From the September dossier to yesterday's backtrack: a truth-spotter's guide to how official language has changed

11 July 2003

* "It was important to understand the purpose of the dossier. It was asking two questions: Had the threat increased? If so, did we have to deal with it? The answer to both questions was yes."

Downing Street press briefing, 23 September 2002

* Verdict: Downing Street made the key charge that the threat from Saddam had "increased" on the eve of the publication of the September dossier. Senior figures, including the former cabinet ministers Clare Short and Robin Cook now seriously doubt whether the threat had been maintained since the early 1990s, let alone increased.

* "His [Saddam's] military planning allows for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them."

Tony Blair's foreword to the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, published on 24 September 2002

* Verdict: Carefully drafted, but highly controversial claim which prompted banner headlines in some newspapers suggesting that British forces were in imminent danger of a chemical or biological weapons strike.

* "... this idea that we had pumped this out as the most significant piece, if we had, we had done it pretty badly because it did not appear to resonate with members of Parliament at all."

Alastair Campbell, in evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 25 June 2003

* Verdict: Slight rewriting of history. The "45 minutes" claim certainly won lurid headlines at the time, while many MPs have said it was an influential part of their thinking in the run-up to war.

* "That seems to me to be an unremarkable claim, since most materiel can be made available within 45 minutes of an order to use it; indeed, the order to use it is often not given until it is known that the materiel is available for use." Jack Straw, commenting on the "45 minutes" claim. House of Commons, 4 June 2003

* Verdict: Another piece of subtle backtracking. Mr Straw uses his lawyer's skills to define away a dramatic claim. It was in no way "unremarkable". JIC assessments suggested that the weapons could be "delivered to units" in 45 minutes, itself a startling claim.

* "As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has ... sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it."

The Government's September dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, 24 September 2002

* Verdict: The now highly controversial claim that Saddam was attempting to restart his nuclear weapons programme formed a central plank of the Government's case for war. The Bush administration has now repudiated the information.

* "The British Government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

President George Bush, State of the Union address, 28 January 2003

* Verdict: Bush invokes a nuclear threat to warn of Saddam's ambitions, but carefully makes it plain that the British are to blame if the information turns out to be false.

* "Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech."

Senior Bush aide, 7 July 2003

* Verdict: The White House deals a savage blow to UK claims about Saddam's efforts to restart his nuclear weapons programme. The British Government, however, has insisted it is sticking to its story.

* "When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tons of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years -- contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence -- Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd."

Tony Blair, Iraq debate, House of Commons, 18 March 2003

* Verdict: It may have been "absurd" to believe that Saddam had destroyed his arsenal. However, just weeks later, after the war was over, that was exactly what the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, did suggest.

* "I'm not certain where it is ... I am absolutely certain that Iraq had illegal weapons of mass destruction and had them recently and therefore there is every reason why these ought to be found and that is the position of the whole Government."

Jack Straw, statement to MPs, 28 April 2003

* Verdict: The first hint that all may not be well with the Government's claims about WMD. Mr Straw pointedly referred to Iraq's weapons in the past tense, hinting that Saddam may not have possessed them when Britain and America went to war.

* "Whether or not we are able to find one third of one petrol tanker in a country twice the size of France remains to be seen."

Jack Straw, BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme, 14 May 2003

* Verdict: The idea that the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is a quest for a needle in a haystack has been increasingly used to explain the lack of concrete evidence found. Iraq is actually slightly smaller than France, but the argument still does not explain how Britain was highly confident that Iraq had WMD but totally unsure where they actually were.

* "It is possible Iraqi leaders decided they would destroy them prior to the conflict."

Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary, 28 May 2003

* Verdict: A key piece of backtracking from a central Washington hawk.

* "I hope, for those people who had some doubt about the wisdom of removing Saddam Hussein, these reports of these mass graves are an indication of just how brutal, tyrannical and appalling that regime was and what a blessing it is for the Iraqi people and humankind that he is gone from power." Tony Blair, 14 May 2003, after up to 15,000 bodies were found buried south of Baghdad

* Verdict: Tony Blair deploys the moral case for toppling Saddam. However, it was in no way the legal case for war which was used before our troops went in.

* "It's not crucially important." Jack Straw, asked about the importance of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, 'Today' programme, 14 May 2003

Verdict: Mr Straw has insisted throughout that the justification for war was Iraq's failure to comply with UN weapons inspections and verify that its post-1991 arsenal had been destroyed. He insists that there was plenty of evidence before the war to justify military action.

* "I believe there are weapons of mass destruction there. I know we haven't found them yet, but because we haven't found them yet no more means that there was not a threat than not finding the money stolen from the Great Train Robbery means that Ronnie Biggs was innocent."

John Reid, Leader of the Commons at the time, 'Today' programme, 15 May 2003

* Verdict: One of many versions of the just-because-we-can't-find-them-doesn't-mean-they're-not-there argument. However, as students of crime fiction will tell you: it's hard to prove murder without a body.

* "In Northern Ireland we were searching for IRA weapons for the best part of 40 years and that is a tiny country. Iraq is almost the size of France."

Tony Blair, 7 June 2003

* Verdict: The same argument again, in a different version. But one that ignores the many finds of paramilitary weapons in Northern Ireland.

* "I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will find evidence of weapons of mass destruction programmes."

Tony Blair in evidence to MPs, 8 July 2003

* Verdict: Is Tony Blair scaling down his, and our, expectations? "Evidence" may not be actual finds of weapons, while "WMD programmes" does not necessarily mean actual shells, bombs, chemicals or biological toxins.

* "The Prime Minister is absolutely confident that we will find not only evidence of WMD programmes but concrete evidence of products of those programmes."

Prime Minister's official spokesman, 10 July 2003.

* Verdict: Another play on words? Downing Street is hardening up Tony Blair's statement on Tuesday, but will not say whether "products" means weapons.

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