The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth

Today, the British government has once again been cleared by an Intelligence and Security Comittee (ISC) report [600kb, pdf] of the alligation to have deliberately “sexed up” a report on the state of the former Iraqi regime’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programme. Really? It has? Well, I guess that will depend on what your definition of “is” is…

On a philosophical level, there might be room for discussion regarding the inter-subjective differences of meaning between truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For any practical purposes, there should not. Obviously, I am saying this against better knowledge: scores of people are making a living by creating precisely this kind of confusion, especially in politics.

Whatever really happened to Joint Intelligence Comittee’s Iraq Dossier – today’s report claims that its chairman, John Scarlett, assured the investigators

“… that he did not at any time feel under pressure, nor was he asked to include material that he did not believe ought to be included in the dossier…’ (page 31) –

has likely already fallen in the cracks between the different versions of truth mentioned above. Legally, the dossier might have been corect. But it was obviously slanted in a way that was supposed to increase the credibility of the government’s rather unpopular Iraq policy. By accident? Well, if it was really just an accident, some organisational changes in the British administration appear to be overdue. In this case the British government cannot avoid to explain such a severe administrational failure in all the detail available. No one on Whitehall can possibly believe they have the benefit of the doubt in this respect. Quite to the contrary – cleared or not, what is one supposed to make of the Comittee’s statement that the dossier’s

“… 45 minute claim, included four times, was always likely to attract attention because it was arresting detail that the public had not seen before. … The fact that it was assessed to refer to battlefield chemical and biological munitions and their movement on the battlefield, not to any other form of chemical or biological attack, should have been highlighted in the dossier. The omission of the context and the assessment allowed speculation as to its exact meaning. This was unhelpful to an understanding of the issue.? (page 43) –

– or that –

“Saddam was not considered a current or imminent threat to mainland UK, nor did the dossier say so. The first draft of the Prime Minister?s foreword contained the following sentence:
?The case I make is not that Saddam could launch a nuclear attack on London
or another part of the UK (He could not).?
This shows that the Government recognised that the nature of the threat that
Saddam posed was not directly to mainland UK. It was unfortunate that this point was removed from the published version of the foreword and not highlighted elsewhere.” (page 43, hightlighted by me)

Unfortunate, indeed. Neither this report nor the Hutton Inquiry are going to end the affair. The Blair government is facing a credibility crisis that spreads like metastasizing cancer. Maybe a quick surgical removal of Geoffrey Hoon, singled out in today’s report for explicitly not mentioning a part of the truth, will buy time. With the next election years away and still no opposition to speak of it is clearly to early to tell what the consequences will be for Labour. Tony Blair still has reason to hope that the cancer of mistrust has not yet spread too far in Britain.

But he will have to seriously change his government’s communication attitude. The British public might not know whether technical details in intelligence reports relate one or another category of weaponry. But it evidently has a very clear idea under which circumstances it should be willing to enter into a philosophical discussion about truth with its government. What might still be acceptable with respect to NHS-waiting lists is apparently not in order when it comes to sending soldiers to the desert.

And rightly so.