You, readers, are the jury. Soon in the general election you will have to judge whether the Prime Minister lied to us about the Iraq war, and if he did you will be able to decide whether he and his party deserve any punishment.
You may conclude he has no remorse, does not recognise his guilt, is surrounded by those who tell him he is innocent, and is intent on repeating his behaviour over Iran, Syria and who-knows-where next.
The Prime Minister deserves to be punished because he lied and abused his office and the trust of the nation. The examples are numerous and many are compiled in the book written by Glen Rangwala and myself, A Case To Answer [the recent Panorama programme titled Iraq, Tony And The Truth, the text of which is on the BBC website, gives an update and a summary].
Shortly before the war began, Tony Blair told the BBC that Saddam Hussein could remain in office provided he complied with UN weapons inspectors and that he was entitled to keep his army, navy and air force. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, who among you believes the Prime Minister made this statement honestly?
We now know from leaked memoranda from his chief foreign policy advisor, David Manning, that the Prime Minister agreed a strategy of deception of the UN and the British public in which the threat of WMD would be hyped up and the UN inspectors be found to have failed.
Then there is the matter of the dossiers on Iraq – the September 2002 dossier which the PM told us presented the considered authoritative view of the intelligence services. We now know that had been shorn of all cautions and warnings and padded out with exaggerated claims based upon dubious intelligence that has now been discarded as false.
It is clear that Blair and his staff were at pains to make a watertight document and produced one that clearly exaggerated the views of the intelligence services whose evidence Lord Butler later described as thin.
The Prime Minister even lied to Lord Hutton when he gave evidence to the inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly by claiming the reason for producing the dossier was the amount of new evidence coming across his desk when the only reason the evidence was being accumulated at all was that he was seeking to make the case for war.
Perhaps the grandest lie was the motion that was voted on by the House of Commons on March 18, 2002. It stated that Saddam was in breach of UN resolution 1441 and had not taken his final chance to comply. This was not the conclusion of the UN, and it was not the conclusion of the intelligence services that the Commons and the country believed were briefing Blair. In fact, the Prime Minister had not asked the intelligence services for their views on Iraq’s WMD in the crucial months leading up to the war.
Can we believe that, if he really thought our troops faced death from Saddam’s weapons, he would not have asked for the most recent and detailed assessments? Whatever one might say about Blair, he is not a stupid man. Only a stupid, callous man would send troops to face death from VX gas, anthrax and plague without bothering to find out all he could.
The next lie in the resolution before parliament places the blame on a supposed veto threat by the French – we now know the majority on the Security Council and not just France were opposed to war and that the French merely wanted more time to find the truth. They were not opposed to war in principle if Saddam could be shown to be a threat.
The Commons motion also describes the advice of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith that war was legal. This lie used a little truth to conceal a larger truth. At the time all we had to go on was a parliamentary answer given by the Attorney General saying the war was legal. The Prime Minister has described it as a summary. We now know it was not a summary of a considered legal analysis – it was all there was. We and our MPs were also told that this was, and by implication always had been, the Attorney General’s opinion. In fact it was not even written by Lord Goldsmith and his staff, but by other officials. We now know that a few weeks earlier he had held the view that a war without a second resolution would be illegal and that his opinion changed.
We are told by government spokesmen that this opinion was only needed when it became clear the government might need to go to war without a second resolution. This is nonsense: the government had always considered what UN authority was needed. In any case, the global consensus is that nations do not have the right to unilaterally decide when and if Security Council resolutions entitle them to go to war.
But can we not now move on? Is this not harping on about the past when we should be building the future? Consider an accountant who cooks the books, a priest who fondles the choirboys, a yob who beats up an old lady. Do they come to court and say: “I did nothing wrong, why are you still going on about it, can’t I get on with my life?” I do not think so.
Blair got it right himself when he said the climate of the 1960s is over and that the public want those who break the rules to be punished. He is right – and he should be punished.
Labour want us to acclaim the Prime Minister because, in pursuing a bad and dishonest policy with such determination, he has shown himself to be a man of steel, a man to lead the country. Buy that line if you like. But is it disloyal to the Labour movement to seek to hold the PM to account? I am not one of those who thinks the Labour Party has always been led by traitors. Its leaders have tried to do the best they could. Blair did what he thought was best, he thought that WMD would be found in Iraq and he never dreamt that all his shenanigans would be out in the open. He was wrong, and in pursuing his faith he lied to his employers: you and me.
If the Prime Minister is not punished then consider the consequences; if the precedent is established that ministers like David Blunkett can be fired if they commit a petty offence like fast-tracking a visa, but for the big crimes – like fast-tracking a war – there will be no comeback. Then the freedom for which we fought against Hitler will die out, our claim to export freedom will produce a cynical laugh around the world and the country will sink into a permanent condition of corruption.
Dan Plesch www.danplesch.net is author of The Beauty Queen's Guide To World Peace
© 2005 Newsquest (Sunday Herald) Limited