Straw speak


The Government’s dossier on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” published in September 2002 asserted that UNSCOM inspectors were barred from Presidential sites in Iraq.  Specifically, it said (in a section drafted by Dr David Kelly):


“Iraq consistently refused to allow UNSCOM inspectors access to any of these eight Presidential sites.”  (page 34)


Readers could be forgiven for interpreting this as meaning that the inspectors were never allowed access to any of the eight Presidential sites.  They would be wrong: readers should have interpreted this as meaning that the inspectors were allowed access once.


That’s what the Government meant by that sentence.  We have that in black and white from the Government in a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to Labour MP, Paul Flynn dated 7 November 2003.


The latter had written to Straw querying the inconsistency between what the dossier said about this and the contents of a written answer he had received from Foreign Office Minister, Denis McShane, on 16 September 2003.  This admitted that access had been granted to all 8 presidential sites:


”A special team of inspectors, with 20 senior diplomats acting as observers, was established in March 1998 to carry out inspections at eight presidential sites. The inspection mission, UNSCOM 243, visited the sites on the following dates: Radwaniya on 26 and 27 March; Tikrit on 28 March; Mosul and Jabal Makhul on 29 March; Tharthar and Basrah on 30 March; and the Republican Palace and Sijood sites in Baghdad on 1 and 2 April.”.


Straw responded as follows:


“Thank you for your letter of 15 October.  You raised an apparent discrepancy in information about the inspection of Presidential Sites in Iraq given in the Government publication “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction” and an answer given in the House by Denis McShane on 16 September this year.


“Only on one occasion, and then only under exceptional circumstances accompanied by a large group of observers, following the personal intervention of the UN Secretary General, did Iraq allow inspectors to make a brief visit to these sites.  The inspectors carried out “baselining” at the sites, and took some soil samples, but did not carry out full inspections of all buildings and grounds.  At no time thereafter were inspectors allowed to return to any of these sites to follow up on their initial visit.


On the basis of this Straw concluded that the dossier gave an accurate account of UNSCOM’s access to presidential sites.  He continued:


“It is, therefore, fair to say that Iraq “consistently” refused inspectors access.”


So, there you have it: in New Labour speak, consistently refused access means allowed access once. 


When Blair and Straw told us over and over again that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, they may very well have meant that he had none, or that he had some in the past, or that he had plans on the back of an envelope to produce some, sometime.  How can you tell?


Of course, we now know that when Tony Blair said in the 2001 Labour manifesto “we will not introduce ‘top-up’ fees and have legislated to prevent them”, he actually meant that he would introduce ‘top-up’ fees.



Labour & Trade Union Review

January 2004