Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1861

‘We need to concentrate on the big deception’

This article is over 18 years, 5 months old
Paul Foot writes on what really matters among the claims and counter-claims this week
Issue 1861

BIG FLEAS have little fleas on their backs to bite ’em. Little fleas have smaller fleas, and so ad infinitum. It’s the same with lies. Big lies generate all sorts of little lies, and in a political world where real ideas and real ideology have been shovelled into the background, the politicians and their media become obsessed with the little lies, and churn them over incessantly so that their audiences and their readers become confused and disorientated.

The big lie that dominates the political world at the moment is the one that justified the invasion and occupation of Iraq by American and British troops. This was the lie that the corrupt and murderous regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq posed such a threat to the world that the most powerful armed forces were entitled to rub it out by force, and impose on Iraq a disgusting and apparently endless imperialist occupation.

This lie was perfectly plain to millions of people in Britain long before the invasion. It was not, however, plain to the government, the Tory opposition or the BBC. The government and their secret agencies circulated the lie, the Tories almost unanimously took it up and echoed it, and so did the BBC.

From that big lie all three organisations seek to divert our attention. There is, for instance, no high-powered public inquiry into the reasons for war and the so called ‘intelligence’ that led us into it. Instead there is to be an inquiry by a single judge into the suicide of a weapons inspector.

Mountains of trivia are endlessly debated to distract us from the big lie. What role did Alastair Campbell and the intelligence boffins play in compiling the deceitful dossiers last September and February? What did Dr David Kelly say to Andrew Gilligan of the BBC (who freelances, apparently, for the odious Mail on Sunday) over lunch at the Charing Cross Hotel? What did the doctor say to the BBC’s Susan Watts? Was he bullied by the craven MPs on the foreign affairs select committee? Was he driven to his death by his bosses or by his own uncertainty?

Commentators rush to take sides in the trivial debates that follow. Some support the government, others the BBC. The death of Dr Kelly inspires a great outpouring of bogus media grief. Somehow the swarms of little lies and other trivia manage to obscure the big lie, and the big liars – the government, its intelligence chiefs, the Tory leaders and the BBC mandarins – all manage to cling to office.

The outstanding achievement of the Stop the War Coalition was that it concentrated the minds of masses of people on the big lie, and organised millions in opposition to it.

In all the flurry of little lies we need to concentrate once more on the main question, the big deceit. Did the government, in particular the prime minister, the foreign secretary and the defence secretary, deceive the people in the run-up to the war? Yes they did.

Were they supported in that deception by the Tory party and the BBC? Yes they were. Should all these people now pay the price for that deception and get out? Yes they should.

Lies used to justify a criminal war

DR DAVID KELLY seems to have been driven to kill himself amid a row between the BBC and the government. At the centre of that row was the claim the government had ‘sexed up’ its dossier produced last September on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

Whatever Kelly said to BBC journalists there is no doubt about one central fact – the entire dossier was a confection of lies and exaggeration aimed at paving the way for war. Here are three of the biggest lies:

  • The dossier claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Where are they? Months after the official end of war, and with tens of thousands of US and British troops occupying Iraq, none have been found. Even Blair, speaking to the US Congress last week, was forced to admit that such weapons may not exist.
  • The dossier did claim that the Iraqi regime could launch chemical and biological weapons ‘within 45 minutes’. There was no evidence at all for this claim. Iraq never used such weapons at any stage in the war, most probably because it did not have them.
  • The dossier also claimed that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from the an ‘African’ country – later revealed to be Niger – in a bid to develop nuclear weapons.

The documents on which the claim was based were first given to Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba last year. She went to Niger, and then told her editor that the story and the documents were fake. She then gave the forged documents to the US embassy in Rome to check. The US government concluded quickly that the documents were fake. Despite this George Bush used the claim in his State of the Union address in January this year.

In March this year the IAEA official nuclear inspectorate again declared the Niger documents to be crude forgeries.

The British say they have ‘other’ evidence, and have hinted that French intelligence is the source. France partially runs the uranium industry in Niger, a former colony. The French ambassador to Niger this week dismissed British claims. So too did the Niger government. Blair and his cabinet are the only people in the world who now believe their own lies.
Paul McGarr

Can all three be wrong?

DAVID KELLY, speaking to a parliamentary committee, denied telling BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan that 10 Downing Street had ‘sexed up’ the Iraq dossier. Yet three BBC journalists met Kelly independently. All came to the same conclusion.

Radio 4 journalist Andrew Gilligan says his source (Kelly) told him, ‘It [the dossier] was transformed in the week before it was published to make it sexier.’ Gilligan said that Kelly had told him that the ‘transformation of the dossier took place at the behest of Downing Street’.

BBC Newsnight journalist Susan Watts also met Kelly. He told her, ‘The government’s insistence that the Iraqi threat was imminent was a Downing Street interpretation.’

BBC journalist Gavin Hewitt also met Kelly. Hewitt said, ‘In the final week before publication, some material was taken out and some put in. His judgement – some spin from Number 10 came into play.’

What these journalists report does not square with Kelly’s testimony to the parliamentary committee, testimony given with two Ministry of Defence minders sitting alongside him.

Time to go

‘Tony Blair should resign immediately because he lied to the British people about the reasons for going to war. He told us that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of being used within 45 minutes.’
Lindsey German convenor of the Stop the War Coalition

‘Alastair Campbell’s position is as shaky as those of the prime minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. They should resign immediately after this utterly shameful episode.’
Glenda Jackson Labour MP and former minister

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