Stumbing quietly into the debate?

by Andrew Mason

The publication of Kevin Marsh’s new book ‘Stumbling Over Truth’ seems to have attracted little media attention and has so far generated no wider commentary about the circumstances it describes and the issues it raises.

John Kampfner, writing for the Observer last Sunday, appears to be the only mainstream journalist to have currently written a review of the book. Admittedly, this account was posted only in the Observer’s less obvious Culture > Books > Politics section when it might have been read more widely had it been positioned in the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ section, but this piece (at the time of writing this post – on the following Tuesday afternoon) has not yet attracted so much as one single comment.

Marsh attended two separate debate events to launch the book. The first of these was held (and can now be viewed) at the Frontline Club on Tuesday 18 September, and the second was at the University of Westminster on Monday 24 September, the announcement of which we have already covered in a previous post. There appears to be no transcript or video coverage of this second event available in the public domain.

An interview with Kevin Marsh can be seen here on the Biteback Publishing website.


The deceitfulness of Jack Straw (again)

by Chris Lamb

I am posting the reply sent by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, to my Open Letter of 23 August and a further e-mail of 31 August. I shall not revisit the contents of the Open Letter which was posted on the Digest a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, I am disappointed both that the Information Commissioner has decided not to consult legal counsel about the legal case for a judicial review and that he has not addressed the issues I raised questioning the ‘reasonable grounds’ for deploying the veto in his reply. My impression is that the Information Commissioner’s Office is motivated more by a climate of fear over the possible retribution Government might inflict upon it if a judicial challenge was mounted, particularly in the form of legislating an absolute exemption for Cabinet minutes and papers.

The prevailing situation, as referred to in the Information Commissioner’s blog and Report to Parliament, is hardly better. An absolute exemption in fact, if not name, has been in evidence since Jack Straw’s first veto of February 2009 in the way Governments of both parties have used the veto. The Information Commissioner himself ruefully comments that it is difficult to see, given this blanket use policy of the veto, how Cabinet minutes and papers will ever be disclosed in controversial cases before the official declassification date of 30 years elapses.

In this context, surely it is better to expose by a judicial review the hypocrisy of the Government’s hand – ie. a general pretence of offering qualified freedom of information whilst enforcing the reality of an absolute exemption by proxy of the veto – simultaneously challenging the weaknesses and contradictions underlying a specific veto than to submit to this arid fear of retaliation. What real choice is there between a rock and a hard place?

In the case of the Iraq pre-invasion Cabinet minutes, there could hardly be more contradictions and irony to challenge than the official veto line of safeguarding Cabinet ‘collective responsibility’.

A second point I want to raise from the Information Commissioner’s reply is a technical point. It relates to the paragraph;

In your e-mail of 31 August
you refer to the “reformulation” of the Statement of HM Government Policy on the use of the veto. It is important to recognize that there is no statutory requirement for such a policy statement


What Mr. Graham is referring to is the discrepancy between the assurance given to Parliament by Jack Straw on 4 April 2000 that the Cabinet ‘collective decision’ over the use of the veto- as a quasi-judicial decision would have to secure the agreement of all Cabinet members before it could be enforced and Ministry of Justice Guidance on the exercise of the veto, from 2011, which stated that the ‘accountable person’, the Attorney General or Cabinet Minister, would have discretion to make the decision alone after having elicited the ‘view’ of Cabinet and weighed its significance using his own discretion (or ‘entitlement’, as is the wording used in the guidance).

Although this is a significant reformulation of how power is configured in the exercise of the veto – no longer requiring that all Cabinet ministers agree to it – the breach with Straw’s assurance to Parliament cannot be challenged because Mr. Straw and his government did not write it into the Bill. It has no statutory bearing (as Mr. Graham points out). These promises to Parliament without statutory back up, also commented upon by Mr Graham in his Report, are an early symptom of the deceitfulness of New Labour which reached its zenith with Iraq in 2003.

