, but are we to believe that John Scarlett, head of the Joint Intelligence Service, is really as intellectually malleable as all that? And if so, are we to be in any reassured by this frailty?

How does one measure subconscious influence, anyway? Might the na├»ve Lord Hutton, shielded by the walls of his ivory tower, have mistaken conscious intent for subconscious influence? Thomas a Becket was murdered because some knights with nothing better to do with their time overheard Henry II wishing himself rid of the turbulent priest; after the foul deed, his Majesty enjoyed complete deniability. Times have changed, but means haven’t.

On the 24th September Tony Blair stood up in the House of Commons and announced that “[Saddam] has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes”. He described the report as “Extensive, detailed and authoritative.”

He was speaking not to the house but to the nation watching at home, who were skeptical of the reasons being advanced for war. He didn’t give any detail. He didn’t explain that the weapons referred to, if they existed, were minor battlefield munitions, not SCUD missiles crammed with Anthrax or mustard gas.

At best we have a prime minister who doesn’t know what he is talking about; more likely, one who misled the British people as to the nature of the threat Saddam Hussein posed.

Now we learn that WMD are perhaps in Syria. Strange that Colin Powell’s eagle eyed spy satellites didn’t pick them out. He made it look like a camel couldn’t fart in Iraq without it being picked up. But so far, what has been found?

Dick Cheney brings us up to date: “We've found a couple of semi-trailers at this point, which we believe were in fact part of a [WMD] program … I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction.”

Excuse me? Cheney calls this conclusive evidence. In a world where lies are true and where arrant nonsense is accepted unquestioningly as proof, it is no surprise Andrew Gilligan had to go for almost telling the truth.

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