More from: Process

The Night before Chilcot

by Chris Ames

The Iraq Inquiry website, which houses many documents to which this site links, is no longer available in its previous form  but carries the following statement:

As planned, this website has been suspended to allow the Inquiry to make the final preparations necessary for publication of The Report of the Iraq Inquiry on 6 July.

The updated website containing the Inquiry’s report and supporting documents will go live once Sir John Chilcot has finished his public statement on 6 July.

It is being reported that Sir John Chilcot will give his statement at 11am.

It’s important to remember that alongside the statement will be a great deal of previously unpublished evidence.

In the meantime, a few news organisations have handy guides to who’s who etc, incuding the BBC and the Guardian.

Finally, what will Chilcot say? My view is that it is inevitable that the report will conclude that Britain’s involvement in Iraq was a catastrophically bad idea, even without inadequate planning for the aftermath and inept handling of the occupation, was sold under a false premise, and happened because Tony Blair promised early on to support George Bush in seeking regime change, with WMD as a pretext.

How far it will go in saying that Blair lied (or misled people) as to his intentions and the strength of the intelligence remains to be seen, but establishment inquiries do have a habit of assuming that everyone acted in good faith, doing their best in a difficult situation etc, etc.

Any other predictions?


Situation normal – shambles

by Chris Ames

The “independent” Inquiry seems to have negotiated another public relations shambles, having suggested that the families of dead servicemen wold have to pay £767 for a copy of the report, albeit that they would get a free copy of the executive summary, otherwise £30.

It’s not clear whether it was the Inquiry that had made this call, independent of the government as it nominally is, or the Cabinet Office. But the situation was soon resolved:

Number 10 said: “There is no question of families of service personnel who died in Iraq having to pay for copies of the Chilcot report.”

Move along, nothing to see.


Tortuous printing process to delay Inquiry report

by Chris Ames

According to the Sunday Telegraph, “a team of national security officials has been prepared to go to the offices of the inquiry next week to start the national security vetting process”.

This is as expected but the paper also suggests that the report will be delayed not because of the European Referendum as claimed previously, but because the Inquiry needs even more time. It says John Penrose, the minister in charge of the Government’s response to the report,

said the process would take just two weeks to complete, however the Government had agreed with Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry’s chairman that the report would not be published until June or July.

He said: “Nobody wants this to take any longer than it has already. The process of checking by security officials will take no more than two weeks to complete.

“Sir John can then complete the process of preparing his report for publication on the timetable set out in his letter to the Prime Minister last October. We look forward to seeing the final report then.”

Last October, Sir John did indeed say:

“The very considerable size of our report – more than two million words in total – means that it will take some weeks to prepare for printing and publication … We will complete that work as swiftly as possible.  I consider that once National Security checking has been completed it should be possible to agree with you a date for publication in June or July 2016.”

I understand local printer Mr William Caxton is on standby.

Chilcot has less freedom than arms to Iraq inquiry, Lord Scott says

by Chris Ames

My colleague Richard Norton-Taylor has written an interesting piece for the Guardian:

The long-awaited inquiry by Sir John Chilcot into the British invasion of Iraq in 2003 has infinitely less freedom than the inquiry into how Britain secretly helped to arm Saddam Hussein decades earlier, the Guardian has been told.

Speaking before the 20th anniversary of the release of his arms to Iraq report, Lord Scott said he had been given complete freedom to publish what he wanted.

Scott, now a retired law lord, told the Guardian that he had “huge freedom” over what information relating to his inquiry, which opened in 1992, could be disclosed. “I had the final decision on publication,” he said.

In contrast, the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, will have the final say on what is published in the inquiry report on the invasion of Iraq.

Norton-Taylor points out that:

Scott withheld only a few pages – passages dealing with current MI6 activities – of a report that provided great encouragement to those campaigning for more open government, eventually leading to the 2000 Freedom of Information Act.

He told the Guardian that the advantage of a judge leading an inquiry was that they were accustomed to making decisions based on evidence. “The only person who can decide is the judge”, Scott said.

Of course, the Cabinet Office doesn’t want us to know why the Labour Government chose to set up the Iraq inquiry in the format that it chose, with such limited powers that it has to get the permission of officials to publish anything.

Families demand announcement on publication within one month

by Chris Ames

The Daily Mail (and others) report that:

Bereaved families of British soldiers killed in Iraq will today give Sir John Chilcot a final ultimatum to publish his long-delayed report.

Now that all those criticised in the document have responded, the Iraq inquiry chairman has no excuse not to fix a date for its release, they say.

And they have demanded he announce this date within a month.

The hardest hitting part of the families “open letter” to Chilcot is the allegation that he has treated them “with contempt” while favouring Maxwellees:

While the Maxwellees – those individuals allegedly who deployed our loved ones to fight in a controversial war, whose misconduct sent them into battle ill-equipped and, thereby, to their deaths … have been given every attention and possible courtesy, we have been sidelined and ignored. While they were given every chance to stall publication, you have fought us at every turn – when all we have done is urged you to tackle the delay.

