Hutton Inquiry Update

HUTTON INQUIRY UPDATE….I’m still not ready to write anything lengthy about the Hutton inquiry into the death of David Kelly. Little tidbits come out every day, and it’s going to be impossible to draw any conclusions until the testimony is finished. (A quick summary timeline of the whole affair is here.)

However, it’s worth noting that while the BBC took some hits during the first week of the inquiry, when Andrew Gilligan and other BBC worthies testified, the government is taking it on the chin pretty badly now that it’s their turn in the dock. The Telegraph has the results of an ICM poll today showing that 67% of the public thinks the government deceived them about WMD, 61% think they embellished the dossier, and 58% trust Tony Blair less than before. (36% trust the BBC less than before.)

Next week will be more government testimony, including Tony Blair himself, so it’s likely that the government’s position will deteriorate even further.

For those keeping score at home, here are the key questions that are part of the inquiry. (The inquiry is allegedly tasked only with investigating David Kelly’s suicide, but these questions are the ones that everyone is really interested in.) I’ve also included my current guesses about each question, although it’s too early for any of them to be firm.

  • Did the government “sex up” the dossier? Yes, probably, although this hinges very much on just what “sex up” really means. They were obviously pretty heavily involved in the final two weeks of drafting, and seem to have been entirely responsible for the foreward, which highlighted the “45-minute” claim.

  • Specifically, was Alastair Campbell responsible for sexing it up over the objections of intelligence officials? He certainly had a role in the drafting, but this question is unlikely to get firmly answered.

  • Even more specifically, did Campbell have anything to do with adding (or highlighting) the claim that Saddam could launch WMD-equipped missiles within 45 minutes? I haven’t heard any persuasive evidence one way or the other on this question yet. There’s been credible testimony that senior intelligence agents objected to at least some parts of the dossier, including the 45-minute claim, but there’s also been testimony that Campbell had nothing to do with inserting it. My guess is that Campbell didn’t insist on having the claim included, but probably did have a hand in giving it considerably more attention than it deserved.

  • Did Andrew Gilligan accurately report what David Kelly told him? I think that Kelly really did say the stuff Gilligan reports him saying, so to that extent I think the answer is yes. However, it’s possible that Gilligan used some dodgy wording that made Kelly’s words more damaging than they really were. My guess: Kelly did say that Campbell was responsible for sexing up the dossier, but he didn’t say Campbell was specifically responsible for inserting the 45-minute claim. Gilligan made it sound as if Kelly said both things.

    (However, this is an especially tricky area. In a tape recorded interview, Kelly did tell another reporter, Susan Watts, the following about who was responsible for the 45-minute claim: “All I can say is the Number 10 press office….But I think Alastair Campbell is synonymous with that press office because he’s responsible for it.” So it’s quite possible that when Kelly muttered “Campbell” to Gilligan, he was referring to both the general embellishing of the dossier and the 45-minute claim.)

  • Was David Kelly a reliable enough source to be quoted in a report that had no other sources? Generally, yes. Kelly was a highly placed expert who played a fairly important role in drafting and reviewing the dossier, and had been a reliable source in the past. Whether he was a reliable source specifically for the Campbell accusation is harder to pin down.

  • Did the BBC misrepresent the nature of Gilligan’s source? Yes, they seem to have. Before Kelly’s name became public, they said that their source was an intelligence official and that he didn’t work for the Ministry of Defense. Both are untrue.

  • Did the government surreptitiously plan to force Kelly into the open as Gilligan’s source? We’ll hear more about this question this week, but so far the answer appears to be yes.

In the meantime here’s a question for any British readers who might have been following this whole affair more closely than me. My understanding is that Gilligan’s original report on BBC radio alleging that the government “sexed up” the dossier was never that big a deal. After all, apparently there really were some senior intelligence officers who objected to the 45-minute claim, and at least one other reporter repeated this charge without getting into trouble. What really got everyone upset was Gilligan’s implication that it was specifically Alastair Campbell who insisted on including the 45-minute language.

But that charge was made in Gilligan’s column in the Mail on Sunday. So my question is this: why did Campbell go after the BBC rather than the Mail? Did Gilligan ever repeat the accusations about Campbell on the BBC? Surely the BBC can’t be held acountable for a sloppily worded story that they didn’t edit themselves, can they?

Anyway, I feel like I’m missing something here. Does anyone know what?

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