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Super sleuth Chilcot

by Chris Ames

In the context of Sir John Chilcot’s comments about the emergence of documents that had not been submitted to the Inquiry and which it only became aware of when they were cited by Maxwellees, comments Chilcot made in November 2009 look a little complacent.

Just before the Inquiry began its public hearings, Chilcot said:

“We have complete access to the entirety of the government’s records from top to bottom throughout the nine years and we have already seen more than enough to know nothing is being held back because it can’t be,” he said.

“If there was a gap we would know it and find it.”


Maxwellisation is one-sided and lacks transparency

By Chris Ames

The Guardian has some interesting letters about the Inquiry, including one from Shirley Williams, who reminds us that the Liberal Democrats questioned the basis for the war from the outset.

I respect the uncompromising determination of Sir John Chilcot and his commission to find out the facts behind this, the most disastrous mistake of British foreign policy in the past 50 years, and to let those criticised present their own defence. But Maxwellisation is not extended to those of us who were critics from the beginning, even though we could now point to a growing body of evidence justifying our comments. I do not request such a privilege now. But it is important that a date for the publication of the report be made public before the end of the year, if all those who gave evidence are to be treated fairly.

A letter from a woman with personal experience of what she calls the Mid Staffordshire disaster makes a similar point about how the process privileges the Maxwellees and lacks transparency:

In your article, Sir Robert Francis QC (with regard to the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry) alluded to having “the advantage of statutory rules governing the obligation to give those who might be the object of express or implicit criticism a fair opportunity to offer comments on them in confidence”.

Sir Robert may see this as an “advantage”; however, as a bereaved relative, I see the confidentiality of these letters of criticism as a disadvantage, as a person who is seeking transparency and truth. This considered, with the help of my MP Robert Buckland, I am – with at least one other – campaigning to make the Mid Staffordshire public inquiry Salmon/Maxwellisation letters public.

Who knows how much Maxwellees and their lawyers will succeed in have the Inquiry’s conclusions watered down, behind the scenes.


Have errors caused delay?

by Chris Ames

The Sunday Times reports that:

Sir John Chilcot has been forced to reopen his inquiry into the Iraq War after senior military figures complained the first draft of his report was riddled with errors, according to sources who have seen the papers.

Senior commanders complained Chilcot and his team had blamed them for decisions that were actually made by politicians.

When the generals were sent the report’s conclusions, five to six months ago, the reaction was so aggressive that it has caused a wholesale rethink of the document, delaying publication until at least June next year.

Details of the behind-the-scenes wrangling have been uncovered by the author Tom Bower, who has interviewed 180 senior figures from the cabinet, civil service and the armed forces — many of whom are set to be criticisedby Chilcot – for a book on the Blair government to be published in the new year.

The rest of the story is behind the Murdoch paywall. It’s one of a few stories lately where military figures have hit back at Chilcot and follows Clare Short’s suggestion that the the need to redraft a poor first draft has held up the report.

It also may give some hint as to which Maxwellees have been citing documents that had not previously been given to the Inquiry. Perhaps Whitehall failed to provide the evidence that the military were just following orders, to coin a phrase.

 


Don’t fund delay

Chris Ames

The Telegraph reports criticism from Tory MP David Davis of taxpayer-funded legal advice to Maxwellees, which he says is encouraging them to keep arguing and spinning the process out.

Digest contributor Richard Heller makes a similar point in a piece for the Yorkshire Post:

It is hard to see why any of the Maxwellees need or deserve any legal help from the taxpayer.

Unlike Robert Maxwell, who faced disqualification as a company director, they are not threatened with any penalty from the Iraq inquiry report. It is not even a statutory inquiry – just a panel of eminent people asking questions (one of whom sadly died before its work was finished).

Unpleasant things might happen to the Maxwellees after the report is published – an appearance in the International Criminal Court, or civil or criminal proceedings in our domestic courts. If the inquiry report were really damning, it could expose some people to a charge of manslaughter – causing death by gross negligence to British service personnel or Iraqi civilians to whom they had a duty of care.

However, no such unpleasantness will happen to anyone because of the inquiry. That would require new decisions and new procedures from different authorities. The inquiry will not indict anyone, or recommend any kind of sanction. At most, it will judge some people harshly and lead others to share that opinion.


Imposition of deadline “could wreck Inquiry”

by Chris Ames

The Independent reports that:

Any attempt to set a deadline on the Chilcott (sic) Inquiry into the Iraq War would “wreck” its findings, an influential MP has said.

