26 June 2003
A reader sent me the following note after reading my essay, ‘Exaggerate’ on Jack Straw’s dissembling over the use and definition of words: A letter he’d read on Ceefax:
‘posed the question that Straw’s use of the word ‘current’ by any definition means that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s WMD was not ‘immediate’, ‘imminent’ or even a mere 45 minutes away but precisely as the dossier was being compiled. However as Straw clearly states if the evidence didn’t justify a very soon to be realised threat, then it equally cannot justify a threat existing at the very time the dossier was being written.’
Now I know that the entire point of this semantic dissembling on the part of the ruling political class is to put us off the scent, so we spend all our time debating what Straw and co mean by what they say, but even assuming that this is so, it’s still worth deconstructing it if for no other reason than that Straw needs challenging and on his own ground and that we need to be able to separate the facts from the fiction.
Straw’s statement is indeed a clever (but not clever enough) sleight of hand, because if challenged, as the letter says, he can say, ‘Yes, what I said was true because at the time of writing, there was no imminent (immediate, current, impending) threat.’ But of course, this is not what Straw was being asked, instead, this was how he chose to respond. The real issue is that the veracity of the statements about Saddam’s intentions and abilities to carry them out, depends firstly on his having the means and secondly, that he intended to follow through.
Sold up the River (Niger)
Hence, the fake uranium documents were critical because they supposedly illustrated Saddam’s intentions and not merely immediately, but over time, to develop nuclear weapons. That’s why the dossier made the point about Iraq ‘having no active civil nuclear programme that could require it’ and it did it four times in the dossier. Without the uranium, there is no long term plan and hence no intention of developing nuclear weapons. The entire rationale falls apart.
What a difference 45 minutes can make
The 45 minute invention was important because it served the purpose of sidetracking further inspections by the UN inspectors because it implies that launching such weapons is a simple matter that requires only 45 minutes to put in place, and hence inspectors would never be able to track them down. After all, if they can be assembled in 45 minutes, then they can be disassembled just as quickly. And indeed, the argument was rolled out in different forms by both the US and UK governments, that the Iraqi regime would be able to move them around, hide them, disassemble them and so forth, so what’s the point of looking.
However, this argument is a double-edged sword, because by the same token, all the hot air about finding the WMDs after the invasion, is undermined by the same argument used to justify the invasion. And predictably, within days and weeks of the occupation, we got statements like the one by Douglas Feith from the US government talking about ‘strategic looting’ of WMDs or the ‘evidence’ of their existence, or that there’s ‘3000 sites’ to look at, or the geographically-challenged Straw’s statement that ‘Iraq is twice the size of France.’
And finally today, Straw admitted that the famous 45 minutes statement, didn’t appear in earlier drafts of the dossier. Why? Because it was some kind of late breaking news, not that this makes the slightest bit of difference, a lie is a lie. However, the same can’t be said of the Niger fabrications as they’ve been kicking around for a couple of years, so they had plenty of time to remove the offending fabrication.
But whether or not the famous 45 minute statement appeared in prior versions of the September document is neither here nor there. What’s important is that it was a fake. What has been lost in all the smoke and mirrors created by the government’s spinning of words, is the simple fact that the government never had a case for an invasion and knew it never would have one, and hence the need to invent a one (or two, or more).
The angry response from spin doctor Campbell today, with his unprecedented attack on the BBC, is nothing but a red herring to divert attention away from the fact that the government used ‘intelligence’ that was either fake or was unable to substantiate its authenticity. What we need to see, is a reasoned analysis of the historical record by the BBC and the rest of the mass media, of this shameful period in the Labour government’s existence and the perpetrators brought to book to answer the charges of lying to and deceiving not only the British public, but also the world, in order to invade and occupy a sovereign state in defiance of the public, the UN and international law. No amount of table thumping by Campbell or semantic skullduggery by Jack Straw (not the brightest of fellows in any case), will make the lies go away or alter the historical facts.