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.

4 comments to this article

  1. andrewsimon

    on September 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm -


    Re-reading the document, as I did last night, I think it pretty accurately reflects what people thought the position was at the time. Namely that Saddam Hussein wanted to have weapons of mass destruction [WMD] – he’s had some and we knew from intelligence that he was prepared to use them.

    As it happens I was looking at it last night too – and that’s not exactly the impression I get of what it overridingly says.

    It also states that Blair believed he (Saddam) was producing them, concealing them, had plans and command and control arrangements for using them and that the threat was serious and current.

    Of course Charlie will never want to see things in any other way. I wonder if he practices his lines whilst looking into a rear-view mirror?

  2. John Bone

    on September 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm -

    The interview moves fairly quickly from Falconer saying that the message of the dossier is that Iraq used to have WMD, and might have them in future, to Falconer saying that he agrees with the invasion. So does that mean he thinks that it is OK to invade a country because it used to have WMD and might have them in future?

  3. Bobm

    on September 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm -

    Falconer is all over the place.
    Garbled stuff about
    -TB not having won a consensus with the electorate,
    -wide suspicion of war-making on a false prospectus
    -the damage that that has done to the reputation of parliament;
    -Goldsmith having finally reached a “right” decision that an invasion would be “legal”…but no explanation why, or why it was expedient, legal or not.

    The general impression is that Falconer is the last one left who is prepared speak on TB’s behalf; but that even he doesn’t want to be seen as a true believer.

  4. chris lamb

    on September 9, 2012 at 8:17 pm -

    CF: That’s a difficult question. The decision Peter Goldsmith [Attorney General at the time] reached was the right one. There’s a sequence, now public, whereby Peter puts both sides of the case quite legitimately [in a document produced on 7 March 2003]. He then concludes [on 17 March 2003] there is a reasonable basis, then finally says he favours the view that [going to war] is legal.

    Here we go again- Goldsmith’s decision about the US revival argument being the so-called ‘better view’ was a political decision not a legal one. This is because the view of the UK Foreign Office Legal Advisors, emphasizing the need for a second resolution- called the UK revival argument for confusion’s sake in Goldsmith’s 07 March legal advice- remained a legally valid view.

    Jack Straw had put pulled Ministerial rank on Sir Michael Wood to get him to endorse the ‘two views’ position (probably against Wood’s better judgement). Straw’s purpose in doing this was, no doubt, to air brush the Foreign Office Legal Adviser’s alternative view out of contention altogether by 17 March.

    Even Goldsmith himself in his 17 March statement referred to the US revival argument as the ‘better view’ not the only legal view. Thus, the value judgements made in constructing ‘better’ were of a political nature- to serve the cause already laid down by Blair’s ‘sofa government’ elite- rather than a legal nature.

    Falconer is being utterly disingenous about this as, indeed, is his apparent denial that the intention of the Scarlett memo was to make Iraq appear exceptional even though the available evidence showed it was unexceptional.