Crispin Blunt, the chair of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the inquiry was nearly done and suggested that a deadline would undermine its independent nature.

“We can [set a deadline], and then we can wreck the inquiry in the process,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“The inquiry which is independent and sets its own procedure has determined how it is going to conduct itself.”

Blunt also said he believed the Inquiry was “without a doubt” in its final “ten percent” of time, which implies it will take up to another seven months to conclude.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that:

Sir John Chilcot is facing legal action from bereaved families after again refusing to set a timetable for publication of his report into the Iraq war.

The BBC joins other news outlets in reporting Chilcot’s statement yesterday as representing a refusal to set a deadline. In fact, he said he would provide a timetable after all the Maxwellisation responses had been received and evaluated. This may be an improvement on the previous promise to provide a timetable when Maxwellisation has been completed, depending on whether you see the “further work” that may be needed in response to Maxwellisation responses as a part or the Maxwellisation process.


One giant unmarked grave of unknown size

by Chris Ames

Iraq Body Count has published a press release pointing out that it is six years since it wrote to the Inquiry about its failure to engage in any detail over the number of Iraqi casualties of the invasion and five years since it publicised that letter.

With the current debate focusing very much on the much smaller number of UK service people killed in Iraq, it’s a timely reminder, although it’s invidious to put them in opposition. As Iraq Body Count pointed out “there is only a single death toll of the war in Iraq: the complete one that includes all nationalities and all demographics.” I’m publishing the press release here in full:

For Chilcot and the Iraq War Inquiry, Iraq remains one giant unmarked grave of unknown size

When will the UK take a real interest in Iraqi casualties?

Exactly six years ago Iraq Body Count (IBC) wrote to Sir John Chilcot expressing alarm at how his Iraq War Inquiry showed no sign of pursuing any detailed investigation of the war’s principal casualties. If lessons were to be learned from an inquiry into the UK’s close involvement in the war, then its casualties (Iraqi civilian and combatant, British, coalition and all others) would need to be taken unflinchingly into account. Acknowledging his “entirely appropriate” concern to hear from and respect the wishes of bereaved British families, we argued that this thoughtful logic applied with even more force to Iraq, where the war’s impact was far more pervasive and, for many, “as close as their doorstep” (as it still is in 2015). Notwithstanding any such contrasts, we added that:

“Even with the undeniable disparity between the deadly imprint of the war on this country and on Iraq, there is a broader view in which its death toll is simply one that has been exacted on humanity. From that perspective, there is only a single death toll of the war in Iraq: the complete one that includes all nationalities and all demographics. Only by carefully attending to this larger death toll will we understand the war’s full consequences, and place ourselves in a position where the broadest and deepest lessons can be learned.”

Sir John responded to our letter by emphasising that his Inquiry’s terms of reference were broad and acknowledging IBC’s “useful” contribution to the store of knowledge on which the Inquiry could draw. But it appears that the latter was merely another way of stating that his Inquiry would itself do no new work on the question of Iraqi casualties.

Five years ago, and exactly a year after first writing Sir John, we made our letter public, adding the comments we republish below. All our criticisms of the Inquiry’s narrow focus still stand. We were, of course, mistaken to describe it as nearing completion. The delay to the Inquiry’s publication has become something of a national scandal, rightly so. But what remains unexamined is that despite the freedom that should have been afforded it by a broad remit, Chilcot’s Inquiry cleaves to the tradition of “a history of kings and queens,” taking scant interest in the ordinary people the war affected the most. Is such narrow focus really necessary in the 21st century?

Its inordinate delay might have been understandable had the Inquiry indeed resolved to take pains to understand the war’s full human consequences, including the suffering of the Iraqi people. This certainly would have required formidable effort, even if it did not attempt (as IBC now is in its Iraq Digital Memorial initiative) to pursue this goal at the appropriate level of individual lives lost. But there is nothing to indicate that the Inquiry has made an attempt of any kind in this direction, whether with regard to the killed or injured. So despite the name, the Iraq War Inquiry is unlikely to reveal anything new about casualties suffered by the country in which it took – is taking – place, no matter when its report is finally published.

We may still hope that the UK and others will learn lessons – real lessons, such as can be acted upon – from Chilcot’s Inquiry. But based on the vanishingly small attention the Inquiry afforded them, we should not expect Iraqi deaths to figure significantly in its findings, nor the views of Iraqi families, nor their needs, nor how their suffering may be alleviated.


