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Lord Hutton’s report: Pandora box for Tony Blair and the BBC

By Aleksander Boyd

London 23.01.04 – A tornado of devastating characteristics is forming behind closed doors in Britain. Next week Lord Hutton will publish his much dreaded report in regards to the investigation of the death of Dr David Kelly and every analyst of the country is speculating on the content of said report. The leaders of the pack, of analysts endowed with hard headed acumen, is of course the BBC which is, needs to be stressed, in the eye of the tornado. Early this week the BBC broadcast a special edition of its Sunday programme Panorama, in what appeared to be a preparation for what it is to come. BBC management allowed a rarity to occur i.e. total editorial freedom to the producers of the programme, whom placed already some of the blame on the management team of the corporation –Greg Dyke et al- for their failure to investigate accordingly the damaging claims that were made by Andrew Gilligan; in which he accused the government to have sexed up the dossier of WMD to make the case for war more evident in the eyes of the nation. Even BBC’s Board of Governors came out of the shadows to throw its weight around, in a rather grotesque and certainly ignorant way, to support Dyke & Co. Mr Gilligan boss expressed, it was discovered after the Hutton inquiry ended, that indeed Mr Gilligan had used loose language in the past. The problem this time round was that his vague use of vocabulary kick started a chain reaction that ended the life of Dr David Kelly and immersed the BBC and No 10 into one of the fiercest battles of contemporary Britain. In the interview from his home Mr Gilligan attributed remarks to “his source” which were either false or perhaps product of his obnubilated mind at 6.07AM or a clear example of suspicion journalism. Only after deep scrutiny of evidence -product of Lord Hutton’s inquiry- have the allegations proved to be correct, nevertheless Mr Gilligan’s opinions or Dr Kelly’s for that matter in that precise moment in time were mere guessing for none of them could have known for certain about the obscure dealings between Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's chief press secretary, and John Scarlett head of the Joint Intelligence Committee’s [JIC] prior to the publication of the dossier. Otherwise there was also simultaneous leaking of information at No 10 to the press i.e. to Gilligan and at the Ministry of Defence down the chain of command to David Kelly or vice versa which is hard to believe.

The intelligence dossier produced by the British that was going to make the case for war was shown to Alastair Campbell, then head of press and communications at No 10. After reading it Mr Campbell suggested to Mr John Scarlett that some of the wording needed to be revised. Changes were made by Campbell and sent to the JIC that took them on board and implemented them without too much hassle. It has to be borne in mind that the “45 minute claim” made not part at that stage of the content of the dossier. Some emails later between No 10 and the JIS the dossier was ready to be published or should one say forced-down-the-throat to the public? Jonathan Powell [Downing Street Chief of Staff] emailed Mr Campbell and asked him what the headlines would be the following day and these were dictated to the British press by Mr Campbell; roughly saying “Britain 45 minutes away from the reach of WMD.”

By now the issue was completely out of hand and it had turned into an open battle between the BBC and Mr Campbell. The BBC did not want to back down and stood staunchly by Mr Gilligan without knowing for certain whether the statements of Mr Gilligan were true or not. Much speculation was going around in regards to the identity of Mr Gilligan’s source although Mr Campbell’s intention was of course to reveal the mole’s name. Dr Kelly’s superiors at the Ministry of Defence were dragged into the issue and decided to let the press know the name of the source. Once Dr Kelly’s was identified as the one leaking information to the BBC the government decided that it was fitting for a full investigation to be made and the select committee for foreign affairs was called upon to carry out this task. At this time Dr Kelly had been in contact with Susan Watts science editor of the BBC. Unknowingly one of the conversations of Dr Kelly’s with Susan Watts was recorded [by Ms Watts] and certain extracts were mentioned with utmost exactitude by one of the members of the select committee who interrogated Dr Kelly. This act is believed to have caused the scientist to take his own life, his wife expressed that after such comments were public domain Dr Kelly felt utterly betrayed; his suicide prompted the Prime Minister to launch the Hutton inquiry. The whole issue could have been prevented had the PM sacked Mr Campbell immediately in order to avoid greater embarrassment and confusion but he decided to turn a blind eye on the machinations of his assistant.