Thus, the Executive is free now and in the future to reformulate at will how it arranges the exercise of the veto in Cabinet without the encumbrance of either judicial scrutiny or challenge.

 


Forthcoming event – the dossier 10 years on

by Andrew Mason

The University of Westminster (in conjunction with the Media Society and Biteback Publishing) will be hosting a debate about the continuing and serious fallout that the publication of the notorious September 2002 dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the following ‘dodgy’ February 2003 paper on Iraq’s infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation have demonstrably provoked.

The debate is to take place on the tenth anniversary of the publication of the WMD dossier.

News and events » Events » Media, Arts and Design » Media, Arts and Design events archive » 2012 » Ten years on – The Iraq Dossiers: Who was damaged most by Hutton

Ten years on – The Iraq Dossiers: Who was damaged most by Hutton

Date: 24 September 2012

Time: 6.30pm – .

Location: University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW

Kevin Marsh who was at the helm of Radio Four’s Today programme when it broadcasted the controversial Andrew Gilligan report has broken his omerta. His book ‘Stumbling Over Truth: The inside story of the sexed-up dossier, Hutton and the BBC’ will be the subject of a debate which will be chaired by Steve Hewlett.

Chair: Steve Hewlett, presenter ‘The Media Show’ BBC Radio Four

Panel:

Kevin Marsh, former editor ‘Today’, ’The World at One’ and ‘PM’ BBC Radio Four
Peter Oborne, The Daily Telegraph, author ‘The Rise of Political Lying’
Lance Price, former spin doctor to Tony Blair
Professor Steven Barnett, Westminster University, author ‘The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism’
Professor Jean Seaton, Westminster University, official historian The BBC

This special Media Society, University of Westminster and Biteback debate will explore the long term effects of Hutton on the BBC on the 10th anniversary of the ‘dodgy dossier’. Was this the start of political lying as a way of life?

Admission: This event is free but you must register. Please contact Sam at sam_keegan@hotmail.com

(The Digest notes here that there still seems to remain a degree of confusion about which of the two dossiers was actually and initially referred to as being ‘dodgy’. The term arose in the online pages of Spiked magazine following Glen Rangwala’s discovery that some of the work in the ‘Infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation’ dossier had been plagiarised from a number of unattributed sources and then edited to imply stronger conclusions.)


No Honesty, even ten years on

by Chris Ames

Today’s Guardian carries a conversation between LibDem Menzies Campbell and former Labour minister Charles Falconer to mark 10 years (almost) since the publication in September 2002 of the notorious dossier on “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction”.   Sadly, even ten years on Falconer feels the need to dodge the truth.

When Falconer claims that “Scarlett made himself the effective guardian of that document”, ie the dossier, Guardian journalist Oliver Laughland intervenes to observe:

But subsequent reporting last year unearthed a memo from Scarlett to Tony Blair’s foreign aide, which refers to the “benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD, Iraq is not that exceptional”. Doesn’t this suggest a deliberate misleading?

This is a reference to my story for the Observer last year, which revealed that:

The senior intelligence official responsible for Tony Blair‘s notorious dossier on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction proposed using the document to mislead the public about the significance of Iraq’s banned weapons.

Sir John Scarlett, who as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee was placed “in charge” of writing the September 2002 dossier, sent a memo to Blair’s foreign affairs adviser referring to “the benefit of obscuring the fact that in terms of WMD Iraq is not that exceptional”.

But Falconer has no interest in addressing this point, acknowledging the undeniable reality that someone who refers to “the benefit of obscuring” something is proposing a “deliberate misleading”. He says:

“I honestly don’t think so. The point that Scarlett is making in that memo is that there are other countries with maybe more developed WMD than Iraq, and we’re doing nothing about them.”

