The Butler Report: The Blair government let off the hook again

The Butler Report, the official inquiry into how intelligence sources were used by the Blair government to justify the war in Iraq, has produced nothing surprising. It is another whitewash, just like the Hutton report. What is amazing however is that it provides enough evidence to show that the government did indeed lie to the British people, that it went to war under false pretences.

The Butler Report, the official inquiry into how intelligence sources were used by the Blair government to justify the war in Iraq, has produced nothing surprising. It is another whitewash, just like the Hutton report. What is amazing however is that it provides enough evidence to show that the government did indeed lie to the British people, that it went to war under false pretences. It lists a series of "shortcomings", exaggerations, etc., that should lead to many heads rolling. Instead the very same report says that no one is really to blame!

The report points out that British MI6 – the secret services – had based their advice to the government on information that was ten years out of date and on "sources" that proved to be completely unreliable. John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, had played a key role in drafting the government dossier.

The role of Scarlett

Scarlett was a close friend – a "mate" – of Alastair Campbell and seems to have had extraordinary influence inside the Blair government. He actually recommended making changes to the Government dossier on Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction that made the report appear to be more convincing. In the new jargon used to describe this method, the document was "sexed up", i.e. exaggerated and falsified!

Anyone would have thought that Scarlett would be the ideal scapegoat upon which to unload all the blame for these falsifications and exaggerations. Instead he was appointed to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove next month as head of SIS (Secret Intelligence Service or MI6 as it is better known). Everyone had expected Dearlove's deputy, Inkster, to take over when he resigned. Instead it was Scarlett who leap-frogged over him, a clear reward fro having provided Blair with the necessary "intelligence" with which to try and convince the British people that the war was justified.

Scarlett's job was clearly not to find the real information, not to discover the truth about Iraq, but to provide Blair with what would seem convincing evidence. This shows that it was not the evidence that led to war. No, the decision to go to war was taken long ago. All that was needed was to fabricate a convincing story. Thus we were told that Saddam Hussein definitely had weapons of mass destruction, that he could use them against Britain or British targets within 45 minutes.

The Butler report now says that the intelligence was flawed, based on totally unreliable sources. It says the famous Government "dossier" was also unreliable and dodgy. The 45-minute claim it says was simply wrong and the much-vaunted link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda was unproven. It points out that the people of Britain were misled. It says: "Language in the dossier may have left readers with the impression that there was fuller and firmer intelligence behind the judgements than was the case."

We can remind our readers of how Blair, in the build up to the war, presented his case. Speaking in Parliament on September 24, 2002 he said the following: "The [intelligence] concludes that Saddam has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons." The so-called "intelligence" was never made public, but Blair assured us all that the evidence was there. On July 6 of this year he was forced to declare that, "I have to accept that we have not found them. He may have removed or hidden or even destroyed those weapons. We don't know." So much for his sources of intelligence. We simply "don't know".

Butler also has made some important criticisms about how the government operates. He has stated that, "We are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures which we saw in the context of policy-making towards Iraq risks reducing the scope for informed collective political judgement." This refers to the fact that many decisions are taken without even consulting all the Cabinet members, that meetings are held without minutes being taken, and much discussion is informal and within the walls of number 10, Downing Street.

This underlines what we have explained many times before. The British parliament is referred to arrogantly by the British ruling class as the "Mother of all Parliaments". This implies that it has a long and democratic tradition. But over a period real power has been removed from parliament and concentrated in the hands of the Cabinet. But even the Cabinet now is not consulted fully. This started under Thatcher but has continued under Blair. There is an inner clique that takes decisions even behind the back of the Cabinet itself. Some of the people taking these decisions are not elected by anyone. They are merely the handpicked cronies of Tony Blair.

Butler, a creature of the system

The absurdity of the situation is that this clique even decides who is to "investigate" into its own behaviour. Lord Butler was chosen because he has a good track record in burying and obfuscating the truth. Let us take a look at who this Lord Butler is. Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary who resigned over Blair's plans to go to war, had the following to say about Butler:

"What a wonderful specimen of the British establishment is Lord Butler of Brockwell. Urbane, unflappable and understanding. He should be put on display somewhere as a prize example of our ruling classes." Referring to the flawed intelligence Cook goes on to say, "This must be the most embarrassing failure in the history of British intelligence. Yet according to Lord Butler, no one is to blame. Everyone behaved perfectly properly and nobody made a mistake." (Quoted from his article in today's The Independent).

Butler is a former Cabinet secretary and knows very well the individuals that he was called on to "investigate". He even promoted some of them when he was in charge in the past! He served under five prime ministers, apparently being most comfortable with John Major. And he has been involved in this kind of "Government deception" before.

