Campbell: 'I am very proud of the part I was able to play'
Step by step, the former spin-doctor was led through the build-up to the Iraq war – but he refused to buckle, says Michael Savage
Wednesday 13 January 2010
THE SEPTEMBER DOSSIER
Did Campbell sex it up?
Alastair Campbell strongly rejected claims that he had a hand in strengthening the notorious dossier, which outlined Tony Blair's case for military action against Saddam Hussein and which he said was overseen by the former intelligence chief Sir John Scarlett. "At no time did I ever ask [Sir John] to beef up, to override, any of the judgements that he had," he said. However, it has already emerged that Mr Campbell suggested 11 alterations to the dossier and chaired two meetings on how it should be presented.
Saddam's WMD: 'beyond doubt'?
Mr Campbell admitted drafting the Prime Minister's foreword to the September dossier, which suggested that intelligence indicated that Saddam's ownership of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was "beyond doubt". Mr Campbell defended the claim, saying it was "an assessment of an assessment that was given to [the Prime Minister]." However, the inquiry has already heard from senior Whitehall officials that the intelligence on Iraq was "patchy" and "sporadic". At the time of the dossier, officials still said intelligence "remains limited".
Misleading foreword 'could have been changed'
"If John Scarlett or any of his team had had any concerns of real substance about the foreword, then they know they could have raised those directly with the Prime Minister," he said. Again, other accounts contradict this. Sir John has already told the inquiry that he felt he could not make major changes to the foreword, as he regarded it as an "overtly political statement".
No regrets over the dossier
"I defend every single word of the dossier," Mr Campbell said. "I defend every single part of the process. I think it was a genuine attempt by the Prime Minister and the Government to engage the public properly in understanding why the Prime Minister's thinking was developing as it was." Sir John, the man overseeing it, has already admitted that key claims may have been "lost in translation".
The 45-minute claim
During his evidence, Mr Campbell insisted that there was no media frenzy over the Government's claim that Saddam had weapons he could launch within 45 minutes at the time the dossier was published. "It was not that big an issue," he said, adding he had felt no need to correct the media's incorrect impression that the claim referred to long-range weapons. However, on the day the dossier was published, the London Evening Standard ran the front-page headline: "45 minutes from attack". The Sun and The Daily Express also ran the story on their front pages.
Indifference to headlines
When asked about the headlines produced by the 45-minute claim, Mr Campbell asserted: "I may have a reputation for worrying and obsessing about headlines. The truth is I don't, and I never did." This seemed to be contradicted during the lunch break, when he used Twitter to comment on the initial reports of his inquiry appearance: "Having a sandwich mid-inquiry," he said. "Watching lunchtime news. God these hacks do talk some drivel."
Misled Parliament over reliability?
Asked whether the former Prime Minister misled Parliament by suggesting that the threat posed by Saddam's weaponry was "active, detailed and growing", Mr Campbell said that "the intelligence picture being presented to him did show a growing threat". Despite this, in the thousands of documents read by the Iraq inquiry team, they cannot find any reference to the suggestion that Saddam's arsenal was "growing".
THE FEBRUARY DOSSIER
Mr Campbell was more apologetic over the "dodgy" dossier, issued in February 2003, which included material taken from a journal on the Middle East. He said it had been a failure of quality control that had not helped the Government gain public trust. "That was a really difficult episode," he said.
Mr Campbell also took his opportunity to turn on some of those who have criticised Tony Blair. He said that Sir Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador in Washington, had given misleading evidence when he suggested that the Prime Minister may have "signed in blood" a deal with the US to go to war during a meeting with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, in April 2002. He also said Clare Short, who resigned as International Development Secretary after the invasion, was "difficult to handle" and was not liked by the military.
ATTACK ON THE MEDIA
Despite the fallout from the Iraq invasion, Mr Campbell said much of the ill-feeling stemmed from the controversy caused by the BBC's claim that No 10 had "sexed-up" the threat from Saddam, which he called an "utterly dishonest piece of journalism". His claim came despite the fact that in his conclusions on the death of the government scientist, David Kelly, Lord Hutton said intelligence chiefs may have been "subconsciously influenced" by Mr Blair to toughen the September dossier's language. Mr Campbell also suggested the media had contributed to the failures to have a strategy for the aftermath of the invasion by failing to pick up on the lack of reconstruction planning soon enough.
In a final defence of the Government and the former Prime Minister, Mr Campbell said he did not regret the action taken and that Britain should be proud of going through with the invasion. "I was privileged to be there and I'm very proud of the part I was able to play," he said. "I think that Britain as a country should feel incredibly proud of the role we played in taking on one of the most brutal, barbarous regimes in history."
Key events: The road to war
March 2002 Ministers are warned by a top-secret cabinet paper that there is no legal justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.
April 2002 Tony Blair discusses the Iraq crisis with George Bush at the US President's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
July 2002 Mr Blair insists no decisions taken on military action.
September 2002 Alastair Campbell chairs two meetings on a planned dossier making the case for war. As published, it claims Saddam could launch missiles within 45 minutes.
November 2002 UN passes resolution 1441, which the US and UK later argue gives them the right to invade Iraq.
February 2003 The "dodgy dossier", partly lifted from an academic journal on the Middle East, is published.
7 March 2003 Attempts to secure second UN resolution fail in the face of French-led opposition.
7 March 2003 Attorney General Lord Goldsmith equivocates over the legality of war.
17 March 2003 Lord Goldsmith tells the Cabinet the invasion is legal.
18 March 2003 The Commons votes in favour of the war after an impassioned speech by Mr Blair.
20 March 2003 The invasion begins.
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