The Sketch: A moment of clarity that could put Blair in a spot of bother

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The Independent Online

"Quite a long day," John Chilcot concluded. Yes, all day with Geoffrey Hoon is far from easy. The man is a triumph in the art of camouflage. He's so much part of the background you need special eyes to see that he's there.

I find grinding a sharpened pencil into my hand helps keep me going as he carries on.

What did we learn? Mainly that he had no idea what was going on. He hadn't been told what had happened at Crawford (when Blair is said to have "signed in blood" his willingness to go to war with Bush). But to be fair to him, Hoon was only the Minister of War. Blair's advisers circulated the decision strictly on a need-to-know basis. The public wasn't told about it until two days before the shooting actually started.

Roderick Lyne seems to be persuaded of the blood-pact now because he takes it as fact that by May 2002 the US were convinced Blair would put in a big land contribution. Hoon said he hadn't heard. That's probably true. Blair would have forgotten he was there.

In July 2002 there had been the first meeting of a British war cabinet, so to speak, when Blair committed to the big military Option 3 (the maximum). When asked about this, Hoon threw his camouflage cloak over the meeting. It was nothing special, he said. Nothing special? "It was an iterative process." An iter-what? It means you can't put your finger on any single person, moment, meeting. If everyone is guilty no one can be convicted.

He did have one moment of interest that might cause a problem for Tony Blair.

Hoon was asked about the September dossier. This was the Even Dodgier dossier. Here, Hoon had a moment of clarity, so he must have been trying to say something.

The 45-minute claim about Saddam being able to fire WMD at us was "new", he said. Although "surprise was too strong a word", he felt he should know what this new factoid meant. So he called up advisers and got a short tutorial on the difference between munitions and missiles.

Thus, he knew that what was being talked about wasn't long-range weapons but just big guns.

The committee might have pressed him here. Would the PM have known this point was new? Would he have asked for a similar briefing? Would he have been curious to know whether his great enemy had the capacity to land WMD on our sovereign base in Cyprus with this mystery weapon?

Because when Blair was asked about it in the House of Commons he said he only found out they weren't missiles after the war had finished.

Why didn't he ask the question? Because he didn't want to know the answer.

What's that? Bad faith? Malfeasance? Treason? Choose any two.

simoncarr@sketch.sc

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