From A World to Win News Service

Weapons of Mass Deception Misfire

Revolutionary Worker #1229, February 15, 2004, posted at

While Dr. David Kay was telling the world the U.S. government was "wrong" to accuse Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction, the British government got officially cleared of lying to the public.

Prime Minister Blair's hand-picked Hutton commission had produced a white-wash of Tony Blair--dismissing claims the British government had deliberately manipulated or exaggerated its claims about Iraq.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is now toying with the idea of creating its own version of a Hutton commission to prop up its own crumbling credibility.

We received the following from A World to Win News Service.

The Hutton Report

The Hutton report commissioned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair proved one thing beyond a doubt: when he picks someone to conduct a whitewash, he knows what he's doing.

Last May, BBC radio broadcast an early morning report based on a private conversation with an unnamed British government weapons advisor. The journalist, Andrew Gilligan, said that the Blair government deliberately exaggerated claims about Saddam Hussein's so-called weapons of mass destruction. Blair's men responded by denying the charge, in effect accusing the reporter of making it up. The expert, apparently frightened, revealed himself to his superiors. Instead of protecting him as he expected, the government threatened his pension, had him hounded by the media and attacked his integrity and his very sanity at a public hearing. When the man was found dead, the resulting uproar forced Blair to set up an investigation.

The core issue in the BBC report concerned the claim in a dossier Blair presented in September 2002 to present his case for invading Iraq: that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons that he "could deploy in 45 minutes." The implication was that London, Washington and other Western population centers were in clear and imminent danger, and invading Iraq was thus a matter of self- defense. The BBC report said that the dossier had been "sexed up" at the insistence of Blair's chief of staff and that "the government probably knew it was wrong before it put it in."

While the Hutton inquiry was supposed to get to the truth of this matter, it was in fact deliberately designed to ignore the accuracy of the "45 minute" claim. The whole affair, in Hutton's eyes, was cut down to what exactly the UK's leading Iraqi weapons expert David Kelly told reporter Andrew Gilligan. The judge concluded that since Kelly is dead, no one can ever know for sure, and at any rate Gilligan's notes of the conversation did not quote him as saying exactly that. Further, Hutton said, Gilligan incorrectly characterized Kelly as an intelligence official, rather than a government employee working on weapons intelligence.

Therefore, Hutton pronounced, "I consider the [BBC's] allegation was unfounded as it was considered by those who heard the broadcast to mean that the dossier had been embellished with intelligence known or believed to be false or unreliable, which was not the case."

Since this was an inquiry, not a trial, there was no jury and no appeal. But there was punishment. When Hutton ruled that the basic fault in the whole affair lay with BBC's "defective management system," the media corporation's chairman resigned. Blair's men screamed for more. As a result, the head of BBC operations Greg Dyke was sacked and the reporter in question also found himself out in the cold.

Dyke later revealed that during the Iraq invasion, even prior to the Gilligan report, Blair had written to him complaining that BBC coverage was not sufficiently supportive of the war. This, not what started as a 6 a.m. radio broadcast item, was the real issue behind the Hutton report, but Hutton slyly pretended it was irrelevant.

The new acting BBC chair issued an "unreserved apology" which a former BBC manager called "groveling," "abject" and "servile." The war Blair backed may not have been very successful in Iraq, but the Prime Minister scored a direct hit on the media.

Hutton: a hardened criminal

Blair got to do what no ordinary accused person ever does: he appointed his own judge.

Lord Hutton, still a standing justice, is a former British army officer. Later he presided over Northern Ireland's notorious Diplock courts, the British one-man tribunals whose function was to sentence Irish nationalists to prison on the basis of confessions extracted by torture and other evidence that might not stand up before a jury.

Hutton was also a main participant in the UK's most infamous whitewash investigation until now: the Widgery investigation of the "Bloody Sunday" massacre in 1972, when British paratroopers shot and killed 14 civil rights demonstrators in Derry, Northern Ireland. He represented the British soldiers before that inquiry, which cleared them and the British government of any blame. Since then, the Widgery report has been so deeply discredited as a lie, a deliberate cover-up of British crimes by the British establishment itself, that Blair recently felt compelled to set up another Bloody Sunday inquiry, which is still sitting.

Blair knew his man. And that man did not disappoint him.

Blair's "45 minutes"

At the inquiry, Blair's representatives who tried to explain the 45 minute claim were at a real disadvantage. In the real world, as almost everyone but Blair now admits, Iraq had no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons to deploy, in 45 minutes or 45 days or 45 months.

First, Blair's representatives said that he had never meant the "45 minutes" to mean the capability of acting beyond Iraq's borders; the real claim was that Saddam might use short-range unconventional weapons on invading troops. It came out that even this claim had no real basis in fact: having the ability to launch chemical and biological weapons might have been Iraqi "military doctrine" (in other words, what the Iraqi military wanted), but this had nothing to do with what they actually could do. Even this doctrine was simply cut and pasted from old Soviet training manuals, according to a 23 January article in the UK Guardian .