Lies, deceit, exaggerated reports, old and weak intelligence formed the backbone of the first dossier presented in September 2002 after the opinions of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], UN weapons inspectors, intelligence experts and former British cabinet members amongst others. The CIA’s suggested connection of Saddam and Uranium vendors in Niger, which was investigated by the IAEA, could not be substantiated with proof. Colin Powell’s hypothesis of mobile WMD factories was risible if one is to consider that not even the “world’s superpower” has got them. Weapons inspectors from the IAEA and the UN did not find any evidence of Saddam’s commitment to develop nuclear weapons before the war, despite comments of Condoleezza Rice about atomic mushrooms; the American argument of the aluminium tubes was simply ludicrous; in sum none of the experts’ reports were taken into consideration by the Anglo-American alliance. Moreover having reached a dead end in the UN, and Parliament in Britain, just before the conflict started Lord Greenwood, Britain’s Attorney General, recourse to the only UN regulation he could find [from a legal viewpoint] to justify the invasion; a 13 year old resolution which states that “all necessary means need be used to promote international peace…”

The British public was not convinced neither the UN, however this did not deter Tony Blair to stick to his guns and continue with his blind support for the regime change in Iraq Bush et al were so eager to accomplish. One must wonder if he knew back then that all reconstruction contracts had already been granted behind close doors to American companies; perhaps the French had an insider and therefore their opposition…

In February 2003 the government came up with another dossier which was according to a Cambridge academic lifted from the internet, the original being a thesis written by Ibrahim Al Marashi a decade before. The report by Mr Al Marashi was tampered with and complete extracts were included in the second dossier, grammatical errors included. As a result the Tories and the Liberals together with 126 Labour MPs did not approve in Parliamentary session the committing of British troops to the invasion; furthermore 1.5 million people took to the streets of London to protest against the war. Clare Short, UK's secretary of state for international development, argued that there was no legal debate about it or reason to go to war; Robin Cook, foreign secretary, expressed his concerns that Mr Blair was forcing the case just to prove his firm ties to the USA, which in turn could make good use of Iraq as an advance post in the Middle East. Both Ministers resigned over the issue.

The CIA and the MI6 had failed to produce hard cold evidence of Saddam’s WMD or nuclear development plans. Their failure to find incriminating and much needed evidence undermined greatly the support rallied from the international community, thus it was imperative to take them out of the equation. Allegedly the CIA gave wrong geographical coordinates of possible WMD locations to visiting weapons inspectors in order to ridicule them before the world’s opinion. What they actually did was to cause senior political and PR advisors to cherry-pick and to alter vague intelligence data to fit the agenda. Phrases such as “Saddam does not represent a threat as long as he does not feel he would be in danger” were changed for “Saddam has got WMD and is ready to use them” at the request of Campbell and Powell.

Notwithstanding all of the aforementioned Bush & Blair continued to push for war which they got at the end based on ready made assumptions, misinterpretations, unsubstantiated information and make believe propaganda. The world’s media duly seconded them, ergo journalism of attachment in its purest from. Both of them and their minions asseverate, to this day, that the world is a safer place after Saddam’s toppling which is a highly debatable issue if not plain wishful thinking. One fact can not be obviated though; almost a year on not one single trace of radioactivity has been found in Iraq and the WMD have peculiar invisible characteristics. One might think that they are looking for a needle in a haystack, however paraphrasing Robin Cook “these things are incredibly difficult to hide…” Quite frankly it is impossible to imagine that the nation defeated in 1.991 which posed no resistance, owing to its lack of means to do so, to the invading coalition possessed the capacity and technology to represent a nuclear threat to the Western world [having been ostracised by a 12 year embargo]. Surely America must have been monitoring every movement in Iraq long before the war, satellite imagery is astoundingly precise nowadays yet the WMD are ever so elusive to the war mongers’ eyes. The “45 minute claim” was introduced in the dossier by a PR person, who can not differentiate a Beretta 92F from an F16, it was never a claim made by intelligence experts.

Therefore it is sound to affirm that Mr Blair’s “45 minutes” [a modern British extension of Andy Warhol’s 15…] are coming to an end. He has lost all credibility in the eyes of the British public; his proclivity to continue ranting about the purpose of the war on terror is just pathetic. The father of the third way has certainly lost his way. The BBC on the other hand will neither come out clean of the issue; their aura of credibility has lost its lustre for good. As John Lloyd rightly points in his latest Prospect interview to Martin Bell:

“The question of the BBC’s position in journalism –not just in relation to other British media but also in relation to world media- is critical. It is caught in a paradox. It is a state-funded broadcaster which must be independent of the state in order to deserve its state-funded privileges. The British state would lose prestige if it had a tame broadcaster, and Parliament would not support it. At the same time its independence cannot be part of the British newspaper culture. That culture has, of course, a big influence on the broadcaster’s journalist. But the BBC became indistinguishable from the newspaper culture, it would jeopardise its privileges since polemic in opinion columns and reporting is being efficiently supplied by the market. It must thus find an independence which does not share the newspaper assumption that politicians are inherently objects of suspicion- a quest which, in the past few years, it has apparently renounced.”

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