Wednesday, September 24, 2003

From John Scarlett's latest testimony to the Hutton Inquiry, which begins with a question by Andrew Caldecott QC, counsel for the BBC (here, sections 136 to 141; my italics):

"Q. I just want to deal with one very short point. I think it was your own conclusion, I do not know whether it is reflected in the full JIC paper, which I have not seen, that the 9th September 45 minute claim related to battlefield munitions?

A. It did, yes.

Q. I think we can see how you might well have reached that conclusion if we look at BBC/30/3, very quickly. This is an extract from the Intelligence and Security Committee report.

A. Hmm.

Q. It deals with delivery systems.

A. Yes.

Q. The potential systems are set out in 46.

A. Yes.

Q. A number of serious doubts about almost all of them, except for artillery shells and so on, are expressed in 47. Then in 48: "The JIC assessed that the Iraqis might use chemical and biological weapons against neighbouring states or concentrations of Western forces. We were told that the weapons systems most likely to be used to deliver chemical and biological munitions against Western forces were artillery and rockets."

A. Yes.

Q. "These are battlefield weapons, which can be used tactically to great effect, but they are not strategic weapons." Firstly, was that made clear to the Prime Minister?

A. There was no discussion with the Prime Minister that I can recall about the 45 minutes point in connection with battlefield or strategic systems. Indeed I do not remember a discussion with the Prime Minister about the 45 minutes point at all.

Q. Who, apart from the internal assessment staff, was this message conveyed to?

A. Sorry, what message?

Q. Only battlefield munitions, not strategic weapons.

A. You say "only battlefield munitions". Do you know what a battlefield munition, a battlefield weapon, might actually involve? I can tell you the assessment from the DIS of what the most likely delivery system for chemical and biological, particularly chemical weapons, would be, and this was based on the experience of the Iran/Iraq War. Multiple rocket launchers, in particular the BM21 with a range of 20-kilometres or artillery up to the 155 millimetre artillery, which would have a range of 40 kilometres. In the Iran/Iraq War 20,000 Iranians were killed or wounded through the use of chemical weapons, so the difference between strategic and tactical in those contexts is quite difficult to draw, particularly as Iran's use of chemical weapons in the Iran/Iraq War had a strategic effect of halting a major Iranian advance. I just thought I would say that.

Q. Mr Scarlett, I totally take the point but you are well aware, are you not, of the distinction between range and casualty?

A. Yes.

Q. Yes. Strategic weapons have a far longer range, they could reach British bases in Cyprus, for example, which is what the newspaper said on 25th September.

A. A small number of newspapers said it on 25th September and not thereafter.

Q. A small number of newspapers with a readership of millions.

A. On the 25th September there were a small number of headlines about that; and afterwards virtually no reference to it.

Q. Were you concerned that that should be corrected, Mr Scarlett?

A. No, I was not and I will tell you why not. First of all, as regards my own assessment staff, we were ready to field enquiries from the press offices of No. 10, the MoD, the FCO with anything relating to issues of this kind. We received no enquiries whatsoever about the 45 minute point. The second point was I was of course following the press coverage of the dossier and I was interested to note that immediately after the headline flurry on various points on the 24th and 25th September the press coverage fell quickly into assessing the dossier as a sober and cautious document that most explicitly did not make a case for war, if anything it made a case for the return of the inspectors and it focused in particular, quite rightly in my view, on the importance of what the dossier had to say about the nuclear issue. I was content with the way that coverage came out; and that is - that was my attitude over many months indeed.

Q. Do I understand you to say that you do not correct it because no questions had been asked about it?

A. No, you may understand it but that would be wrong, but I have explained that the reason why that was not an issue in my mind was because of the very sober and sensible way in which media coverage of the dossier fell into place immediately after the 25th September.

Q. Well, what about the 25th September itself? This is the day it is announced in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister, and certainly a number of newspapers, with mass readerships throughout the country, have misunderstood it. Why was it not put right and why were you not concerned to put it right?

A. Because it was a fleeting moment and then the underlying assessment by the media of the dossier was as I have just described, and beyond that, of course, it is not my immediate responsibility to correct headlines and if I did that, I certainly would not have time to do my job."

It is amazing that Scarlett, like Geoff Hoon, is so arrogant in his testimony that he can't even be bothered to come up with a plausible reason why he didn't try to correct the reporting of British newspapers concerning the 45-minute claim. Scarlett gives three reasons why he didn't try to make a correction:

  • no one asked him the specific question (Caldecott made the classic cross-examiner's mistake of allowing Scarlett to weasel out of this by asking one question too many, but it is clear that this was Scarlett's first reason);

  • he was generally pleased with the whole coverage of the matter; and

  • "if I did that, I certainly would not have time to do my job".

The first reason is ridiculous. No one asked the question precisely because they were all fooled by the way the dodgy dossier had been set up. No one asked because everyone reasonably assumed that the 45-minute claim wouldn't be in the dossier unless it related to a direct threat to British interests, and therefore had to involve strategic weapons. This is similar to Hoon's amazing assertion that it was all the fault of the editors and journalists for not making the correction, when of course they could not make the correction when they had no way of knowing that there was anything wrong to correct! The second reason amounts to a boast by Scarlett that he had gotten away with fooling everyone, and wasn't going to ruin the deception by pointing out the error. The third reason is outrageous, amounting to an assertion that it was outside the scope of Scarlett's employment to correct a grievous error based on a reasonable reading of a document drafted by him, an error which was being used to hornswoggle the British people into agreeing to a war they didn't want. If correcting such an error wasn't in the narrow terms of Scarlett's job, perhaps he should start looking for another one. Of course, we all know this wasn't a mistake: the point of the dossier was to deceive. That's why both Hoon and Scarlett find it impossible to come up with a good reason to explain why they allowed important falsehoods to be believed by the British people. They all must have had some good laughs about how they played the whole country for fools.