by Chris Ames
In 2007, Lord Robin Butler, who conducted a previous inquiry into Iraq. with Sir John Chilcot as a sidekick, said the following in the House of Lords:
I have also always accepted and continue to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believed that Saddam possessed such weapons and was bent on acquiring more. Our intelligence community believed that, as did other countries’ intelligence communities, as well as Hans Blix when he first took UN observers back into Iraq. But here was the rub: neither the United Kingdom nor the United States had the intelligence that proved conclusively that Iraq had those weapons. The Prime Minister was disingenuous about that. The United Kingdom intelligence community told him on 23 August 2002 that,
“we … know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988”.
The Prime Minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told Parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”. Those words could simply not have been justified by the material that the intelligence community provided to him.
Bizarrely, his lordship said today:
Tony Blair really believed there were WMD as did most of the intelligence agencies in the world.
He wanted to be in helping the US because he thought Saddam Hussein was a dangerous person to the world and to the Middle East and the world would be better off without him.
My criticism of him was the way in which he reported the intelligence. He exaggerated the reliability of the intelligence…he was trying to persuade the UN and the world that there was a proper legal basis for taking military action.
In the fact the Joint Intelligence Committee had said to him that the intelligence was sporadic and patchy. He said to the House of Commons that it was extensive, detailed and authoritative.
That was where the inconsistency lay. I don’t call that a lie. He may well have thought it was extensive, detailed and authoritative but it wasn’t.
Butler’s own inconsistency is inexplicable but a reminder that the heads of establishment inquiries, whose judgements we are supposed to treat as definitive, can sometimes reach some random and arbitrary conclusions.