Hutton has changed nothing. We were lied to.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
So, Andrew Gilligan
is a fink and Tony Blair is a fine fellow?
Up to a point, Lord Hutton.
The Hutton Inquiry
was investigating a very narrow matter indeed – the circumstances surrounding
the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly.
As Lord Hutton
himself was at pains to point out last night, the wider issue of the existence
of Iraqi weapons of mass distraction – the causus belli cited by Blair, Bush
and our own beloved Prime Minister, was not under examination.
One of the first
remarks he made, discussing the terms of reference, was:
been a great deal of controversy and debate whether the intelligence in relation
to weapons of mass destruction set out in the dossier published by the
Government on 24 September 2002 was of sufficient strength and reliability to
justify the Government in deciding that Iraq under Saddam Hussein posed such a
threat to the safety and interests of the United Kingdom that military action
should be taken against that country. This controversy and debate has continued
because of the failure, up to the time of writing this report, to find weapons
of mass destruction in Iraq. I gave careful consideration to the view expressed
by a number of public figures and commentators that my terms of reference
required or, at least, entitled me to consider this issue. However I concluded
that a question of such wide import, which would involve the consideration of a
wide range of evidence, is not one which falls within my terms of reference.”
That, of course, was always going to be the case.
Anything else would have been a bizarre
interpretation of the terms of reference.
A legal officer of Hutton’s standing would not have considered such a
Hutton, legal observers reports claimed, is wary of setting
precedents – and, according to friends, felt greatly burdened by the power that
was suddenly handed to him to undo the leader of a great democracy.
The fact that he refers at all to this “question of such
wide import” showed his awareness of the political sensitivities surrounding
his task and a desire to acknowledge them while stating clearly, simply and
unambiguously that they fell outside the sphere of his investigation.
This means that Hutton has exonerated Blair from a direct
role in the events that lead to Dr Kelly’s suicide and of lying to the House of
What he most emphatically has not done is said Blair told
the truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – along with George W Bush,
John Howard, Jose Maria Anzar and all the other leaders of the combatant
All of which left the door wide open for some predictable
but comments by British Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy published in
yesterday’s Independent, before Hutton’s findings were released.
“There can be no
greater test of a Prime Minister than his leadership in time of war,” he wrote.
“He is, in effect,
playing God – making life and death decisions about British soldiers as well as
enemy combatants and civilians. Tony Blair persuaded a reluctant Parliament
that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which were a ‘current and
serious’ threat to our national security. So far, 58 British troops have died
in Iraq, but no chemical or biological weapons have been found.
“I believe the Prime
Minister made a disastrous error of judgment over Iraq and last week’s ICM poll
showed that 48 per cent of the population believe he lied. This is enormously
damaging both to his integrity and the trust we should have in the office.
“Lord Hutton was
asked to examine the narrow circumstances of David Kelly’s death. I hope the
Kelly family will find some comfort in his words. The distinguished judge may
censure and blame certain people for the way they treated Dr Kelly. But it’s
highly unlikely he will deal with the most important question of all. He won’t
tell us why Mr Blair took us to war on a false premise – saying there were
weapons of mass destruction ready to be launched in 45 minutes, when none have
“I have avoided
bandying about accusations of ‘lying’. Our Prime Minister is the elected
servant of the people and his behaviour reflects on all of us. We do great
damage to our democracy and to our international reputation when we use such
words lightly. I also believe it distracts from a matter of equal importance,
the question of the Prime Minister’s judgement.
“Of course, were it
to be proved that the Prime Minister knew this 45-minute claim was false, but
went ahead in making his case to the nation, he would certainly have to resign.
But it is surely equally damaging that, convinced as he was of the scale of
Saddam’s arsenal and the threat he posed, without the hard facts to back up the
case, Tony Blair drove us into an unnecessary war.
“As it happens, I
believe the Prime Minister was sincere. I have known him for 20 years and he
made his case with passion. But – with all his forensic barrister’s skills –
how did he fail to ask the critical questions? Why did he allow a single,
uncorroborated intelligence claim to achieve such huge prominence? Why did he
accept and pass on to the nation only the intelligence which supported his
case, while suppressing other key pieces of advice, such as the assessment that
a war could create great instability in Iraq, distracting from the wider war on
or not, Tony Blair misled us; his judgement was seriously flawed. Mr Blair
clings to his assertions that in the end some evidence will be found by the
Iraq Survey Group. This is now starting to make him look silly. Even if some
weapons were eventually to turn up, they won’t help him. It is quite clear
there was no vast, battle-ready arsenal. Tony Blair took us to war on a false
prospectus and we cannot, as a nation, let that pass unquestioned.
“The Prime Minister
acted properly when he moved quickly to set up the Hutton inquiry. He should
now do the decent – and long overdue – thing and establish an independent
investigation to restore trust in his office.
“On that basis, Lord
Hutton’s report should be the opening curtain and not the last word. But there
is a danger that won’t happen.
are unintentionally helping to get the Prime Minister off the hook. Michael
Howard is pursuing the wrong issue. He suggested in Parliament that the Prime
Minister misled journalists in an informal briefing on a plane shortly after
David Kelly died. Of course, what happened during that briefing is important,
but set alongside the much greater untruth perpetrated by Saddam’s weapons of
mass destruction it’s just a sideshow. And the Conservative leader has already
conceded it’s unlikely that Lord Hutton will even mention it.
“The problem for the
Tories is that they can’t credibly take on Tony Blair about the real issues
because they were his principal cheerleaders for the war. But once the sound
and fury of the mud-slinging over the despatch box has died down, there is a
danger the nation will be suffering from ‘inquiry fatigue’ and the appetite for
knowledge, however incomplete, will have been sated. If that happens, the
Government spin doctors will heave a sigh of relief and our democracy will be
the poorer for it.”
There is a lot there
– but the crucial point is this.
examined one tiny, tragic consequence of war on Iraq – not the reasons why the
war occurred in the first place.
remains unanswered – in Britain and in Australia.
Interestingly, in the United State, the Bush Administration seems
to have decided to ignore it.
All the evidence
still suggests that despite the many good reasons to remove Saddam Hussein and
his regime from power, the actual justification given for military action 12
months ago was untrue.
The US seems unable
to acknowledge this.
The UK may be unwilling.
Perhaps we should do
the hard yards, then.
Hillary Bray can be
contacted at [email protected]