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5 February 2004 Edition

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Blair's Widgery

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

Power protects power. There isn't much more to know about the Hutton Report than that. The decision by the British state — as a junior partner of the Americans — to invade, conquer and occupy Iraq, its people and its vital natural resources is the defining moment of Blair's presidency.

Yes, of course it's a presidency. He is even more of a president than Thatcher was.

One of the features of the developing British presidency was that the government departments — even senior portfolios like the Foreign Office — became neutered and more and more power became centralised in the office of the Prime Minister.

No longer first among equals, just first.

Alistair Campbell occupied a position of power that had first been carved out by Bernard Ingham —Thatcher's media thug. Under Blair, Campbell was to effectively become a Dick Cheney figure.

Politicians, especially politicians like Blair, are obsessed with their place in history. Iraq is the huge Blair gamble on his place in history. Any sane read on the Iraq invasion would include the facts that the Bush administration came into power with a desire to topple Saddam and that 911 allowed something of a pretext for the move into Eurasia, where most of the world's untapped oil lies beneath impoverished soil.

The British and Americans started to peddle furiously the notion that there was an unholy alliance between Al Qaeda and the Ba'athists running the Baghdad show. Anyone with a basic understanding of the Arab street would know this to be nonsense. Osama would consider Saddam to be worse than an infidel.

In the absence of any 911 complicity, WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) came centre stage as a pretext to invade Iraq.

Allies would be needed for this adventure, opined Colin Powell. In stepped Blair. George Bush talked of the need for "regime change". Their case was partly made on the fact that Saddam was a bad person but also, of course, on the WMD threat.

Blair's mistake was to base the case for going into Iraq wholly on the WMD threat. Hence any claim — even one made at six in the morning to a few bleary-eyed listeners that the WMD dossier wasn't exactly as kosher as it claimed to be — had to be tackled. The BBC managers forgot their role as state broadcaster was to tell government lies — as they had done so wonderfully during the war here.

Hutton was set up to look into exactly what Blair wanted Hutton to look into. Hence, what he said to the hack pack on the plane to Japan wasn't included — because that would have shown that Blair had lied about being part of the decision to out Dr Kelly.

There is a myth around in politics that the establishment is an all-encompassing monolith. Tosh. The BBC is part of the British establishment, but not at the centre of it the way that Number 10 Downing Street is.

Historians will mark the Hutton Report as a watershed in the way the British do politics. Hutton looked at the conflicting evidence and when he had to take someone's word for it he took Blair's every time, the old man doing one last favour for his beloved establishment.

The BBC have been here before — but they might not have the good memory that Oul Derrig is blessed with. In the mid-1980s, the headquarters of the BBC in Scotland got the Ballymurphy experience from the Special Branch. They had sinned against Thatcher. They had screened a piece on the Zircon spy satellite. The journalist Duncan Campbell was the bad boy of the tale.

Nice people in the nice BBC office were appalled as the sergeant marched out of their nice offices carrying boxes, files and computers. I must say that this republican, at that time based in Glasgow, experienced some schadenfreude as I saw these nice people who made their living telling lies about Britain's dirty war in Ireland feel the weight of the state upon them for a change.

There is very little new under the sun and when state broadcasters forget who their masters are, said masters are usually not long in letting them know if the stakes are high enough. This time is was very high.

This was President Blair's Watergate. Tricky Tony got away with this. However Iraq hasn't gone away y'know. The WMD claims are now only believed by a deluded few.

Blair has wriggled about it, his mention of "weapons" have morphed into "programmes". This week, he has been forced to set up an 'independent' inquiry to review intelligence on WMD. The Liberal Democrats have already refused to take part because the remit is too narrow. The inquiry will be conducted in private by five more establishment figures, privy councillors all. Blair must be shaking in his boots.

Likewise, the remit of the Hutton inquiry was forensically and intentionally narrow. It exonerated the man who set it up. Anything wider could have produced a Saville, Blair needed, and got, a Widgery.

Observe the son of Ulster marching proudly towards Number 10.

A trusted pair of hands

A member of the Anglo-Irish elite from County Down, Lord Hutton was educated at Shewsbury all-boys boarding school, and then Balliol, Oxford, before entering the exclusive club of the British judiciary.

He was an instrument of British state repression in the Six Counties from the late 1960s, as junior counsel to the Six-County Attorney General, by 1988 rising to the top job of Lord Chief Justice.

After the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972, Hutton played a key role in the ensuing judicial Widgery Inquiry cover-up, when he represented the Ministry of Defence. He criticised a coroner who suggested that the Paras had had no justificatin for opening fire.

In 1978, he represented the British Government before the European Court of Human Rights, defending it unsuccessfully against claims by the Dublin Government that internees in 1971 were tortured.

A keen supporter of the 'Supergrass' trials in the North, where Hutton spent much of his career as judge and jury in the non-jury Diplock Courts, he sentenced 10 men to a total of 1,001 years in prison in 1984 on the basis of the evidence of one paid informer.

In 1986, he acquitted the RUC killer of Seán Downes, who was shot at point blank range by a plastic bullet, and he acquitted two Royal Marines charged with the 1990 murder of unarmed Fergal Caraher in Cullyhanna.

He was also in on the sordid meeting with Brian Nelson's trial judge and British Prime Minister John Major, the outcome of which was to keep the collusion dirty linen in the closet by getting the British agent and UDA victim picker to plead guilty to sample charges in return for an early release date.

In the 1999 Pinochet affair, Hutton led the right-wing attack on senior judge Lord Hoffman, who had contributed to the decision to arrest and extradite the notorious former dicator of Chile during Pinochet's visit to Britain.

More recently, Hutton was involved in the ruling that David Shayler, the former MI5 agent, could not argue he was acting in the public interest by revealing secrets.

All in all then, a prime example of British justice. No wonder Tony Blair wasn't worried.

An Phoblacht Magazine

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