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CHILCOT INQUIRY – A NATIONAL DISGRACE By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

chilcot21 Apr 15.With the BBC informing us this morning that a source close to the Chilcot Inquiry that has since 2009 been looking into the circumstances of Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq will now be unlikely to be published before next year one is entitled to wonder whether this is now an inquiry that may never been seen. Whilst I dislike the ease at which public inquiries are called these days as far as Chilcot is concerned if the potential for further delay is to be read as a marker suggesting that the report in its full form may never be published at all then all that I can say is that this would be a national disgrace and one that is absolutely unacceptable.

While the reality is that a further delay comes as little surprise (I would add here that at the time of writing there has as yet been no official comment by the Chilcot committee confirming that the report will now be delayed into next year) I would imagine that what the BBC has latched on to is probably a deliberately placed ‘leak’ aimed at smoothing the path for a more formal announcement that publication of the inquiry will be further delayed. This announcement would then, I imagine, appear about a month or so after the result of the May 7th General Election is made known. I do not by the way blame Sir John Chilcot for any of this although I would like to know whether he has been further leaned on by the establishment!

Given that the excuse provided by the BBC source for further delaying publication surrounds the supposed need to give those who the inquiry is likely to have criticised even more time to react the cynical view would point to a final report either being but a shadow of what Chilcot had intended or to seriously question whether the report will ever see the true light of day.

The Chilcot Inquiry (Sir John Chilcot is a former senior civil servant, Privy Counsellor and former member of the Butler Review into the use of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war in 2003) had been ordered in July 2009 by the then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Brown had originally intended that that the proceedings would, as many inquiries of this nature before it, be held in private session. However, due to a serious press, media and parliamentary backlash, Gordon Brown was forced to backtrack and change this to being an open public inquiry. What followed over the next two years could be said to have played a part in damaging the credibility of British politics.

Notwithstanding the poor relationship between Gordon Brown and his predecessor as Prime Minister, Tony Blair and who is of course at the heart of the Chilcot inquiry being the individual responsible for authorising British military involvement, I would suggest that Brown would have far rather not been forced to order an inquiry that would potentially backfire on various members of his own administration and that had also been part of the Blair Government as well.

At the heart of the Chilcot Inquiry is to decide whether there was a sufficiently sound enough basis of information, reasoning and lawful judgement provided that allowed Tony Blair to agree to support with US President George W. Bush by sending British forces into Iraq to join with our American allies. Had Tony Blair and other members of the then Labour Government been fooled into believing that Saddam Hussein possessed so-called weapons of mass destruction? Did Blair listen to the advice given to him? What was that advice and was our involvement legal? If Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction how was this proved and if there was a real intention to use these against western allies did he have the means to do this? These and others matters had been what the inquiry was supposed to attempt to find out.

Within little more than a year of the inquiry starting to hear evidence reports emerged suggesting that there may have been some editing of intelligence reports to suggest that Saddam Hussein did or did not have weapons of mass destruction. By then suggestions emerged of potential deals perhaps being done between the Blair and Bush administration behind the backs of Parliament. And as if to make matters worse Tony Blair’s own performance at the inquiry during two separate interviews one year apart left much to be desired.

The Chilcot hearing process finally ended in February 2011 and it was anticipated that the initial report would be submitted during the summer of that year. However, perhaps understandably, Chilcot requested more time to allow for further study of documents and the date for publication moved to the end of that year. Now, three and a half years later, the Chilcot report seems no nearer reaching the public than at any time during its long period of making.

To the man of the ‘Clapham Omnibus’ I suppose that the continuing delay in publication appears rather like an old fashioned ‘cover up’ by the establishment and one that is designed to protect one or many of their own. Maybe that is the case and maybe not. Even so, it is in my view an absolute disgrace that there has so far been no mention of the Chilcot report in the election campaign.

The contrast between the Chilcot inquiry and that of Robin Butler’s ‘Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which had originally been announced in early February 2004 and was to be published in July of that same year could not be more apparent. True, the Butler inquiry was essentially a five man committee that met in secret and that included as its members Field Marshal Lord Inge, the Labour and Conservative MP’s Ann Taylor and Michael Mates together with Lord Butler as chair and Sir John Chilcot.

But while the Butler Review had been conducted along similar lines to the Franks Committee inquiry into the Falklands war twenty years earlier. Perhaps rather surprisingly in the case of the Butler Review process neither of these two inquiries allowed for examination of the political decision making process. The Chilcot inquiry did have that mandate from the start.

One of the most crucial elements of the Chilcot inquiry surrounds the evidence given not only by Tony Blair but also by Lord Goldsmith who was at his Attorney-General at the time.  I somehow doubt that I am alone in fearing that if the Chilcot inquiry is ever published at all it will quickly be seen as a whitewash. Whilst I do not hold with suggestions that the result of the Chilcot inquiry could lead to criminal prosecution of certain individuals I do believe that despite what I suppose is the potential for complicated legal actions that could follow in the wake of the Chilcot report I do believe that it is in the public interest that the report is published as soon as possible after the election.

Naturally I do respect the reasoning behind the decision to delay Chilcot until after the election and I accept that it would have been wrong to allow an election campaign to become dominated by decisions, serious though they were, taken twelve years earlier.  But to imagine that having spent what I imagine was around £12 million so far that the Chilcot report may now never be published is not something that we should be persuaded to easily accept.

The legacy of the Iraq war is that never again will a Prime Minister be solely responsible for taking us to war. Iraq then has left an indelible mark on the decision making process and it is I suppose admission that the process that led to our involvement in Iraq was wrong. David Cameron was in my view absolutely right to take us into Libya but like others engaged in that campaign, although the actual mission was a complete success we then failed Libya’s people by leaving behind a political void. Tony Blair was right to take us into Afghanistan and his successors did a far better job of ensuring that when we finally left that country we left something far more useful behind.

But notwithstanding the failures behind the decision making process that led to our involvement in the Iraq war with the Syria vote still ringing in my ears I am personally not so sure that passing the decision making process over future conflict engagement to Parliament may not yet be something that we live to regret.

hwheeldon@wheeldonstrategic.com

Tel: 07710 779785

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