The truth is out there

Manny Neira calls for solidarity for the peoples of Iraq ... and enjoys the Blair government's difficulties over those missing WMDs

Your stereotypical conspiracy theorist is a hysterical, wide-eyed, socially unskilled obsessive. The more we giggle at their theories, the more determined they become. We are dupes: the government is hiding the truth. Man, they tell us, has never walked on the moon. The film apparently showing Armstrong’s steps was shot in an American studio by - the government. We are regularly visited by aliens, but the crashed spacecraft are hidden and the alien bodies dissected by - the government. Princess Diana wasn’t killed in a car accident, but driven off the road by agents of MI6, under instructions from - the government ...

A government ‘director of communications’ conspiracy theorist is therefore something of a curiosity. But can anyone who has watched Alastair Campbell recently have failed to notice the ranting, morally outraged tone of the man who knows that he alone is in possession of the truth? When it comes to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, despite the incredulity of the world, “the truth is out there”. This time, though, it is not a government behind the conspiracy: it is the British Broadcasting Corporation.

It seems that there may be one grain of justification in Campbell’s desert of deceit. BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan reported the words of an ‘intelligence officer’, who argued that MI6 were unhappy with the way their security reports had been ‘made sexier’ by the politicians, to provide more overt support for the planned invasion. One example he gave was the claim that Hussein could have mobilised his WMDs within 45 minutes: he argued that the security services had rejected this claim as unsound, and it must have been added later. This may not, it transpires, be true.

Bear in mind that Campbell has already been forced to admit that another dossier presented by the government as the result of work by the security services actually contained information simply ‘cut and pasted’ from an article by Californian student Ibrahim al-Marashi in the Middle East Review of International Affairs. That the man is dishonest cannot, even now, be in question: but nothing angers a burglar more than being accused of the one job he didn’t do, and a sense of genuine grievance seems to have been too much for a conscience unaccustomed to innocence.

As the popular belief in Iraqi WMDs dipped below that of plesiosaurs still swimming in Loch Ness, New Labour’s master of spin span out of control. On June 26 Campbell wrote a furious letter to Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News, simultaneously releasing it to the press. Though this was the first such letter published, on reading it you become aware that Sambrook must by now have collected a bulging file of such letters, no doubt all indecipherably scrawled in green ink and extravagantly over-punctuated. They contain, essentially, a sustained incredulous bluster: how dare the BBC hint that the government lied through its teeth to justify invading Iraq in the face of the unprecedented opposition of its own people?

Sambrook stands by his reporter, who was after all simply reporting, and indeed fights back: “It is our firm view that Number 10 tried to intimidate the BBC in its reporting of events leading up to the war and during the course of the war itself.

“As we told you in correspondence before the war started, our responsibility was to present an impartial picture and you were not best placed to judge what was impartial. This was particularly the case, given the wide-scale opposition to the war in the UK at that time, including significant opposition inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. For example, you will remember when the key division on the war took place in the House of Commons in March you wrote to me to suggest that we had given too much prominence to the vote which recorded the largest backbench parliamentary revolt in modern history.”

The BBC’s claim to impartiality is laughable. It provided continuous coverage of the war via BBC1, BBC2, Radio Four, Radio Five Live and News 24, and this last rolling news channel broadcast on BBC1’s frequency every night. The coverage provided a near permanent platform for the US and UK military to present their ludicrous claims of ‘precision bombing’. It showed their sanitised video game-style footage of missile trajectories. It turned the war into a numbing unreality. Whereas the military and its apologists were virtually given free rein, the bereaved families of the innocent Iraqi dead and the anti-war campaigners wishing to speak for them remained almost unheard. Despite all this, though, it is difficult not to be sympathetic to the case Sambrook makes here: it seems New Labour expected a level of uncritical support from the state broadcaster more usually associated with that found in the old USSR.

Sambrook’s letter only fuelled the spinmaster’s crusade. According to Channel Four, he turned up at their studio “out of the blue”, demanding to be interviewed. Would that ordinary working people had such rights to instant democratic expression. Channel Four gave him a studio mike, and Jon Snow played the polite host to the unexpected guest: “And now we are joined by Alastair Campbell - a rare moment. Thank you for coming in.” Snow’s face flickered into a smile at what must surely have been uncontrolled giggling heard through the earpiece connecting him to the producer’s box.

Alastair seemed as oblivious to the mockery as he did to the effect he was creating. Again, we saw a man bravely determined to allow the voice of the underdog, in this case the British state, to be heard. He was not to be daunted by the BBC, by Channel Four or by reality.

“Did we abuse British intelligence? The answer to that question is no.”

Jon Snow corrected him. “The answer to that question is - we do not know. And the reason we do not know is that there is obfuscation and diversion, part of which we are seeing played out right here before us. The fact is that MPs want to question the chiefs of the intelligence services, and should be allowed to do so.”

And of course, they never will. That Campbell is lying here is easily established: to present an article by a Californian student as the handiwork of MI6 is nothing if not ‘abuse of British intelligence’. How much other ‘intelligence’ really came from the security services, though, will remain an open question.

Campbell has clearly lost the plot, but he may still have helped the government through this crisis. In his Channel Four interview, he said: “I think the public are probably bored rigid with this already” - there can be no doubt that if a government cannot kill a story by depriving it of the water of publicity, their second best course is to drown it by providing far too much. Each fresh deceit adds to the apparent complexity of the story, and makes fact harder to separate from fiction. Campbell is the information equivalent of a suicide bomber, laying down his political credibility in the hope that the government may escape in the confusion.

Let there be no confusion, therefore. The facts remain those we published a month ago (June 5):

International law is a cynical agreement between thieves, which allows murderous dictatorships to oppress their own peoples using weapons eagerly sold them by imperialist powers - provided they do not present a threat. The sanction of international law is of little moral worth. In the face of the mass opposition of the British people, though, the government clutched at this straw, and lied consistently and outrageously.

Campbell’s antics would be funnier if they were not part of a continuing attempt to excuse his government for what was, by their own definition as much as by ours, murder. As chaos infests the lives of the Iraqis, as the promised democracy proves to be merely the de facto authority of armed British and American soldiers, and as those soldiers continue to kill and be killed, do not be distracted by the Alastair Campbell sideshow.

We must continue to show solidarity with the people of Iraq, as their resistance to the occupation starts to develop, and fight the main enemy here at home.