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Witnesses shine light in Downing Street's dark corners, but hard questions remain

by  Raymond Whitaker and Glen Rangwala

The Independent, 31 August 2003
www.globalresearch.ca   4 September 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/RAN309A.html

While politicians and Whitehall mandarins pass the buck back and forth, crucial issues about the build-up to war with Iraq are not being tackled

The Hutton inquiry into the circumstances of Dr David Kelly's death has shone light into many corners of Britain's political life and in particular how Downing Street operates. But crucial questions have also been raised about the decision to go to war in Iraq and the means used to persuade the public that Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat, as well as the treatment of Dr Kelly when he broke ranks. Many have yet to be answered.

What was the purpose of the September 2002 dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

Alastair Campbell, who has just resigned as No 10's director of communications, said a proposed dossier in the spring of 2002 was cancelled because it would "ramp up" expectations of a conflict. But when Tony Blair took the stand, he implied that he decided to publish in September to dampen down talk of war. "Literally every day there were stories appearing saying we were about to go and invade," he said. "The aim of the dossier was to disclose our reasons for concern." Later he said the dossier "was not making the case for war". But Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, asked for a reference to Saddam's willingness to use prohibited weapons if Iraq was under attack to be removed, because this could be used as an argument against war.

How did the claim that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes get into the dossier?

It has emerged during the inquiry that the intelligence was in fact hearsay: "an established and reliable line of reporting", in the words of the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, John Scarlett, but "quoting a senior Iraqi military officer in a position to know this information". And Mr Scarlett later revealed that the central charge - that Iraq's military could deploy chemical and biological weapons "within 45 minutes of a decision to do so" - did not mean missiles, as most had assumed. "It related to munitions, which we had interpreted to mean battlefield mortar shells or small-calibre weaponry, quite different from missiles," he told Lord Hutton. These weapons have a range of no more than a few miles, however, and would be able to carry only small quantities of warfare agent. This falls far short of a WMD threat to other countries.

Why did a Downing Street email say "the facts remain thin on nuclear"?

This comment by Daniel Pruce, a member of the No 10 communications team, reflects the struggle to play up an Iraqi nuclear threat in the dossier. Early drafts said Iraq "has purchased large quantities of uranium ore", but this became "sought significant quantities of uranium", possibly because of a warning from the CIA. The fact that it was not dropped altogether may reflect the paucity of other information. Tom Kelly, one of Mr Blair's official spokesmen, told Mr Campbell: "The weakness, obviously, is our inability to say that he [Saddam Hussein] could pull the nuclear trigger any time soon." Significantly, Mr Campbell wrote to Mr Scarlett on 17 September to suggest reinstating a section on the length of time it would take Iraq to build a nuclear bomb. Mr Scarlett complied: the published dossier included the assertion that "Iraq could produce a nuclear weapon in between one and two years" if it managed to acquire fissile material from abroad. This was essentially meaningless, since producing fissile material is the main technological obstacle to creating a nuclear weapon.

Why was the intelligence on Iraq so poor?

For all the supposed reliability of the "45-minute" source, the war exposed the claim as nonsense. No trace of WMD was found anywhere near forward military units, or anywhere else in Iraq so far. The low level of knowledge held by the intelligence services was demonstrated by a message from the biological weapons branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff on 6 September, released by the inquiry: "There is specific intelligence that Iraq plans to use [chemical and biological weapons], it is just that there is no specific intelligence of their plans as to how/ when/with what they would do so." Academic experts have pointed out that up to 70 per cent of Britain's secret information comes through its intelligence-sharing agreement with the US, which has far more resources. But American and allied intelligence agencies are reported to be carrying out a major review to determine whether they were misled by false information planted by Saddam, including phoney defectors.

Why was Dr Kelly exposed after admitting he had met Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who touched off the "sexing up" row?

Witnesses from Tony Blair down have said it was to avoid the appearance of withholding important information from parliamentary committees investigating the war, not to use Dr Kelly as a "trump card" in Downing Street's battle with the BBC. But his name was made public even though the scientist consistently maintained he could not have been Mr Gilligan's prime source. The JIC chief, John Scarlett, admitted he had never established exactly what Dr Kelly's involvement with the September dossier had been. Downing Street's intelligence and security co-ordinator, Sir David Omand, expressed concern that, if Dr Kelly's name were made public, the Government might be criticised for putting him under "wider pressure", but told the inquiry there had been no response to his comment.

Who has come off best and who worst from the inquiry so far?

Ann Taylor, head of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, has emerged with credit. She refused to have anything to do with an attempt by Downing Street to make Dr Kelly's name public by writing a letter to the committee which would also be released to the media. A No 10 email suggested enlisting her to support the Government's case at the time of the dossier's launch, a suggestion which was not followed up, probably because she had emailed Downing Street earlier to say of the dossier: "Hardest question not answered. Why Saddam Hussein and why now?"

Later cross-examination may change the picture, but the Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, has come out badly. He successfully distanced himself from most of the pressure put on Dr Kelly, but at the cost of appearing ineffectual and out of the loop. For all the constant notes and minutes recording that the scientist should be dealt with according to MoD procedures, it became clear that no one knew if there were in fact any procedures for what was constantly described as a highly unusual case. The shots were called by Downing Street, as Mr Blair robustly acknowledged when he gave evidence. While taking full responsibility no fewer than four times, the Prime Minister somehow avoided taking most of the blame. 3 September 2003 18:45

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