Friday, 20 April 2018

An Attack Without Evidence

Peter Hitchens writes:

Is this another example of an attack being launched before the verification teams go in to check the facts? Last night (Thursday 19th April 2018) the distinguished broadcaster Andrew Neil accused me of suggesting that the Western powers might fake chemical warfare attacks in Syria. The accusation was of course as incorrect as it was absurd.

Here is the background: I had been asked to appear at length on Mr Andrew Neil’s noted late night discussion programme, which has a generally high level of discussion, owing to Mr Neil’s undoubted intelligence, professionalism and knowledge, rare among BBC presenters. First, I made a short film summarizing my position, and then I defended it live in the studio. You may watch the film and the discussion here. 

Towards the end of that discussion (about 12 minutes and 50 seconds into the extract), Mr Neil made his allegation. A sequence followed in which Mr Neil repeatedly interrupted me in mid-argument and I repeatedly protested that what he was saying was a fabrication. Here is a more or less verbatim account, slightly tidied to aid clarity. I do not think I have omitted anything significant, and would be grateful for any significant corrections or additions.

Mr Neil (AFN) accused me thus: ‘You have speculated that Western countries could have ….can fake such attacks’ I (PH) said ‘I haven’t said anything of the kind’. Untroubled by my denial, Mr Neil persisted: ‘Yes you did’. He then said: ‘You said in your blog, speaking of Britain, France and America you could say there might be a temptation to fake such attacks (his emphasis). If these major nations (talking about us, America and France) will act in defiance of law, this, to fake them, must surely be a temptation’.

As I attempted to explain to him what I had actually said , that I had been referring to Islamist groups in Syria, saying ‘It must surely be a temptation among the Islamist groups in Syria if the Western countries are prepared to mount attacks on Syria – you interrupt me at every point – if the Western countries (interruption)…I am not. That is a complete fabrication. I have said that the people who would be prepared to fake the attacks would be the Islamist groups – if it is the case that Western countries could be persuaded…you’ve got to check your researcher on this, they have given you a bum steer.’ AFN ‘I have read the blog myself .

He then reads my words ‘If these major nations will act in defiance of law this, a fake attack must surely be a temptation.’

PH: ‘A temptation to whom?’

AFN: ‘The major nations.’

PH: ‘No, that is not what it says, Go and read it yourself instead of relying on some researcher. You have got it wrong.’

AFN: ‘Mr Hitchens, I read it myself’.

PH: ‘I was giving you the benefit of the doubt’.

AFN: ‘Maybe you should write more clearly next time’

PH: ‘I have given you the benefit of the doubt, you’ve got it wrong’.

AFN: ‘I’ve got it wrong perhaps because your English is not very clear’.

PH: ‘I don’t think that is a characteristic I have’.

The discussion then ends abruptly, and I have no further part in the programme. Here is the section of the blog posting which is under discussion:

‘Imagine this frightening possibility, which arises from that rush to act without facts, on the basis of unverified and unverifiable reports. Might this be a temptation to those who oppose President Assad, to fake such attacks in future? If these major nations will act in defiance of law, and without waiting for verification, this must surely be such a temptation to any cynical person, and I think we may assume there are some cynical people in this conflict on both sides.

‘If they can get the USA, Britain and France directly embroiled in the Syrian civil war, who will pay much attention if a month later the OPCW produces an inconclusive report? Certainly not the politicians and media who cheered on the attack. The OPCW will find its report covered sketchily on page 94 of the unpopular papers, and probably nowhere else except here. And if the resulting attacks lead to direct entanglements between western forces and those of Russia and Iran, then we will be well on the way to a regional war pregnant with the possibilities of world war, a new 1914 in which Iran and Saudi Arabia stand in for Germany and Russia, and the rest of the world eventually piles in, and then cannot find any way out again.’ 

I rest my case. The complete blog post can be found here. If Mr Neil was in any doubt about what I meant, he was free to ask me before making his accusation. I was at the studio an hour before transmission began.

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