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Home > War On Terror

What the Butler won't see

6 February 2004

Good old George W. Bush. This week America's 43rd President finally relented and decided that Tony Blair could hold an inquiry into the intelligence failures that lead to British troops invading Iraq after all.

This new inquiry team is essentially the same one as investigated Weapons of Mass Destruction last year, apart from the chair Lord Butler, who likes: a) tennis; b) cycling; and c) keeping things they way they are.

So it might be worth remembering how good they are distinguishing between reliable intelligence and dodgy claims which come from crazy lying hotheads.

One of the scarier claims about Iraq was that Saddam had been trying to get hold of "yellowcake" uranium from Niger. This would have let him make nuclear bombs, which, we were told, he planned to drop on Britain.

We know from Hutton that Number 10 insisted on lying about this in the dossier, changing what they'd been told (that he had "sought" yellowcake) into something substantively different (that he'd "secured" it).

But how accurate was what they'd been told in the first place?

Let's not rely on one source to answer that.

Source 1: the ISC

The same people who Blair has appointed said then: "We have questioned [MI6] about the basis of their judgment and conclude it is reasonable."

In short, the Ctte says: "jolly good, carry on, decent chap".

Source 2: Google

Google, as we know, is one of the most important research tools in modern intelligence.

If you take the correspondence that "proved" that Saddam was haggling for some cheapo yellowcake... you can see that they were "signed" on July 6 2000 by the Nigerian Foreign Minister. The signature read "Allele Elhadj Habibou" of the Conseil Militaire Supreme.

What Google has to tell us is that the Conseil was abolished eleven years before the date on the document, and that Habibou was Foreign Minister in the eighties.

In short, Google says: "Good God, what do we pay these people for?".

And what of this Butler fellow? Another whitewash man or someone who'll finally acknowledge that ministers can and do lie when it suits them?

Robin Butler, this is (a bit of) your career...

1984 - Almost died alongside Margaret Thatcher when the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton. But not quite.

1991 - Almost died alongside John Major when the IRA bombed 10 Downing Street. But not quite.

1994 - Tasked with investigating claims that Cabinet Minister Jonathan Aitken lied to cabinet colleagues over his involvement with a Saudi arms dealer. Investigation took the form of asking Aitken 'man to man' whether the allegations were true. Believed Aitken's denial and attacked journalists who were still pursuing the story. Aitken was later jailed for perjury.

1999 - Tasked with investigating claims that Cabinet Minister Neil Hamilton had taken 'cash for questions' from Mohammed Fayed. Investigation took the form of asking Hamilton 'man to man' whether the allegations were true. Believed Hamilton's denial and attached journalists who 'undermine our system of government' with 'grossly distorted and prejudicial allegations'. Hamilton was later declared bankrupt after losing a libel action against Fayed after Fayed boasted about the bribe in an interview.

2004 - Drops lifelong love affair with Prime Ministers and their cabinet ministers and carries out a fair, balanced and far-reaching inquiry into whether Britain was justified in invading Iraq.

Or not.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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