Friday, March 13, 2009

Secret emails show Iraq dossier was 'sexed up'

Andrew Gilligan famously said that the September dossier, arguing the case against Iraq, was "sexed up". The government and the BBC then found itself at loggerheads with Alastair Campbell acting as if he was outraged and calling for resignations.

The Hutton Inquiry was then formed and it found that the dossier had not been "sexed up", although it did so through defining "sexed up" in a way that many of us disagreed with. Mayhem ensued at the BBC and Gavyn Davies, Greg Dyke and Andrew Gilligan were all forced to offer their resignations. Although the latter two made clear their reservations about Mr Hutton's conclusions.

Greg Dyke:

I do not necessarily accept the findings of Lord Hutton.
Andrew Gilligan:
This report casts a chill over all journalism, not just the BBC's. It seeks to hold reporters, with all the difficulties they face, to a standard that it does not appear to demand of, for instance, Government dossiers.
The Independent newspaper greeted Hutton's conclusions with a front page splash which read simply, "Whitewash."

And, for those of us who had followed the proceedings, it was certainly difficult to reconcile Hutton's conclusions with the evidence that the Inquiry had heard.

But now, thanks to a protracted Freedom of Information battle, we finally get to see many of the emails and memos which Whitehall officials were sending to each other at the time of the documents drafting and it is becoming ever clearer that Whitehall officials themselves believed that the document was being "sexed up."

Secret Whitehall emails released yesterday provide damning new evidence that the notorious dossier making the case for invading Iraq was "sexed up".

They disclose that the intelligence services were sceptical over the "iffy drafting" of government claims that Saddam Hussein could mount a missile strike on his neighbours within 45 minutes of ordering an attack.

Officials privately mocked assertions that the Iraqi president was covertly trying to develop a nuclear capability and wisecracked that perhaps he had recruited "Dr Frankenstein" to his supposed crack team of nuclear scientists.

The entire premise of the September dossier was that Saddam Hussein had the ability to attack British targets "within 45 minutes." However, what many of us insist constituted the "sexing up" of the document was the fact that it removed all caveats and stated as certain things which were actually under doubt. It was not presenting the facts as the government knew them, it was being used to sell a war.

The emails released yesterday appear to confirm that this was a view held by government officials who were consulted regarding the dossier:

The emails: How 'sexing-up' was achieved

11 September 2002 Desmond Bowen: "The question we have to have in the back of our mind is: 'Why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the ideas that we are in imminent danger of attack and intend to act in pre-emptive self-defence... In looking at the WMD sections, you will clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be. You will clearly need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgements with, for example, 'it is almost certain' and similar caveats."

11 September 2002 Mark Sedwill: "I would expand the history of weapons inspections. It is an interesting story and would give the media a better feel for the difficulties they faced and the persistence of the Iraqi obstruction... We need a very simple table somewhere... This should be brief enough to get on to the Sky wall – ie no more than five bullets."

16 September 2002 Unnamed official (thought to be intelligence agent): "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '[Iraq] has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late... We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!... Lots of 'ranges' close together – iffy drafting."

What is clear, even from the email of 11 September 2002, is that this dossier is being prepared to sell the war and from the other two emails it is blatantly obvious that the senders think the government is wildly overstating it's case.

This is why many of us argued that the dossier was "sexed up", no matter how Lord Hutton chose to define that term.

The Opposition have inevitably called for an Inquiry which we all know Downing Street will simply ignore.

Last night William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "This is the latest in a steady stream of damaging revelations about the events leading up to the Iraq war. These minutes shed interesting light on the process by which the caveats in the Joint Intelligence Committee's original assessment of Iraq's WMD programmes were stripped out of the dossier that was presented to Parliament and the British people.

"Now British troops are coming home, there is no longer any excuse for delaying a full-scale inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war, other than the Government's concern that its own reputation might be damaged."

Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "This confirms the widely-held suspicions that leading officials and political advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq. The jigsaw of how the public and some MPs were duped nears completion with this crucial revelation, and further strengthens the case for a full public inquiry."

By the time an inquiry finally takes place few people will care. That is the very reason why the government have delayed having one for so long.

This is a war which should never have taken place and, I feel, was sold to us under false pretences.

But, by the time this becomes public, few people - other than some dedicated bloggers and the people directly involved - will actually care. The names of Dr Kelly, Andrew Gilligan and Greg Dyke will represent some vaguely remembered incident in the past; and the lies and/or exaggerations of Blair and Campbell will seem irrelevant to the times in which they are exposed.

One of the reasons that the government have resisted an inquiry is because they cannot afford to have one until passions have dissipated. They couldn't have one whilst the public actually cared.

So, one day, all of this will come out; but, by the time it does... (Yawn.)

Click title for full article.

2 comments:

Leslie M said...

Kel,

More on the September Dossier, which came to be known as the "Dodgy Dossier". Old damning evidence.

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm200203/cmselect/cmfaff/uc813-i/uc81302.htm

Nothing came of this inquiry either. (yawning is contagious)

Maybe Robin Cook would be a worthy addition to your list, along with Dr Kelly, Andrew Gilligan and Greg Dyke?

Kindly regards
Leslie

Kel said...

Leslie,

Thanks for the link. Oh, how we miss Robin Cook!