Unlike Hutton, the rest of the world can consider the evidence presented at these hearings. According to its own admissions, the Blair government:

The judge declared that the crux of the matter was not whether the Blair government's claim was right or wrong but that its intentions were "honorable." This amounts to trying to change the subject at a murder trial, where the facts--who did what--are supposed to count for something.

BBC officials also failed to address the most basic issue. Instead, they went along with narrowly focusing on whether there were any possible mistakes in Gilligan's reporting. It seems there were, although the head of the UK journalists' union later called Gilligan's report "substantially correct." Also ignored by all concerned, to the government's great relief, was the second dossier prepared under Blair's command when the first didn't sufficiently impress the public. In a real trial, it might have been considered to expose a pattern of mendacity. Much of Blair's 2003 "dodgy" dossier, as it came to be ridiculed, turned out to be copied from a decade-old student paper on Iraq posted on the Internet.

As to the accusation that Blair's chief of staff had intelligence reports "sexed up"--a mild way of saying made more interesting, for even the BBC reporter never dared accuse the Blair government of lying, which could lead to a libel trial in the UK--Hutton's harshest words were that "the possibility cannot be ruled out" that the Prime Minister's demands "subconsciously influenced" the committee drafting the dossier.

Actually, once again according to the Hutton inquiry's own evidence, Blair's chief of staff asked the intelligence committee preparing the report to make at least nine changes. Most importantly, the words "may be able," used to describe the Iraq military's capabilities to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, were changed to "are able," and the words "if he believes his regime is under threat" were eliminated. Thus a wild claim about Saddam Hussein's danger to the world was presented as fact.

Regarding Kelly's death, Hutton ruled that it was suicide. Further, the government could not be faulted because the treatment the scientist had received at its hands was only to be expected. True, Blair chaired the meeting at which the decision to destroy Kelly was made, but the decision was fair. "I consider that there was no such dishonorable or duplicitous underhanded strategy devised with the Prime Minister as official."

In short, the Hutton report completely cleared the Blair government on its weapons claims and Kelly's death, and concluded that the villain in all this was the BBC.

The government celebrated by arrogantly and illegally leaking the report to a newspaper it could trust, an evening tabloid known for its nude photos of women. Law, it seemed, had served its purpose and could now be once again ignored--just as the whole WMD hoax was staged to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq.

True is true and false is false

What Blair's triumphalism could not hide from more independent-minded media commentators and the British public was very simply that the thrust of the BBC report was true and the government's claims were false. Weapons expert Kelly may or may not have used the words "sexed up" to describe the government's wild exaggerations, but few are convinced that this is the heart of the matter. Blair's victory may evaporate in not much more than 45 minutes. Even before the post-Hutton controversy really got started, polls reported that most people still don't believe the government.

The most curious thing about this affair is not what Hutton concluded, which was no surprise at all given the parameters Blair's government had set for the inquiry and the man they picked to carry it out. The surprise was that a large part (although not all) of the British establishment has more or less accepted his conclusions.

The BBC itself is a case in point. After all, given whom current events and recent history have proved right and wrong regardless of what some wigged and robed crown servant may say, isn't it strange that BBC management instantly fell on their swords at Blair's command? BBC's management were chosen in the first place because they were politically close to Blair. Like the weapons expert Kelly, they seem to have been uneasy about the war, but also like Kelly they had no appetite for an open struggle against it. Among some media watchers, BBC is considered not too critical of the British government but, on the contrary, too much its servant.

In the wake of the Hutton report, pro-government forces on both sides of the Atlantic are proposing rules for journalism such as banning reports based on a single source or undisclosed sources. That would have kept the most infamous political scandal of the recent past out of sight--Watergate, based on the allegations by a single Nixon insider whose identity has never been released. The standards of evidence that are being proposed to shackle the news media and thwart criticism of the government are not being applied to the governments themselves.

Is the BBC supposed to be reduced, as several people have already put it, to simply repeating whatever "the beloved Prime Minister" says?

Blair is not the only British ruling class figure who wants to use the Hutton report to "draw a line" under the affair, as he said, and by implication the great unspoken issue, the war itself, and "move on." Some seem to feel that the fighting over the Iraq war within the British ruling class and Blair's own party has gone too far and threatens the stability of the British state. Even Robin Cook, Blair's former Foreign Minister who resigned in protest against the war and who continues to oppose Blair on it, emphasized that he does not believe that Blair has been dishonest, and argued, "It is very important that Tony Blair does concede that there were mistakes made, maybe in all good faith."

There is a real possibility of "blowback" from the Hutton report. Instead of saving Blair from the antiwar stand so common among the British people, its blatant dishonesty may help to further discredit the system.

The resignation of David Kay

Bush's chief find-the-weapons-in-Iraq guy, David Kay, was no less handpicked than Blair's Lord Hutton.

Kay was selected because he was solidly behind the Bush government's contentions about Iraqi weapons when many others were skeptical, even at the CIA where he worked. When appointed last June, Kay promised, "We'll find in the chemical and biological areas, in fact I think there may be some surprises coming rather quickly in that area."

His hunt took longer than expected, but his conclusion was certainly a big surprise: "We were almost all wrong. I don't think they exist."