In the mid-nineties, under the Tories, there was an Arms-to-Iraq inquiry. Butler gave a misleading answer to the Commons. When taken up on this he said that. "It was accurate but incomplete… The purpose of it was to give an answer which itself was true. It did not give the full picture. It was half an answer." Incredibly he added that, "It is not justified to mislead, but very often one is finding oneself in a position where you have to give an answer that is not the whole truth." Butler was also involved in "investigating" sleaze allegations under the John Major government. He interviewed Jonathan Aitken, who was later sentenced to jail for perjury. Butler found no proof of wrongdoing!

Butler is indeed a very good example of the British ruling classes, as Robin Cook mentions in his article. He studied at the public school of Harrow, then went on to Oxford, and entered the civil service in the early 1960s. In the 1970s he was Edward Heath's private secretary and then also served Thatcher loyally. No wonder Blair chose him as the man to lead this latest inquiry. From such a man no one can expect the truth on anything.

The results of his inquiry try to square the circle. The inquiry is forced to make some very important revelations, from which many people in Britain will draw their own conclusions. Butler realised this and said, "We realise that our conclusions may provoke calls for the current chairman of the JIC, Mr Scarlett, to withdraw from his appointment as the next Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service… We greatly hope he will not do so. We have a high regard for his abilities and his record."

Compare this to the treatment of Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies, the director general and the chairman of the BBC who were forced to resign after the Hutton report was made public. Although they were not directly responsible for the news items, they were said to be responsible on the basis of collective responsibility. Now the same concept is used in the case of the government, but with the opposite effect. As there was a collective responsibility, the no one is responsible. If this had been applied to the BBC Dyke and Davies would still be in their positions.

The BBC was harassed and pressurised by the government simply because they told the truth. But Scarlett not only is not harassed, he is promoted to head of SIS! This shows the utter hypocrisy of this government. If you play their game and help them in their deceit you go to the top and are rewarded. If you try and tell the truth you are hounded and forced out of your job.

Blair has been forced to retreat and admit that there are no weapons of mass destruction. He is forced to concede that there were some "mistakes". But he is not prepared to apologise for going to war. He is not prepared to admit that he lied to the British people. His excuse is that he based his position on the information he had been provided. But everyone can see that that information was really coming from the government itself. Scarlett merely provided the cover for it.

Now that it is clear that there were never any weapons of mass destruction Blair has changed his position. The war was to remove a brutal dictator, who had no respect for human rights, etc. So whatever the truth may be, the war will always be justified in the eyes of Blair.

Decision to go to war taken long ago

What this confirms once again is that the decision to go to war was taken not on the basis of any "intelligence" on Saddam's weapons. The decision had nothing to do with whether there were any weapons of mass destruction or with the brutal nature of the Saddam regime. There are many countries that have far more powerful and dangerous weapons than Iraq was alleged to have had. And there are also plenty of brutal regimes around the world. If we were to apply the logic that has been applied to Iraq then the USA and Britain should be at war with half the world, but then they would be at war with their friends!

The reasons for going to war were economic and strategic, as we have explained many times. The Middle East is in turmoil. It is extremely unstable. What in the past would have seemed a very stable ally of the United States and imperialism in general, Saudi Arabia, has now become very unstable. The regime there could fall. In spite of it being a despotic regime, the United States wants to bolster it. Saudi Arabia has the largest known oil reserves in the world. Had the regime fallen while Saddam was still in power it would have created serious problems in terms of the supply of oil to the West. But its fall would also usher in a series of crises throughout the whole region. The US administration under Bush decided it needed a strong military presence in the region as a counterweight to any serious movement of the Arab masses. That is why they went into Iraq and fabricated all the story about Saddam's threat to the west.

What the Butler report reveals is the real nature of bourgeois "democracy". The masses have no real say in the important decisions. The major corporations, the capitalists and their loyal servants such as Butler or Blair, take decisions on the basis of the crucial interests of the rich who dominate the world. They decide what is to be done and then they fabricate an excuse for doing it. They are prepared to lie, cheat, cajole, corrupt and harass people to get their way.

This is not democracy; it is not genuine democracy. The majority do not decide. But under capitalism it cannot be any other way. To ask the bourgeois politicians to govern on the basis of transparency and truth is not to understand the real nature of the system. When your task is to exploit the workers of the world to the benefit of a handful of super-rich capitalists you cannot do this by openly stating what you are doing. It needs subterfuge, half-truths and lies.

But they will not be able to hide the truth forever. Although both the Hutton report and this latest Butler report are attempts to let off the government, millions of people in Britain no longer believe what their rulers are telling them. This was revealed in the recent election results, where many either abstained or looked for a political alternative. Blair may survive in the short term, but he will pay heavily for his conduct in the coming period.

July 15, 2004