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Hidden Truths

Time was running out. Blix felt obliged to report to the Security Council that the Iraqis were being more cooperative and was warned by Tony Blair that his report had “undermined [United States] faith in the UN process. Well, yes, I thought, their faith that the UN process would lead to the authorization of the military route might have been undermined.” Blair further warned against “the UN being marginalized and the international community split.” Spain, Britain, and the US held that Iraqi noncompliance was a threat to international peace and security; France, Russia, Germany, and many other countries believed that full and effective disarmament by peaceful means was still the best approach. France suggested another 120 days for the inspections, a proposal that other European nations and members of the Security Council would have supported; but the US refused. The weather in Iraq was already getting warmer, and Washington was fed up with Blix for refusing to play the part that was expected of him. He was no help in rounding up votes in the Security Council, a senior US official commented to The New York Times. As Blix put it, “The witches exist; you are appointed to deal with these witches; testing whether there are witches is only a dilution of the witch hunt.”

Blix still did not know for certain that Iraq had got rid of all its illegal weapons, but he saw no evidence whatever that it still had them. No one was pleased with him. He writes that he was not bothered by differences, often insultingly expressed by US representatives, over UNMOVIC’s assessment of such matters as rudimen-tary drones or old cluster bombs. But, he writes, “I still find it insulting if they believed that our assessments were prompted by a wish to avoid finding incriminating evidence.” The US postwar inquiry in Iraq seems to have vindicated him handsomely on this score.

On March 17, the United States asked Blix to withdraw the inspectors in preparation for the coalition attack. Despite the intensifying heat, the troops wore protective gear against chemical and biological attack. The United States had evidently given no credence either to the reports of UNSCOM and UNMOVIC or to the statements of the Iraqis themselves about the destruction of their WMDs. Later, on handing himself over to the coalition forces, General al-Saadi told them, “There are no weapons of mass destruction and time will bear me out.” Blix concludes that “the UN and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it.”

Blix can be forgiven for quoting in his conclusion a statement of July 9, 2003, by Joseph Cirincione, one of the authors of the Carnegie Endowment’s magisterial report, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications:

In the light of the last three months of fruitless searches by US, British, and Australian experts, the UNMOVIC inspection process in Iraq now looks much better than critics at the time claimed. It appears that the inspection process was working, and if it had been given enough time and enough resources, could have continued to work and effectively stymied and prevented any new Iraqi efforts on weapons of mass destruction. Never have so few been criticized by so many with so little justification.

But then, of course, we must remember Paul Wolfowitz’s statement to Vanity Fair that the WMDs were just the most convenient “bureaucratic” reason for selling the war to the public. The question that has gone unasked since the US case for war has been exposed as lacking in evidence is what would have happened if the inspectors had continued their work and if UNMOVIC had stayed on indefinitely in Iraq. It is hard to believe that this would have had no effect on the Iraqi regime.

The proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is now one of the world’s most frightening concerns. Blix’s book shows just how valuable well-run international inspections, backed by international political, economic and, if necessary, military pressure, can be.

2.

Hans Blix, in looking for reasons for the monumental intelligence failure over the Iraqi WMDs, writes that it was a question of “We know the answers; give us the intelligence to support those answers.” This is very much the unstated theme of the Hutton Report, in which Lord Hutton, a seventy-two-year-old appeals court justice, describes a personal tragedy that resulted from the political fantasies about Iraq’s alleged weapons. Appearing at the same time as David Kay’s devastating “We were all wrong” statement to the US Congress, Hutton’s report could have destroyed the career of Tony Blair, who appointed Hutton to make it. When it completely exonerated him from lying to the public and harshly took the BBC to task, many people in England, not surprisingly, cried whitewash. It is necessary to read the 740 pages of the report—no hardship, incidentally—to make a reasonable judgment on its treatment of its most controversial themes, the reporting and other conduct of the BBC concerning the question whether the British government unduly pressured the intelligence agencies.

Hutton makes it clear at the outset that his inquiry will deal exclusively with the “circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly” and will on no account deal with wider questions such as whether the UK was justified in going to war in Iraq. This narrow focus has had the effect of protecting Blair; but it also gives the report a novelistic character, reminiscent of a work by Trollope, and it is full of characters with Trollopian names—John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intel- ligence Committee, Sir Richard Dearlove of the Secret Intelligence Service, Defense Minister the Rt. Hon. Geoffrey Hoon, MP, and many other Establishment figures, including, of course, Judge Hutton himself, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.

