Butler Review

From Academic Kids

On February 3, 2004 the British Government announced an inquiry into the intelligence relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction which played a key part in the Government's decision to invade Iraq (as part of the U.S.-led coalition) in 2003. A similar investigation was set up in the USA. Despite the apparent certainty of both governments prior to the war that Iraq possessed such weapons, no such weapons were found, although 'trace evidence' of WMD were uncovered by the Iraq Survey Group.

The inquiry also dealt with the wider issue of WMD programmes in "countries of concern" and the global trade in WMD. Recommendations were made to the prime minister to better evaluate and assess intelligence information in the future before invoking action.


The committee

Lord Butler of Brockwell headed the five-member committee which included senior parliamentarians and civil servants with military and intelligence links:

The Butler Review followed procedures similar to the Franks Committee inquiry into the Falklands War. The inquiry had access to all intelligence reports and other government papers, and it could call witnesses to give oral evidence. It worked closely with the US inquiry and the Iraq Survey Group. The committee met in secret and only its conclusions were published on 14 July, 2004.


The British government followed US President George W. Bush who had created a similar commission one day earlier. Although Tony Blair had always insisted it was not necessary to set up an inquiry, he was forced to do so because of pressure from comments made by former leader of the Iraq Survey Group David Kay, as well as the political fall-out of the Hutton inquiry which was regarded as a whitewash by many.

The Butler Inquiry's remit did not extend to an examination of the political decision making process. Ministers believed that any question of wrongdoing on their part had been dealt with by the Hutton Inquiry which reported on January 28 2004 - Tony Blair said: "The issue of good faith was determined by the Hutton Inquiry". However, the Hutton Inquiry's terms of reference were limited to the circumstances leading to the death of Dr David Kelly. In the course of his investigations Lord Hutton cleared the Government of deliberately inserting false intelligence into their published dossier on Iraqi WMD. The Hutton Report left the wider questions about the Government's propriety in its handling of intelligence unanswered. For instance, questions remain regarding the possibility that the Government and Intelligence Services "cherry-picked" intelligence that tended to support the case for war, and/or that the public presentation of this intelligence was misleading. (See Hutton Report.)


The Liberal Democrats opted not to take part, because the role of politicians had been excluded from the Inquiry's remit. (Senior Lib Dem MP Alan Beith was to have been the sixth member of the panel). Explaining their position Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell asked the prime minister:

"Don't you understand ... that following the public response to the Hutton report that an inquiry that excludes politicians from scrutiny is unlikely to command public confidence..."

On 1 March, 2004 the Conservative Party announced that they would not be taking part in the inquiry either. Conservative leader Michael Howard said that this was because Lord Butler of Brockwell's interpretation of the terms of reference were "unacceptably restrictive". Conservative member Michael Mates stated that he would remain on the committee.

Conclusions of the Review

The review was published on 14 July 2004. Its main conclusion was that key intelligence used to justify the war with Iraq has been shown to be unreliable. It claims that the Secret Intelligence Service did not check its sources well enough and sometimes relied on third hand reports. It criticises the use of the 45 minute claim in the 2002 dossier as "unsubstantiated", and says that there was an over-reliance on Iraqi dissident sources. It also comments that warnings from the Joint Intelligence Committee on the limitations of the intelligence were not made clear. Overall it said that "more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear", and that judgements had stretched available intelligence "to the outer limits".

It says that information from another country's intelligence service on Iraqi production of chemical and biological weapons was "seriously flawed", without naming the country. It says that there was no recent intelligence to demonstrate that Iraq was a greater threat than other countries, and that the lack of any success in the UNMOVIC finding WMDs should have prompted a re-think. It states that Tony Blair's policy towards Iraq shifted because of the attacks of September 11, 2001, not because of Iraq's weapons programme, and that the government's language left the impression that there was "fuller and firmer intelligence" than was the case.

The report indicated that there was enough intelligence to make a “well-founded” judgment that Saddam Hussein was seeking, perhaps as late as 2002, to obtain uranium illegally from Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo (6.4 para. 499). In particular, referring to a 1999 visit of Iraqi officials to Niger, the report states (6.4 para. 503): “The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible.”

This intelligence (which had controversially found its way into George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech) had previously (before September 2003 [C. May, 2004]) been thought to rely on forged documents. The Butler Review stated that “the forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made.” (6.4 para. 503) Taking into account the American intelligence community’s findings on the matter, it is true that in December 2003, then CIA director George Tenet conceded that the inclusion of the claim in the State of the Union address was a mistake. (, 2003) However, Tenet believed so, not due to any compelling evidence to the contrary, but rather because the CIA (criticized concerning this matter by the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq [Schmidt, 2004]) had failed to investigate the claim thoroughly; however again, the Butler Review states (6.4 para. 497) in 2002 the CIA “agreed that there was evidence that [uranium from Africa] had been sought.” In the run-up to war in Iraq, the British Intelligence Services apparently believed that Iraq had been trying to obtain uranium from Africa; however, no evidence has been passed on to the IAEA apart from the forged documents (6.4 Para. 502). (Times Online, 2003)

The report did not blame any specific individuals. It specifically stated that John Scarlett, the head of the JIC should not resign, and indeed should take up his new post as head of MI6.

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