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  1. Politics
24 November 2009

Why I have no faith in the Chilcot inquiry on Iraq

Five reasons to be cynical

By Mehdi Hasan

1) Chilcot himself. Is this “establishment” man really going to get to the bottom of how we ended up in Iraq? Can someone who acted as a “staff counsellor” to MI6 between 1999 to 2004 be a credible investigator of the flawed intelligence produced on Iraqi WMDs, by MI6, between 2002 and 2003? Will an ex-permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office be able to challenge ministers or his former colleagues in the civil service?

Sir John Chilcot also happens to be a former member of the 2004 Butler inquiry into Iraq intelligence, which failed to land any significant blows. Here is how Philippe Sands, QC describes Chilcot after watching him closely during the Butler inquiry: “Having some familiarity with Sir John’s questioning . . . it is not immediately apparent that he will have the backbone to take on former government ministers.”

Sands has also referred to the occasion when the Butler committee took evidence from the former attorney general Lord Goldsmith on 5 May 2004:

The uncorrected transcript shows some members of the inquiry pressing him hard. By contrast, Sir John’s spoon-fed questions give every impression of being designed to elicit a response from the attorney general that would demonstrate the reasonableness of his actions and those of the government.

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2) Recent history. Do you remember the last time an “independent” inquiry revealed the whole “truth” about this or that government misdemeanour or cover-up? Critics of the war had high hopes for every single one of the four previous Iraq inquiries (Hutton, Butler, ISC, FASC) — and each time their hopes were dashed.

Twas ever thus. As James Callaghan put it after the Franks report of 1983 effectively exonerated Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands:

For 338 paragraphs he painted a splendid picture, delineated the light and the shade, and the glowing colours in it, and when Franks got to paragraph 339 he got fed up with the canvas he was painting, and chucked a bucket of whitewash over it.

3) The composition of the committee. How can you have faith in Sir Roderic Lyne, another establishment man, former senior civil servant and British ambassador to (anti-war) Russia during the Iraq war? As the Labour MP Lynne Jones pointed out in the Commons in June:

He [Lyne] was a special adviser to BP, which currently has major interests in Iraq. Regardless of whether that represents a conflict of interests, it does not help public confidence given the concern that we went to war for oil.

And, as my colleague George has pointed out, “the fact that the inquiry’s members include Sir Lawrence Freedman, one of the architects of the doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’, and Sir Martin Gilbert, who once declared that Bush and Blair could ‘join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill’, does not inspire confidence.” Indeed.

4) The media. Journalists, especially lobby correspondents, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been too quick to swallow the government line on Iraq, have “moved on” at the first sign of “Iraq fatigue” by their readers or viewers, and much prefer to discuss who is up and who is down in the Westminster village or inside the Beltway than to discuss Iraqi politics, intelligence issues or the effects of western foreign policy in the Middle East.

Take Peter Ricketts, former JIC chair and ex-political director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ricketts is testifying this morning in front of the Chilcot inquiry. But how many journalists have reported on the leaked “confidential and personal” memo that Ricketts sent to his then boss, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in March 2002?

In it, Ricketts wrote that “by sharing Bush’s broad objective the Prime Minister can help shape how [Iraq policy] is defined” and conceded that “what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein’s WMD programmes . . . even the best survey of Iraq’s WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW fronts”. Here it is, in all its glory, on the excellent Downing Street Memo(s) website.

5) Teflon Tony. The truth about Iraq — the lies, cover-ups, war crimes, torture, etc — has never seemed to stick to Tony Blair. Had the British government got its way last week, and the Germans caved, Blair would be enjoying his first full week as president of Europe at the same time as the Iraq inquiry kicked off. It would have been, to borrow a phrase from Bliar himself, “palpably absurd“.

Oh, and by now, you will have worked out that I disagree with George on Chilcot and am happy, for once, to include myself in the “green ink brigade” to which he refers. I hope to be proved wrong. But, given these five things, I doubt it.

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