This was not the conclusion he had been hired to come up with.

Bush's Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had announced on September 19, 2002 that Saddam had "large clandestine stockpiles" of biological and chemical weapons. Bush himself said a week later that Saddam was known to have "stockpiles of anthrax" and nerve gas. In bringing Bush's insistence on invading Iraq to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned the Security Council that Saddam's WMD presented "real and present dangers": "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more. And he has the ability to dispense these lethal poisons and diseases in ways that can cause massive death and destruction."

As late as his State of the Union speech a few weeks ago, Bush continued to claim, "Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would have continued to this day."

None of it was true, any of it.

Admitting the obvious to save the system

Kay's admission was highly inconvenient, to say the least, for the UK's attempts to recover ruling class unity. It made the Hutton report a joke. But for the U.S., it came at a time when what Kay said was widely accepted anyway. The very mainstream Carnegie Institute, among others, had put out a report trashing the WMD claims completely. While Bush's people were not openly accepting the non- existence of these weapons in words, they were doing that in deeds. Much of Kay's Iraq Survey Group personnel had been reassigned to counter-insurgency intelligence work. A U.S. military team whose job was to search Iraq for Saddam's supposed rocket launchers and weapons depots was quietly sent home at the end of the year. Even before Kay went public, the Washington Post reported that his team "had found no evidence to support U.S. beliefs that Iraq had maintained illicit weapons dating from the Gulf War or that it had advanced program to build new ones."

Though his remarks were unwelcome to Bush, Kay remains a loyal reactionary and strong supporter of Bush's war. Kay wants people to believe it was all a mistake. He did his best to put a pro-war, pro-Bush spin on his statements: the problem was not government manipulation of intelligence, as even Bush's rival mainstream politicians said, but a "failure of intelligence." Concretely, the heads he called for chopping off to pay for this were not among the Bush administration but their sometimes political opponents in the CIA, especially Kay's old boss George Tenet.

Thus, despite the political difficulties Kay created for Blair and even Bush, Hutton and Kay have in common their attempts to shore up discredited and hated heads of state and justify their war by changing the subject from the rightness or wrongness of the invasion to the good intentions of those who carried it out.

Sorry, Kay, "we" weren't all wrong

Kay is still wrong about at least one thing: "almost everyone" did not believe Bush and Blair about Iraqi WMD or accept that these claims could justify an invasion.

The people of the world, including many millions in the UK and U.S., were dead set against this war. They were suspicious of these claims all along because it was obvious from the start, to anyone with their eyes open, that these weapons claims were not the reason why the U.S. and UK invaded Iraq. First they decided to invade; then they made up the reasons.

It is true, as Kay and various Bush officials like to point out, that the November 2002 UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was based on these same falsehoods. It, too, lied about the "threat that Iraq's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security." What's more, the Security Council's stand that some nations can tell other nations what weapons they can or cannot have is an imperialist one. Its premise is that some nations have the right to dictate to others.

It is also true that Germany and France upheld the claims and reactionary conclusions just as firmly as the U.S..For all their real opposition to the U.S.-led invasion, these rival imperialists, like certain forces within the U.S. and British ruling classes who also opposed it, fear arousing the anger and activism of the masses and hold back from taking their contradictions with the U.S. out of certain bounds.

Lies and the "grave and gathering danger"

"In war time.truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies," Blair's predecessor Winston Churchill once declared. "Truth," the monopoly capitalists who rule the Western countries sincerely believe, means whatever serves their own imperialist interests.

As for their "good intentions," Bush, Blair and their cohorts undeniably fought for their countries' imperialist interests as they understood them. Ultimately, their defense will be that these interests justify any deception necessary in that pursuit.

The biggest crime is not just that these governments manufactured a weapons hoax, but that they used this to justify what they euphemistically called a "pre-emptive" war--an invasion, a war of aggression. The biggest lie is that anything justifies a war for imperialist interests. Yet all such wars--from the U.S.'s 19th-century invasion of Cuba to the Gulf of Tonkin incident Lyndon Johnson fabricated to justify the war in Vietnam--have been accompanied by lies.

Bush's predictable answer to Kay's revelations was to insist that Saddam's regime represented a "grave and gathering danger" no matter what weapons it may have had. But it is the exposure of their lies that presents the real grave and gathering danger to the ruling classes of the aggressor countries.

That's all the more reason why the people must not allow the governments to choose how best to handle it, or leave it to any of the reactionaries of various stripes who have their own reasons to jump in now.

The Hutton and Kay affairs have raised the stakes. If the people of these countries and others are not fooled by the imperialists' "Plan B" when they are caught lying (an appeal to patriotism, the "my imperialism right or wrong" line), then not only individual politicians but the entire imperialist system may be in trouble.

There are two reasons why it will not be possible to "draw a line and move on." One is that the war in Iraq is far from over, and no matter what happens the U.S. does not intend to withdraw its troops anytime soon. The only "moving on" it has in mind is sending troops to invade yet more countries. This will require more lies, some the same and some undoubtedly different.

The other is that millions of people in the U.S., UK and around the world, especially in this context, cannot and will not accept this.