Dossier Demolished

by Brian Jones

Dr Chris Williams of the University of Birmingham has provided the Digest with a copy of his submission to the Iraq Inquiry. You will find it here. It raises issues that were touched on in earlier inquiries and which Sir John Chilcot and his committee must address much more directly than the Butler review did.

Chris Williams provides a scholarly deconstruction of the most significant elements of the Prime Minister’s September 2002 dossier “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” demonstrating that the inconsistencies internal to the document itself are all that is necessary to show how it was more than “sexed-up”. The way in which the title itself and the Prime Minister’s Foreword were not representative of the dossier’s Executive Summary, which in turn did not properly reflect the dossier’s Conclusions, that were in turn at some variance with the main body of the text, was positively misleading.

In allowing this, civil service officials were almost certainly negligent of their responsibilities under the Civil Service Code.

There is also the question of whether the Ministerial Code was breached in relation to the responsibilities of government ministers to parliament. And as the Prime Minister himself commended the dossier to parliament, having rated it of such importance that he recalled MPs a day early from their summer recess in order to debate it, it is difficult to see how he is not personally responsible for misleading the House, at least through his negligence, because of the inconsistencies so obviously present in it.

Chris Williams concludes his evidence by drawing attention to my statement before the Public Administration Select Committee earlier this year when I referred to what I considered to be the failure of MPs to make a simple critical comparison of the main body of the dossier with the PM’s Foreword. But now, as the officials involved appear to be distancing themselves from Tony Blair and his Foreword, it is equally important to note what Chris Williams says about the aspects of the dossier which were undeniably the ultimate responsibility of John Scarlett and his colleagues on the JIC.

More indirectly and less comprehensively than in Chris Williams analysis, I tried to illustrate how the assessment had been changed by providing an alternative Executive Summary as part of my written evidence to the Butler review. In an article in the Independent at the time of the Butler report I wrote:

“What was uncertain and poorly defined [in the main text] suddenly became clearer and “presentationally” more acceptable [in the Executive Summary]. Intelligence no longer indicated what might be and suddenly, without substantiation, showed what was. …………… That, in turn, enabled the Prime Minister to make the positive assertions in his foreword: “I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons …” and, “I am in no doubt the threat is serious and current …”

A very important part of Chris Williams’ evidence concerns the loose use of the important words and terms in the dossier. In Appendix 2 of his evidence to Chilcot he gives us “standard definitions” of seven such terms beginning with “WMD” itself. I tackled the issue of what “WMD” might or might not mean at greater length in Annex B of my evidence to Butler expanding on the rather curtailed explanation I had given to Hutton (page 63). Although Williams and I end up with different views in the detail, they are not mutually exclusive, and they demonstrate a similar point in relation to the misuse the term in relation to Iraq. However, at Hutton, John Scarlett was adamant that the term covered all nuclear biological and chemical weapons including battlefield munitions.

Similarly, the Williams definitions of the other six terms point to a tendency to mislead through spin, and whilst I would not adhere to all of them as “standard” they do apply in the context of a critique of the dossier. In an earlier piece for the Digest I complained of the loose use of another, equally important word – “threat” . The Inquiry, its members sometimes using the word itself in the same vague way as witnesses, has so far shown no great inclination to be more precise.

In all this, what is perhaps more important than “standard” definitions is that those witnesses or their inquisitors using terms such as these to convey critical information or ideas should be careful to define the sense or context in which they are being used. If they do not it is important that those involved (witnesses, questioners, interviewers, journalists or commentators) demand clarity, or explain any assumptions they may make with regard to the meaning of the terms they are using, or that have been used by others.

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