Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oh yes they did, part II

Here's the piece "Hutton Dressed as Sham", which I wrote for the current issue of Private Eye. All the evidence and hearing transcripts are still up on line - - and well worth a read (his final report less so).

“There was no reasonable basis on which my conclusion that the government did not know that the 45 minutes claim was wrong and had not ordered the dossier to be sexed up could be described as a whitewash of the government,” announced Lord Hutton last week his 26-page huff, “The Media Reaction to the Hutton Report”, published in academic journal Public Law. This ignores the fact that everyone in the country except Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and John Scarlett has long since concluded that that was what exactly it was. But then the good Lord is extremely good at ignoring things…

“My terms of reference were ‘urgently to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Kelly… An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of one man was not an appropriate forum for investigating the reliability of the intelligence provided to the government by the JIC [Joint Intelligence Committee] or the Prime Minister’s use of the machinery of government”.
• Hutton devotes 73 words of his 26-page article to the topic of “How Dr Kelly came to die”, before getting on to such juicy topics as, er, the reliability of the intelligence provided to the government by the JIC and the prime minister’s use of the machinery of government.

“The evidence at the inquiry established that the allegations reported in the Today programme that the government probably knew that the 45 minutes claim was wrong…were unfounded”.
• It certainly did. It was one of the first things to be established, on day 3, when Andrew Gilligan admitted in his evidence that “that was not an allegation I would necessarily support…My phraseology in that first two-way was not perfect …it was not my intention to give anyone the impression that the Government had lied or that it had made up this intelligence. It was real intelligence. I always wanted to make that clear.”

“In relation to the allegation that the dossier had been sexed up, it was important to bear in mind that this allegation was made in the Today broadcast immediately after the allegation that the 45 minutes figure was wrong. Accordingly, the allegation of sexing up would have been understood to mean that in response to the government’s order to sex up the dossier, to make it more exciting and discover more facts, intelligence was included which the government probably knew was wrong.”
• Would it? Surely it would have been understood to mean that they, er, sexed it up? In his 2004 report Hutton seemed to think the term was ambiguous – “It is capable of two different meanings. It could mean that the dossier was embellished with items of intelligence known or believed to be false…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.” He even admitted that “If the term is used in this latter sense, then because of the drafting suggestions made by 10 Downing Street for the purpose of making a strong case against Saddam Hussein, it could be said that the Government ‘sexed-up’ the dossier.” That’s certainly what Dr Kelly appeared to be suggesting to journalist Susan Watts, in a transcript presented to the inquiry – “the word-smithing is actually quite important and the intelligence community are a pretty cautious lot on the whole but once you get people putting it/presenting it for public consumption then of course they use different words. I don't think they're being wilfully dishonest, I think they just think that that's the way the public will appreciate it best” – and it’s what Hutton admitted had been implied by “the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons section of the Defence Intelligence Staff” whose head “did suggest that the wording relating to the 45 minutes claim was too strong”. But all such ambiguity now appears to have been forgotten. If you’ve accused the government of lying once (even inadvertently), it stands to reason that you’re always accusing them of lying – even when you’re accusing them of doing something else.

“Some of the commentators who criticised my conclusion that the government did not have a dishonourable strategy in relation to the naming of Dr Kelly suggested that I was too ready to accept the evidence of the Prime Minister and senior officials on this matter... A judge conducting a public enquiry must always be alert to the possibility that witnesses may not give truthful evidence in relation to particular matters… The evidence of the Prime Minister and the senior officials was strong and was consistent with the surrounding circumstances.”
• Oh yeah? Hutton quotes great chunks of Tony Blair’s evidence in which he claimed he was only keen to disclose Dr Kelly’s admission that he had spoken to Gilligan so that “no-one could say afterwards: look, this is something that you people were trying to cover up or conceal from a House of Commons Committee… It did look as if we were withholding information of great public interest.” This comes from a prime minister who for six years refused to allow Lord Birt or any of his other “special advisers” to be questioned by Commons Committees, and for two years refused to show the Attorney General’s advice on the war’s legality to the cabinet, let alone parliament. Blair’s unwillingness to share information with anyone beyond an intimate group of informal advisers was even criticised by Lord Butler in his inquiry – but Hutton appears to have been happy to take his word on this one (despite the fact that the prime minister’s evidence contradicted a number of statements he made following Dr Kelly’s death, as documented in Eye 1190).

“Some commentators focused on Mr Campbell’s diary entry that ‘GH [Geoff Hoon] and I agreed it would f*** Gilligan if that [Dr Kelly] was his source… But this focusing on Mr Campbell’s diary entry ignored the weight of the evidence given by the Prime Minister and some very senior officials.”
• Instead, Hutton chose to ignore the existence of Alistair Campbell – which might at least help explain his conclusion that “there was no dishonourable, or underhand, or duplicitous strategy by the government”.


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Anonymous said...

Hello Adam
Giles here
I'm not anonymous really but I ticked that box cos I couldn't be bothered to sign up to the thingy
But I was just thinking the other day what a shame it was to lose touch with you a few years back so I stuck your name into google and landed on your site
I've a quick whiz about it and recognise quite a lot of your stuff (I'm a Private Eye subscriber)
Seems like you are doing very well
Anyway, it'd be great to meet up at some point
Quite a bit has changed in my life
Well not that much, actually, but I am married and I am now working as a barrister (not a prickish commerical one, a prickish criminal defence one)
My email is
Email me if you can be arsed