Blair: truth and lies
As Tony Blair appears at the Iraq war inquiry, a raft of evidence suggests he misled parliament, the public and the press
Tony Blair gives evidence at Iraq Inquiry Tony Blair giving evidence at the Iraq war inquiry, 29 January 2010. Photograph: IRAQINQUIRY.ORG/EPA
Did Tony Blair tell the truth about Iraq? Or did he deceive us? As the nation prepares for the former prime minister's testimony at the Iraq inquiry, one ex-adviser to Blair tells the New Statesman this week: "There is a little bit of rhetorical exaggeration in what Tony said at the time, though he always believed that there were WMD in Iraq, as did I, so it was exaggeration rather than lying."
Seven years on from the invasion of Iraq, this myth persists – even amongst critics of the war. It doesn't make sense to call him a liar," Sir Rodric Braithwaite, the former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, tells me. "I think he convinced himself."
Blair himself is a keen purveyor of this self-serving and self-deluding nonsense. ""I have never told a lie. No. I don't intend to go telling lies to people. I did not lie over Iraq," he told Sky's Adam Boulton in 2005.
Sorry, but I don't buy it. Call me a cynic but I have no doubt in my mind that the former premier lied over Iraq, Saddam Hussein and WMD – and did so again and again. He knowingly, deliberately and consciously misled parliament, the public and the press. In the under-reported words of Lord Butler, speaking in the House of Lords in February 2007, Blair was, at the very minimum, "disingenuous".
However, to borrow a phrase from the ex-premier himself, I happen to believe the evidence for his mendacity and dissembling on Iraq is "extensive, detailed and authoritative". Here's a sample of 10 such lies, deceptions and half-truths in no particular order.
We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons…
– Tony Blair, interview on NBC News, 3 April 2002
Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy... From the evidence available to us, we believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of CW agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons.
– Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment on 15 March 2002
2. Regional threat
However, there is no doubt at all that the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein poses a severe threat not just to the region, but to the wider world.
– Tony Blair, House of Commons, 10 April 2002
Saddam has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbours.
– "Iraq: Options Paper", secret "eyes only" Cabinet Office paper, 10 March 2002
3. Nuclear weapons
Q: Mr. President, can you tell us what conclusive evidence of any nuclear – new evidence you have of nuclear weapons capabilities of Saddam Hussein?
THE PRESIDENT: We just heard the prime minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied – finally denied access, a report came out of the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need.
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Absolutely right. And what we – what we know from what has been going on there for a long period of time is not just the chemical, biological weapons capability, but we know that they were trying to develop nuclear weapons capability. And the importance of this morning's report is it yet again it shows that there is a real issue that has to be tackled here.
– Transcript of remarks made by Tony Blair and George Bush at Camp David news conference, 7 September 2002
There's never been a report like that issued from this agency… There is no evidence in our view that can be substantiated on Iraq's nuclear-weapons program. If anybody tells you they know the nuclear situation in Iraq right now, in the absence of four years of inspections, I would say that they're misleading you because there isn't solid evidence out there.
– IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky, 26 September 2002
4. "Beyond doubt"
What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme.
– Tony Blair, foreword to the intelligence dossier on Iraqi WMD, 24 September 2002
Intelligence remains limited and Saddam's own unpredictability complicates judgements…
- Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment, 15 March 2002
"We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam's chemical and biological capacity."
- Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report, 11 September 2003
5. "45 minutes"
It [the dossier] concludes… that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population.
– Tony Blair, House of Commons, 24 September 2002
The exchange is recorded in my diary on March 5 2003. Tony Blair gave me the same reply as John Scarlett, that the battlefield weapons had been disassembled and stored separately. I was therefore mystified a year later to hear him say he had never understood that the intelligence agencies did not believe Saddam had long-range weapons of mass destruction.
- Robin Cook, the Guardian, 12 July 2004
6. Regime Change
So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not regime change – that is our objective… I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it is not regime change.
- Tony Blair, interview on Radio Monte Carlo, 14 November 2002
I said [to Condoleeza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime
change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.
– Foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning's memo to Tony Blair, 14 March 2002
We discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change. … TB felt it was regime change in part because of WMD but more broadly because of the threat to the region and the world.
– Alastair Campbell's diary entry for 2 April 2002, after meeting with Blair in Chequers
7. Weapons Inspectors
In respect of Iraq we have the clearest possible evidence, both because of what they have done before and what is left over from the previous inspections when the inspectors were kicked out in 1998…
– Tony Blair, House of Commons Liaison Committee, 21 January 2003
I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission... Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be 'prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.'... I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.
– Richard Butler, executive chairman of the UNSCOM weapons inspectors, in his book Saddam Defiant
8) Saddam's son-in-law
It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam's son-in-law [Hussein Kamal] to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered.
– Tony Blair, House of Commons speech, 25 February 2003
All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed.
– Hussein Kamal, speaking with UN weapons inspectors in 1995, and first reported by Newsweek on 24 February 2003
9. International opinion
On 8 December he [Saddam Hussein] submitted the declaration denying he had any WMD, a statement not a single member of the international community seriously believes.
– Tony Blair, 25 February 2003
Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data that supports the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we have not received any such information from our partners as yet.
– Vladimir Putin, Moscow news conference with Tony Blair, 11 October 2002
10. Mass graves
We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.
– Tony Blair, 20 November 2003
Downing Street has admitted to the Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.
– Peter Beaumont, the Observer, 18 July 2004
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