Hutton is courteous but relentless, meticulous and elegant in his determination to establish the truth about Kelly’s death as far as possible, and he is articulate, almost to the point of caricature, in his conclusions. One of the main charges made by the BBC’s reporter, Andrew Gilligan, was that the government had ordered the intelligence dossier on Iraq that it was about to publish to be “sexed-up,” particularly in the claim that some of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction could be readied for war in “45 minutes.” Here is Hutton’s account:

The term “sexed-up” is a slang expression, the meaning of which lacks clarity in the context of a discussion of the dossier. 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 unreliable to make the case against Saddam Hussein stronger, 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. 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.

However, having regard to the other allegations made in Mr. Gilligan’s broadcasts of 29 May, I consider that those who heard the broadcasts would have understood the allegations of “sexing-up” to be used in the first sense which I have described, namely that the Government ordered that the dossier be embellished with false or unreliable intelligence. Thus Mr. Gilligan reported that the source said that: “…the government probably erm,6 knew that that the forty-five minute figure was wrong, even before it decided to put it in,” that “…the dossier, as it was finally published, made the Intelligence Services unhappy, erm, because to quote erm the source he said, there was basically, that there was, there was, there was unhappiness because it didn’t reflect the considered view they were putting forward, that’s a quote from our source and essentially, erm, the forty-five minute point er, was, was probably the most important thing that was added.” …Therefore, in the context of Mr.Gilligan’s broadcasts, I [Lord Hutton] consider that the allegation that the Government ordered the dossier to be “sexed-up” was unfounded.

Dr. David Kelly, a scientist specializing in chemical and biological weapons, had a distinguished career in the British Ministry of Defense and as a UN inspector in Iraq in the 1990s. He had also worked in Iraq periodically after the occupation in 2003, and when he committed suicide he was due to return to Baghdad in a few days. Kelly was used to briefing journalists on technical matters and he liked talking to them. This was his undoing.

On May 22, 2003, in the Charing Cross Hotel in London, Kelly met Andrew Gilligan, whom Kelly had met before. Gilligan had just returned from Iraq. Kelly, who was himself about to leave for Iraq, apparently wanted to hear Gilligan’s account of his visit, but, as he later told his supervisors, “I might have been led on.” It will never be known exactly what Kelly said to Gilligan, but he certainly mentioned the doubts of responsible intelligence officials about some of the material in the dossier—which itself reads very quaintly now, most of its claims having been shown to be false—and the pressure from Downing Street to make it striking enough to impress the public. The central example of the alleged “sexing-up” was a report from a single source, an unidentified defector, which was mentioned four times in the dossier, that Iraq could make some WMDs “operational” within forty-five minutes. The dossier did not specify whether they were short-range battlefield weapons and not strategic weapons capable of reaching distant targets, the British troops in Cyprus, for instance; so the claim was indeed a sensational one.

Whatever Kelly said, it was the principal source for Gilligan’s story, which he said was based on his talk with a “British official who was involved with the preparation of the dossier.” Gilligan also reported that Downing Street was aware of the unreliability of the forty-five-minute story when they insisted on including it in the dossier. Tony Blair’s office was quick to react. Gilligan’s broadcast was at 6:07 AM on May 29, 2003; before 8 AM the prime minister’s office had issued a stinging denial. Downing Street soon demanded a retraction and an apology from the BBC. A letter, released to the press, from Blair’s press chief, Alistair Campbell, also accused the BBC of having an antiwar “agenda.” Thus from a rather sloppy early-morning radio report, an enormous, and ultimately tragic, controversy grew.

It took Kelly, who had had similar conversations with two other BBC correspondents who also broadcast doubts about the forty-five-minutes claim, some time to realize that he must be the original source of this prodigious row. On June 30, 2003, he wrote a letter to his supervisor at the Ministry of Defense, admitting that he had met Gilligan and giving a very limited summary of what he remembered saying to him. He did not, he wrote, consider that he was the main source for Gilligan’s now famous broadcast.

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    Hutton’s meticulousness extends even to recording the hesitations and inarticulacy of witnesses.

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