Six years after the Hutton Report brought BBC journalism to its knees, Alastair Campbell’s testimony to the Iraq Inquiry sounded as convincing as Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s summer election victory.
Campbell said: “I defend every single word of the dossier, I defend every single part of the process.”
He even refused to show a shred of contrition for the Prime Minister’s statement in the foreword to the September 2002 report that he believed that what the intelligence “has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons” and that he was “in no doubt that the threat is serious and current”.
Whilst being grilled about the wording of the dossier, Campbell told the inquiry: “I don’t think we would be having this exchange if it was not for the controversy that subsequently existed.”
That last sentence in itself is justification for Andrew Gilligan’s 6.07am Today Programme broadcast of May 2003.
Campbell insisted in his evidence today that no-one at Number Ten had any involvement in “sexing up” the dossier, as Gilligan suggested.
And he condemned the way the media still portrays the Hutton Report, which cleared him and broadly condemned Gilligan, as a whitewash.
But isn’t it a plain fact that Blair did exagerrate the case for war by saying that the WMD issue was beyond doubt? Obviously it wasn’t. And as one of the inquiry members said today, intelligence is – by definition – never beyond doubt.
Gilligan made mistakes – he took sparse notes of his crucial conversation with Dr David Kelly and admits the phrasing of his report was misleading.
If Campbell could own up to mistakes on his side too he might help repair the breakdown in trust between government and media that the whole dossier episode caused.