Sunday, March 15, 2009

Political manipulation revealed

For democracy’s sake, end the secrecy over Iraq

Sunday Herald Editorial

THE "POLITICAL manipulation" of the government's case for war against Iraq in 2003 is now clearer than it has ever been. Last week saw the release of protected documents - which were kept well away from Lord Hutton in his inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly - and the critical description by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, of the government's "dossier" of evidence which played such a key role in convincing both parliament and some of the public that the threat from Saddam Hussein's regime was real and imminent. These show the extent of the political duplicity that was a signature of this phase of Tony Blair's time in power.

Recall the fake outcry and controlled indignation there was from the government when it was accused of "sexing up" the notorious dossier. Recall the statements of denial from senior Cabinet ministers of any wrong-doing that were given to the Hutton Inquiry, especially the testimony of the then defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, or the material given to Hutton from Alastair Campbell, then effectively Britain's real deputy prime minister. Yet we now learn - and this comes as no surprise to newspapers such as this one which dug deep into the government's case and found it severely wanting - that there was a climate of disbelief among key defence and intelligence officials at how the case for war was being presented with qualified information offered up as certain and verified.

"Iffy drafting," saw attempts at moderated language being erased; caveats were removed and replaced on the government's orders; an insistence on concrete certainty over what weapons Saddam owned and when he planned to use them seems to have been the order of the day as Blair sought to create authenticity when none existed.

The harsh truth is that New Labour under Tony Blair, subverted Britain's democratic processes in the way it chose to spin the case for a war. Blair saw his masters as residing in the White House and chose to dismiss criticisms that existed within Whitehall in favour of supporting a war the United States had been determined to fight, regardless.

The same process of spin and cover-up were taken by Labour into the 2005 general election. The result of that poll reflected the degree to which Blair and New Labour had lost the trust of the electorate. But what would the result have been if the extent of the duplicity over Iraq had been revealed? It is unlikely Blair would have been able to survive as the leader of his party. The position of those inside the Cabinet who had supported Blair unconditionally - and this includes the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, who remained silent on Iraq - would have been equally difficult.

Hutton's conclusion and, equally, the conclusions of Lord Butler's follow-up investigation, have had their validity eroded by the release of these previously protected emails and memos.

Blair is now part of British political history and British troops in Iraq, along with their US counterparts, are near to the conclusion of their mission. So why is there a reluctance, in fact a flat refusal, by the government to hold a thorough and meaningful inquiry into this episode of UK foreign policy? There must be a fear within the already damaged and struggling Brown regime that an inquiry which threatened to reveal systematic and politically motivated manipulation of facts - "lies" is perhaps not too strong a word to use in this contect - would utterly destroy Labour's case for a fourth term.

The 2005 general election was fought under a cloud of spin and misinformation and we now face the prospect of the 2010 election being fought with the same tactics. By refusing to allow the facts of its own behaviour to be examined in a detailed inquiry, the government is effectively saying the that electorate has no right to know the full story. This isn't democracy, this is a sham version of democracy, worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship which treats voters as an inconvenience and where rights reside in those who hold, not authorise, power.

Having long called for a detailed investigation, this newspaper believes the case for an independent full-scale inquiry as now being politically critical for the health of democracy in the UK. The political conduct and decisions that took Britain to war in Iraq, which cost the lives of soldiers and Iraqi civilians, is an inside story that has been swathed in secrecy. The time for the truth is long overdue.


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