Recently Noam Chomsky was asked his views on the Hutton Report in the ZNet Sustainer Forum :
Would you be willing to comment on the Hutton report, the BBC’s coverage of the British government’s role in the invasion, and the “vindication” of Tony Blair?
The most interesting thing about the Hutton inquiry, in my opinion, is that it took place. The idea that the state — whether hiding itself beyond a judge’s robes or not — should even have a voice in whether a journalist’s report was “unfounded” is utterly shocking, an indication of remarkably low level of respect for freedom of speech and reverence for authority. Just for laughs, can you imagine an inquiry into whether a press report praising state or corporate power was “unfounded”?
The report was also scandalous on narrower grounds, so much so as to have elicited mainstream media criticism both in UK and here. The Financial Times editors pointed out that “the questions raised about the use of intelligence were beyond Lord Hutton’s remit,” which alone makes the inquiry mostly irrelevant beyond the very narrow question of Kelly’s death. The New York Times report, without saying so, made it clear enough that the conclusion is fair. Here are a few excerpts:
Lord Hutton allowed in his report that it was possible to say that Mr. Blair had “sexed up” the intelligence findings, as long as the meaning was that the final dossier “made the case against Saddam Hussein as strong as the intelligence in it permitted.” But if the meaning was that the intelligence was “embellished” with items “known or believed to be false or unreliable,” then Lord Hutton said, “I consider that the allegation was unfounded.”
Lord Hutton can “consider” what he likes, but it is not the role of the state to decide which of several interpretations to give to a phrase in a news report. This merely underscores the scandalous nature of the proceedings. Continuing with the NYT:
In those hearings, for instance, Sir Richard Billing Dearlove, the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service known as MI6, testified that “it is a valid criticism” to say that Mr. Blair’s dossier improperly indicated that British forces were under threat from Iraqi chemical and biological weapons that could be deployed within 45 minutes….Moreover, the British intelligence view that Mr. Hussein was “prepared to use chemical and biological weapons if he believes his regime is under threat” was changed at the behest of Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, to remove the caveat “if he was attacked.” When the final dossier emerged, it said Mr. Hussein “is willing to use chemical and biological weapons,” a phrase that represented a far more threatening view of the former Iraqi leader.
In simple words, Blair intervened to “sex up” the intelligence reports so as to drive the country to war, and it is “a valid criticism” to report that. Recall that the “45 minute” story is the heart of the issue relating to use of intelligence. Dearlove tacitly conceded in his Hutton testimony that the story came second-hand from one Iraqi army officer. The CIA-backed Iraqi National Accord is the apparent conduit. It has stated publicly that the information was raw intelligence, passed on with a mass of other unanalyzed data for British intelligence to evaluate — not blindly accept, handing it to Blair for further “sexing up.” The Washington spokesman for the INA says that the Iraqi officer had never seen the alleged chemical weapons, and that the report transmitted to MI6 seems to have been a “crock of shit”.
Hutton himself has a terrible record with regard to state crimes, in Ulster and in trying to undermine the Pinochet extradition. But I still think the fundamental question has to do with the very existence of the inquiry, even if it had been properly conducted.