LONDON // Former British prime minister Tony Blair responded with outrage to reported comments that he was not “straight with the nation” over his decision to go to war in Iraq.
Sir John Chilcot, head of the inquiry into Britain's role in the war, said the evidence provided by Mr Blair was “emotionally truthful” but did not rely enough on the facts. Speaking to the BBC, the judge added that he believed Mr Blair had “not departed from the truth”.
A spokesman for Mr Blair responded furiously to the BBC report, saying it had misrepresented the judge’s words and that "all these issues" had been dealt with.
“The BBC headline stems from words put into John Chilcot's mouth by the interviewer,” he said.
“A full reading of the interview shows that Sir John makes clear that Mr Blair had not 'departed from the truth'.
“Sir John also makes clear that on the eve of the invasion Mr Blair, asked the then Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, can you tell me beyond any reasonable doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. To which the answer was, yes I can. He was entitled to rely on that.”
“Five different inquiries have all shown the same thing: that there was no falsifying of the intelligence.”
Sir John also spoke about Mr Blair’s mental state, in his first public comments on the report since it was published last year. The judge said he thought Mr Blair was under “very great emotional pressure during those sessions ... he was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skills and reactions, I think."
He said the former Labour leader gave the case for war based on his own assessment of the circumstances, saying Mr Blair made the case "pinning it on my belief, not on the fact, what the assessed intelligence said".
"You can make an argument around that, both ethical and - well, there is an ethical argument I think," Sir John said.
The report's overall finding was that Mr Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, the former Iraq leader, and the invasion was not the "last resort" action presented to parliament, when it backed the 2003 US-led invasion.
The inquiry was announced in late 2009. Sir John defended the conduct of the inquiry and the seven years it took to complete. The report was two million words long.
The current leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, said he agreed that his predecessor had not been straight with the British people.
“The case against the Iraq war is a very strong one. We have got to think very carefully as a country what has happened since the Iraq war and the consequences that flowed from what I believe was a catastrophically wrong decision in 2003,” Mr Corbyn said.