The Hutton Report: Did Everyone Say 'Whitewash'?

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The Hutton inquiry cut into the government, exposing the messy lies and distortions underneath Blair's Iraq claims. The Hutton report puts a nice big judicial bandage over that cut.

Temporarily rejuvenated, Blair parades his Hutton-issue certificate of honesty, augmented by the BBC's 'unreserved' apology. Under the bandage the wound rapidly festers.

What the inquiry revealed, Hutton now tries to cover up using the appalling judgement developed in his years as a judge: Hutton's qualifications include service in Northern Ireland's 'Diplock' courts. These no-jury courts used to try 'terrorists' during the 'Troubles', and were famous for accepting any nonsense thrown at them by the security services. After that Hutton represented the British army at the Widgery tribunal, an early whitewash of the Bloody Sunday killings. More recently Hutton ruled that David Shayler's revelations about MI5 were not 'in the public interest'. Hutton also ruled that General Pinochet could appeal because one of his original judges was terribly biased - Lord Hoffman forgot to declare he was a member of that well-known subversive organisation Amnesty International. By allowing Pinochet's appeal, Hutton started the process that ended with Chile's murderous former dictator avoiding a trial because the general felt a bit poorly.

Brian Hutton's method is: 'Important' people are honest and true. Everyone else must be treated with suspicion. Spy chief John Scarlett was known as Captain Scarlet to journalists who reported the Hutton inquiry - the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee's bureaucratic, please-the-boss persona compared badly with the heroic puppet from children's TV. Hutton took the obviously silly Scarlett at face value. The first version of the dossier disappointed Blair. Campbell insisted on a 'substantial rewrite... structure as per TB's [Tony Blair's] discussion. Agreement that there has to be real intelligence material'. Dutifully Scarlett came up with the new claim that the Iraqis 'may be able to deploy chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes'. This was not enough for Campbell, who insisted Scarlett change 'may be able' to 'are able'.

Hutton believed Scarlett inserted the 45-minute claim because it arrived late. In fact Scarlett's spooks simply trawled through Iraqi exile groups for any old rumour to pump up Tony's dossier. Unsurprisingly, Scarlett's secret agents were happy to use deception to serve their political masters and promote war, although Kelly and Gilligan were right that at least some junior spooks were unhappy with the trick. The 45-minute claim actually passed from a disgruntled Iraqi soldier to MI6 via the CIA-backed Iraqi National Accord. The spokesman for the group's leader, Ayad Allawi, who now serves the Coalition Provisional Authority, described the 45-minute information as 'a crock of shit'. The fact that the central claim in the dossier came via exile groups indicates Britain had no spies in Iraq whatsoever, although this mattered little as MI6 did not want to know what was actually happening, they just needed to put together a cut and paste argument for war. Scarlett, Campbell, Blair and now Hutton have all willingly swallowed the 'crock of shit' to justify the war and the whitewash. There was no 'mistake'; neither the government nor the security services 'got it wrong' about WMD - their slogan wasn't 'what's Saddam got?', it was 'let's have a war'.

The September dossier says Iraqi defector and Saddam's son-in-law General Kamil exposed the extent of Iraq's WMD programmes. Just before the war Newsweek published a leaked text of Kamil's debrief with the weapons inspectors. We found out what Scarlett, Straw and Blair already knew: Kamil did reveal the extent of Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programmes. He also revealed that they had all been destroyed since 1991.

Hutton also glossed over Dr Kelly's poor treatment. There have been over 200 leak inquiries since 1997. Less than half a dozen names became public. It isn't fair that some 10,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, but they are not even counted, whereas one British military scientist commits suicide and merits his own personal whitewash. However, the fact that the government was happy to throw one of their own to the wolves is a lesson in itself. Kelly was a whistleblower of a sort, although he blew his whistle gently and not in public - he was Shallow Throat. The fact that he supported the war makes his discomfort with the lies even more compelling. The other current named whistleblower is the distinctly more heroic Katherine Gun, a GCHQ translator being prosecuted for exposing US plans to spy on their 'allies' in the UN Security Council in an attempt to win votes for war.

While Hutton helped Blair, his relief will be temporary: Hutton can produce a report, Tony can put on a show of hurt vindication, but neither man can turn up a single gas bomb or germ rocket in Iraq itself. Even US weapons inspector David Kay is saying there are no WMD and calling for an inquiry. The disparity between the real world and the report means that the Hutton effect is as big as the infamously flat 'Baghdad bounce'. The fact that Iraq's 'liberation' is as hard to find as the fabled weapons undermines the 'triumph'. If Blair's recent visit to Basra included a vote of thanks from a newly elected Iraqi parliament there would be little debate about WMD. Instead the PM skulked onto an army base surrounded by unhappy squaddies. The only Iraqis he met were a handful of police. Within a week the British army were shooting unemployed demonstrators.

There is a real possibility that Hutton laid on the whitewash a little too thick for the government. A few mild criticisms, an opportunity to throw out Geoff Hoon as a kind of ministerial chaff to draw away enemy fire would have helped fill the credibility gap. Instead Hutton can only increase public distrust over the war: Labour MPs and Fleet Street are little help, but ordinary people can make all the difference. Just as the massive anti-war demonstrations first changed the agenda on Iraq, so the demonstrations by BBC staff punched the first hole in Hutton. It looks like 'No more whitewash', will become a slogan alongside 'No more occupation' and 'No more war'.