Over to you, Mr Scarlett

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The Independent Online

Sixty years on, in very different circumstances, British troops are again risking their lives alongside Americans in a war zone. This newspaper has always been unstinting in its admiration for their bravery, whatever the failings of some of their superiors and whatever our view of the judgement of the politicians who sent them there.

Sixty years on, in very different circumstances, British troops are again risking their lives alongside Americans in a war zone. This newspaper has always been unstinting in its admiration for their bravery, whatever the failings of some of their superiors and whatever our view of the judgement of the politicians who sent them there.

However, there is nothing disrespectful in wanting to ensure that lessons are learnt from the way the decision to go to war in Iraq was taken. For this reason it is encouraging that Lord Butler appears to be determined to prove wrong those who assumed his report into intelligence failures would be a whitewash.

This is bad news for John Scarlett, who, as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, was responsible for the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which made the case for war.

It is not opportunist of Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, to declare that Mr Scarlett should not have been promoted to the directorship of MI6. Nor should he feel constrained in his criticism of Mr Scarlett should the Butler report find against him.

However, we do not need Lord Butler to tell us that the intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction was wrong. What we hope to learn from his report next month is how and why, and what should be done to avoid such serious mistakes in future. If Lord Butler is indeed ranging wider than the narrow interpretation of his brief, that is all to the good. Specifically, it is important that the inquiry appears to be looking into who or what persuaded the Attorney General that Saddam Hussein represented an urgent threat and how, thereby, the war was deemed legal.

Given the role of intelligence in averting terrorist attacks, the reliability of the secret services is vital for the country's future security. But it is already crystal clear that there have been serious failings in the recent past.

If Mr Scarlett were a man of honour he would have accepted responsibility for the intelligence failure on the threat from Saddam Hussein and would have resigned by now. Preferably without the smokescreen of "personal reasons" designed to protect his political masters put up by his opposite number, George Tenet, the outgoing head of the CIA.

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