I’m a Maxwellee and I don’t agree – Short

by Chris Ames

Clearly incensed by the Guardian story, evidently based on a briefing by Inquiry sources, that named her as a Maxwellee, former International Development Secretary Clare Short confirmed in an interview on the BBC’s The World at One that she and her former department (DfID) are on the wrong end of criticism from the government.

Short said that she was going on the record in response to “New Labour type spin out of the [Inquiry] Secretariat” and made clear that she did not agree with the proposed criticism of DfID over the poor rate of reconstruction of the country. She said that the suggestion the Maxwellisation was the cause of the delay was wrong and that the true reason was poor drafting and ill-informed criticism. Maxwellees had, she suggested, been given clear deadlines to respond, which expired “a good time ago”.

Short’s comments seem at odds with Sir John Chilcot’s comments in his statement today, not in that she contradicts him but rather in that she seems not to realise that he is saying something similar. Chilcot said that Maxwellees had not been given “an open-ended timescale”. He also said that the Inquiry expects to receive the last Maxwellistion responses “shortly”, while Short admitted that she could not say with any certainty that everyone had been given the same deadlines.

Short’s comments are reported in the Mail Online, which also reports that:

Meanwhile, Sir Stanley Burton, Lord Justice of Appeal between 2008 and 2012, said the risk of a judicial challenge was ”exaggerated”, as there was no appeal process by which the courts could rule on specific findings.

What is otherwise a good piece is let down by the Mail’s claim to have published Chilcot’s statement “in full” when clearly it hasn’t.

Statement from Sir John

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry has published a statement by Sir John Chilcot “in the light of recent comments.”

The statement details the principles of openness and fairness that guide the Inquiry as it works to produce its report on the UK’s involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009.

Sir John reiterates the Inquiry’s determination to ensure that its final report is rigorous, accurate, and firmly based on the evidence.  He also sets out the importance of the Maxwellisation process and that he expects to receive the last responses to Maxwellisation letters shortly.  Sir John said: “That will allow us to complete our consideration of the responses, to decide what further work will be needed, and to provide the Prime Minister and thus Parliament and the public with a timetable for the publication of our work.”

 


Straw joins Blair in the firing line – Guardian

by Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

Sir John Chilcot is to apportion blame for Britain’s role in the Iraq war much more widely than had been expected, going well beyond Tony Blair and his inner team, according to sources involved with his six-year inquiry.

While Blair will bear the brunt of the report’s criticism, one source said it would suit the former prime minister to see a wide range of targets blamed when it is published.

It has been assumed that Chilcot would concentrate on Blair and his closest advisers in Downing Street. However, the Guardian understands the inquiry intends to criticise a much bigger circle of ministers and officials, including Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Others in focus are Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, Sir John Scarlett, chairman of the joint intelligence committee, Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, Clare Short, the international development secretary, and senior officials in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Foreign Office and the Cabinet Office. The inquiry took evidence from about 150 people.

The sources also say that:

Chilcot wants to ensure that those criticised are given every opportunity to rebut the criticism. He does not want to give them an excuse to take legal action or attack the inquiry after the final report.

The final report will not include the number of people who have been sent drafts containing criticism. The public may not know to what extent Chilcot has toned down his criticism in response to objections.

Indeed we may not, which is my main worry.


Ditch Maxwellisation – Saville

by Chris Ames

The Telegraph reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry is at risk of becoming a “never ending” because those facing censure are being given too much time to respond, the retired judge who oversaw Britain’s longest-running inquiry has suggested.

Lord Saville, who was chairman of inquiry into Bloody Sunday which lasted for 12 years, told The Telegraph that allowing those criticised see sections of the report before it is published is a “very bad idea”.

He said that the process, known as “maxwellisation”, is not a legal requirement and that those facing criticism should have been dealt with while the inquiry was sitting.

Saville’s inquiry didn’t just take longer, it cost a lot more. But he joins a lengthening list of apparently knowledgable people who think Chilcot is making a meal of Maxwellisation. Many people also think that the panel failed to ask sufficiently challenging questions of witnesses. I agree with this, although I have also argued that if witnesses chose to play games with the Inquiry, Chilcot is entitled to conclude that they had their chance.

The Telegraph and others also report the views of some politicians that a decision on extending air strikes against IS into Syria should be delayed until the Inquiry has reported. David Cameron does not agree.

The problem is that the Inquiry was set up as a “lessons learned” inquiry but appears unable to set out these lessons because the separate task of criticising individuals is getting in the way.