This is the kind of evasion by obfuscation that politicians engaged in and it is very sad that Falconer still thinks he can get away with it. He is basically lying. In the memo Scarlett is not saying that Britain is doing nothing about countries with maybe more developed WMD, he is proposing limiting a paper about four countries alleged to have WMD to Iraq only, to stop people asking why Britain and the US were only targeting Iraq. It was deliberate misleading and the myth that Falconer is still relying on – that Scarlett was an honest broker – was shattered. The Scarlett memo is here on the Digest.

There is one reference to the Inquiry, when Campbell observes that it is “– judging by the kind of questions that were being asked and some of the rumours emerging – unlikely in its conclusions to remedy that very perception Charlie has just described.” What Charlie Falconer has just said, is that:

It [the dossier] has had a hugely damaging effect on politics. I supported, and continue to support, the use of force. But in terms of people’s trust in politicians, the impression is that the government misled the country in relation to the reasons for war and embarked on it when there wasn’t a proper justification. A as history adjudges the intervention as being both wrong and based on false facts, people hold government, and to a wider extent parliament, in less high standing than before. They believe you can’t trust what the government says about important issues; they think the Commons and the Lords are not very good at forcing governments to do the right thing. That absolutely undermines the basis of our democracy.

If there is any honesty or regret in what Falconer says here, he has undermined it by continuing to play the politicians game of evasion, obfuscation and lying.


CIA ‘mea culpa’ published

by Andrew Mason

Washington, DC, September 5, 2012 – The online magazine ForeignPolicy.com today published an extraordinary CIA document on the recent Iraq war which the National Security Archive obtained through a Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) request to the CIA.

The document, “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspection Created Picture of Deception,” dated January 5, 2006, blames “analyst liabilities,” such as neglecting to examine Iraq’s deceptive behavior “through an Iraqi prism,” for the failure to correctly assess the country’s virtually non-existent WMD capabilities. The review was one in a series of reevaluations the agency produced of its own work after Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Archive obtained the analysis by filing a MDR request after noticing a footnote to it in a September 2006 report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. MDRs are similar to Freedom of Information Act requests but are more effective in cases where a specific record can be identified, such as by title and date. It took the CIA almost six years to release the report.

The document:

CIA, Directorate of Intelligence, “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspections Created Picture of Deception”, Secret, January 5, 2006.

See also:

Classified CIA Mea Culpa on Iraq – By Tom Blanton, Foreign Policy, September 5, 2012

Iraq: How the CIA Says It Blew It on Saddam’s WMD – By Mark Thompson, Time, September 6, 2012

Inside the CIA Dossier on Iraq – By Vijay Prashad, Counterpunch, September 6, 2012


On the WMD ‘lie’

by Andrew Mason

Kevin Marsh, formerly the editor of the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme at the time when Andrew Gilligan made his now most infamous comment that Tony Blair’s government probably knew that the 45 minute claim was wrong (even before it was written into the September 2002 Iraq WMD dossier), has now entered the debate about whether this and other untrue WMD claims were actual ‘lies’ in the true sense of the word.

No sensible analysis has ever shown Tony Blair “lied”. Nor was that the allegation levelled by Dr David Kelly and reported by Andrew Gilligan, in spite of Alastair Campbell’s efforts to persuade us all that it was.

However, substitute for the word “lied” the phrase “created the truth” or “misled the British public about the certainty of the intelligence and the conclusions that could be drawn from it” and most people might well take the view he and those around him are guilty as charged.

His comments come in the wake of Desmond Tutu’s recent refusal to appear on the same stage as Blair at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg on the basis that he believes Blair should be tried as a potential war criminal at the Hague and his subsequent piece in last Sunday’s Observer where he goes on to explain the reasoning for his action, wherein he states:

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

Kevin Marsh’s new book – Stumbling Over Truth: The Inside Story of ‘Sexed-up’ Dossier, Hutton and the BBC – is due to be published on 19/20 September.

Update:

The publication of the book has now been scheduled for 24 September.