Read this, then read between the lines. Lies, half-truths and misinformation highlighted
On the Iraq inquiry, Independent article wrong
Guardian online have quoted me accurately, whilst this morning's Independent misrepresented my position, on the Iraq war inquiry.
The Guardian was quoting what I said at an event at the Commons last night, in which Robert Peston of the BBC, Tory MP Alan Duncan and I were garnering 'cash for questions' to raise money for the Journalists' Charity, formerly the Newspaper Press Fund. Not surprisingly, one of the questions was whether I agreed with Gordon Brown's decision that the Iraq war inquiry should hold evidence sessions in private.
I said to the room full of journalists that they would probably not like what I had to say. 'There have been several inquiries on this and those who are critical of the government's policy on Iraq will only accept the findings of any inquiry that says the government was wrong. So the Hutton Inquiry, which completely cleared the government - you didn't want to hear it.'
There was a bit of jeering from some of the hacks at this point, so I reminded them that we were also cleared by the select committee inquiries. I then said it was not an open and shut case that the inquiry should be held in public, and added, as quoted by the Guardian, 'it frankly won't make any difference to them because they've made their minds up, these critics of the government, whatever comes out. The question then becomes whether you genuinely want to have an inquiry which finds out exactly what happened and that tries to learn lessons.'
I said that on balance, I thought GB made the right decision, but 'it is not a straight-forward decision. Unless it is black and white, the modern media cannot cope with it.'
I can see the arguments for both sides - openness and transparency favours a public inquiry; but it may well be that the inquiry will do a better job freed from the frenzy of 24 hour media. GB's point about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry - still going after eight years - was also well made.
I also think that Sir Robin Butler, who doubtless agreed it was right to have held his own inquiry in private, was somewhat in score-settling mode, and that while some military are arguing for it to be in public, many others would have strongly argued the opposite had GB announced a public inquiry. Like I said, it is not a straightforward decision.
As for the Independent, it carried a piece suggesting I had been closely involved in discussions prior to the announcement and that I had been instrumental in persuading GB to go down the private route. This is not so. Until last Thursday, when I attended a Labour fundraiser at which the PM was speaking, I knew no more than I had read in the papers. That evening, one of his advisors told me he was going to be announcing the inquiry within the next few days, the panel had been decided and agreed, it was a genuine 'lessons learned' inquiry and the Opposition were being consulted that day.
Number 10 alerted me at the weekend that the statement was likely to be on Monday. I was told there was a discussion going on as to whether some sessions should be public, with the bulk of evidence in private. I made the point that I thought it should be very clearly one or the other, that whichever it was could be strongly defended, and that if there was anything in between, there was a risk of ending up with the worst of all worlds.
Given the journalist, one of the ones who normally checks, did not do so on this occasion, and others might be tempted to repeat what he said also without doing so, I thought I should clear this up.
1. 'There have been several inquiries on this and those who are critical of the government's policy on Iraq will only accept the findings of any inquiry that says the government was wrong. So the Hutton Inquiry, which completely cleared the government - you didn't want to hear it....we were also cleared by the select committee inquiries'.
The Hutton Inquiry was the only inquiry which heard evidence in public.
Hutton did not completely clear the government. Despite the wide range of evidence, the conclusion of the inquiry narrowed significantly to focus on the use of intelligence as related to the accusations made in the BBC broadcast by Andrew Gilligan and the events which led to the suicide of Dr Kelly.
As well as a hatchet job on the BBC, Hutton also concluded that the Joint Intelligence Committee was "subconsciously influenced" by the goverment and the MOD had been af fault for not informing Dr Kelly that the media strategy would include naming him. Hutton's conclusions are almost universally viewed as at odds with the evidence which indicated that the wording of the dossier had been altered to present the strongest possible case for war within the bounds of available intelligence, that some of these changes had been suggested by Alastair Campbell, that reservations had been expressed by experts within the Intelligence Community about the wording of the dossier, that David Kelly had direct contact with the dissenters and had communicated their reservations (and his own) to several journalists, that - following Kelly's decision to come forward as one of Gilligan's contacts - Alastair Campbell and Geoff Hoon had wanted his identity made public, that the Prime Minister himself had chaired a meeting at which it was decided that Dr Kelly's name would be confirmed by the Ministry of Defence if put to them by journalists, that Kelly's name had been confirmed after journalists had made multiple suggestions to the MOD press office.
2. I also think that Sir Robin Butler, who doubtless agreed it was right to have held his own inquiry in private, was somewhat in score-settling mode.
There were good reasons for Butler to hear the inquiry in private as it focussed on intelligence matters. Any Iraq inquiry will have material to draw upon from both Hutton and Butler.
Why would Butler want to settle a score?
3. ...while some military are arguing for it to be in public, many others would have strongly argued the opposite had GB announced a public inquiry
Utter bullshit. This makes a completely irrelevant and entirely misleading claim based upon an unprovable hypothetical situation - typical Campbell. Fact: the overwhelming majority of military commentators want a public inquiry - check out the Army Rumour Service. Fact: repeated Boards of Inquiry and Coroners' Inquests have found repeated flaws and failures in equipment, and in some cases the MoD has accepted liability. A challenge to Campbell: find a military commentator in favour of a private inquiry - and I don't mean making up two officers as Labour did when they planted a letter in the Times regarding the scrapping of the Sea Harrier (some of us know enough to search the active and retired lists of officers, for example).
4. Number 10 alerted me at the weekend that the statement was likely to be on Monday...
Why exactly are Number 10 alerting the great man regarding Iraq Inquiry statements???
Campbell is very nervous and will do anything to stop a public inquiry which could damage his reputation. The same is probably true for Blair (if he cares - he is virtually the Son of God now). There is no direct threat to the government from a public Iraq inquiry that holds Blair and Campbell (and Hoon) accountable - in fact, it would probably do the Labour Party some good. The reason there is no direct threat is that such an inquiry could not topple the Prime Minister (directly or indirectly through toppling Campbell) as he left office two years ago.
Although immune to losing their jobs (because they lost them ages ago) both Blair and Campbell have made new careers trading on their reputations. A public Iraq inquiry could do massive reputational damage, even if it is highly unlikely that Campbell or others would end up in Milosevic's old bunk in the Hague. Such reputational damage could cause massive career damage - would anyone buy volume 2 of the Campbell diaries (did anyone buy volume 1 other than journalists) or pay for his columnist punditry? What about Blair's chances of becoming EU President (or even keeping the job)?
It boils down to this equation: 179 lost lives and many thousands of war wounded* versus a handful of already-tarnished reputations.
*6,700 by 2005 according to the Independent, 4,000 flown back to Britain. Nearly 5,000 including fatalities between April 2005 and December 2006. MoD is very reluctant to release this information in complete contrast to the US. This is something the inquiry must consider - the casualties: including mental health and stress disorder cases.