Sunday, July 18, 2004
The Telegraph is reporting that Tony Blair muscled Lord Butler's inquiry team into whitewashing his role in misleading the nation to war:
Downing Street secured vital changes to the Butler Report before its publication, watering down an explicit criticism of Tony Blair and the way he made the case for war in the House of Commons.Another embarrassment for Blair today: his assertion that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi corpses had been discovered in mass graves turns out to have been slightly off -- by a factor of eighty:
The Telegraph has established that the disagreement between No 10 and Lord Butler's inquiry team centred on a passage in an original draft of the report about Mr Blair's statement to MPs in September 2002. The original passage drew a much clearer contrast than the final version of the Butler Report between the strong case for war made by Mr Blair and the weakness of the intelligence the Prime Minister received about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
The changes secured by No 10 diluted the criticism of Mr Blair and helped Downing Street to mount its main defence - that the report showed that the Prime Minister was acting in good faith.
A member of Lord Butler's team has disclosed to The Telegraph that changes were made at the behest of No 10. However, the inquiry member also revealed that on the day he published his report, Lord Butler was preparing publicly to distance himself from Mr Blair if asked at his only press conference whether the PM should resign.
"It was not his job to bring down the Government," the inquiry member said. "But he was not going to back Blair either."
The deliberately equivocal answer Lord Butler had prepared - which in the end he did not have to deliver because the question was not asked - would have stood in conspicuous contrast to his explicit request in his report that John Scarlett, the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, should not have to step down from his new post as head of MI6.
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.Five thousand is a gruesome enough figure, but it casts the prosecution of the war in a different light. While no one has an accurate tally of how many Iraqis civilians died during the invasion and the occupation, in May of this year the AP reported that:
The U.S. military, the occupation authority and Iraqi government agencies say they don’t have the ability to track civilian deaths.Other, possibly unreliable estimates are much worse.
But the AP survey of morgues in Baghdad and the provinces of Karbala, Kirkuk and Tikrit found 5,558 violent deaths recorded from May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, to April 30. Officials at morgues for three more of Iraq’s 18 provinces either didn’t have numbers or declined to release them.