Simon Carr: The joys of textual analysis

Sketch: So, intelligence isn't definitive but the definitive statement based on it is merely semantic
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The Independent Online

We were all looking forward to this one. Jonathan Powell appearing in front of the Chilcot inquiry. During the run-up to war he had been very much part of the furniture of No 10. Indeed, he was one of the cushions of the sofa on which the government was run.

He saw it all, knew it all, felt it all. He'd written those emails about the September dossier. Essentially, he wanted much more sex. His email criticised the version under review because it supported the Don Macintyre point (Saddam wouldn't use WMD unless he was attacked first) and that it should be rewritten to present more of a present danger. Talk about over-riding the intelligence! He explained it by saying he was just making sure the dossier wasn't going to over-claim. That was left unchallenged.

The committee, if you remember, had roused itself for Alastair Campbell last week. We oiks who'd been throwing vegetables at the committee for its pre-Christmas performances felt a bit abashed. The questioning which had been so mandarin had suddenly become demotic.

Roderick Lyne had been the British ambassador in Moscow selling the dossier to the Russians, and he had a personal interest in getting the truth out.

So you'd think if anyone could be nailed it would be him.

But that didn't seem to happen. He dismissed Christopher Meyer's evidence that Blair "signed in blood" an agreement with Bush at Camp Crawford. He wasn't even there, he was 30 miles away "in Waco". But on the other hand, he calmly agreed that Blair had written to Bush saying that Britain would be there militarily if diplomacy failed. And then on the other hand (he has three or four of these), "being with you doesn't mean necessarily going to war".

But that Blair would definitely go to war with Bush didn't necessarily mean that Blair would go to war with Bush. Do you see?

He also said quite firmly (and dangerously for his old colleague Alastair Campbell), "Intelligence isn't hard evidence. It suggests things. It's not something that proves something."

So then, the committee asked, what was his attitude to the words "beyond doubt" that Blair signed off in his dossier foreword? "You can subject documents like these to an amount of textual analysis they won't bear," he said. So, intelligence isn't definitive but the definitive statement based on it is merely semantic. And anyway, he hadn't read it, as far as he could recall. "But you sent an email about it," Chilcot said. "Oh did I? I must have read it then." Yes, no need to be pedantic.

So, his judgement on these claims and counter claims, on the Government's intelligence basis for going to war, for the blood and smoke and Babylonian carnage? "The textual analysis is beyond me, I'm afraid. You've got a PhD in it and I haven't got the O-level."

Tony Blair must feel a little more relaxed this morning.

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