While they were given the assistance of taxpayer-funded government lawyers, you threatened us with costs for even daring to challenge you.

You claim that your inquiry is open and fair – maybe to the Maxwellees, but not to us … It is with regret that we must tell you that such hypocrisy is astonishing.

We do not intend to go away … in the absence of any reasonable, transparent and full explanation why you cannot, we expect you to write to the Prime Minister within one month with a date for publication, which should be by the end of the year.

By your own admission, now Maxwellisation is over, there is nothing to prevent you doing this. If you fail to do so, we will continue with our legal challenge.’

The letter has been sent not as part of the threatened legal action, but as a pause before possibly resuming it. Presumably, Chilcot’s statement that he needs to assess Maxwellisation responses before setting out a timetable means that the families have to give him time both to do that and to publish. In neither case have they actually set an ultimatum.


Maxwellisation responses in – no timetable for a while yet

by Chris Ames

The Foreign Affairs Committee has published a further letter from Sir John Chilcot to its chairman Crispin Blunt. In the letter, Chilcot confirms that the Inquiry has now received “the last Maxwell responses” but says that:

There is, inevitably, further work for my colleagues and I to do to evaluate those submissions, which are detailed and substantial, in order to establish with confidence the time needed to complete the Inquiry’s remaining work. As soon as I am able to I shall write to the Prime Minister with a timetable for publication of the Inquiry’s report.

So the ball is now back in Chilcot’s court and he is signalling that it will be a while before he can play it. He has again broken down what needs to be done to complete the report into two stages: 1) work out what needs to be done; 2) do it. He doesn’t know how long either stage will take so we should not hold our breath.

In the meantime, the justification for not releasing the evidence gets thinner and thinner.

The FAC has also published an earlier exchange of letters in which Blunt asked Chilcot to confirm that the Inquiry was getting all the help it needed from the government and that extra government resources would not speed things up and Chilcot’s reply, in which he confirmed the former, although the latter would appear to follow. Chilcot also confirmed that when he writes to David Cameron with the elusive timetable, he will publish that letter “once it has been sent”.


Nobody expects this to come out this year

by Chris Ames

Last night on Newsnight, the BBC’s Mark Urban reported a source “closely involved… in the deliberations of the Chilcot Inquiry” as saying “Nobody expects this to come out this year”. Urban said that someone “similarly involved in this process” had confirmed this to him.

Urban said that the new delay was because the “Maxwellisation process” had become so complex that the Inquiry had given up setting a deadline for people to respond to potential criticism. People would say “why don’t you look at these 30 emails”.

My worst fear is that people like Blair and Straw, and of course their lawyers, will once again bluff and bluster and obfuscate to the point where the Inquiry loses the plot and waters down its criticism. If it does, it must surely be the end of the establishment Inquiry.

The BBC website reports the story here. Urban’s story is also on the site.

Today’s debate

by Chris Ames

During this afternoon’s debate, Respect MP George Galloway slammed MPs for, amongst other things, a very poor attendance. In particular, he said, only 7 Labour MPs were present.

Here’s a shot of Tory MP Dominic Grieve being interrupted by colleague Bernard Jenkin. In the background Rory Stewart is playing with his phone paying close attention.



Inquiry delay to be debated in London and Edinburgh today

by Chris Ames

In addition to the well-publicised debate in the House of Commons this morning, the Scottish Parliament will be discussing the Inquiry this afternoon.

According to the UK Parliament website:

The debate will take place in the House of Commons Chamber on Thursday 29 January 2015 and will begin from around 11.15am – 11.30am. Any timings are approximate and Parliamentary business may be subject to change, for example if any Urgent Questions or Ministerial Statements are granted on the day.

The motion to be debated is:

“That this House regrets that the Iraq Inquiry has decided to defer publication of its report until after 7 May 2015; and calls on the Inquiry to publish a timetable for publication and an explanation of the causes of the delay by 12 February 2015.”

You can watch the debate here.

Interestingly, the Scottish debate will still focus on calls for the report to be published before the election. The motion in the name of first minister Nicola Sturgeon is:

That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot‘s official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent war to publish its findings and all evidence ahead of the UK general election; acknowledges that the Iraq war resulted in the deaths of 179 UK service personnel and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians; notes that the cost to taxpayers of the war is estimated at £9.6 billion, and believes that, six years after the inquiry was established and three years after hearings concluded, it is in the interests of transparency, accountability and democracy that the report is published as soon as possible and that any further delay in publication is completely unjustifiable.

According to the Herald Scotland website:

The First Minister is expected to receive cross-party backing from the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in arguing that the findings of the inquiry, which began in 2009, should be published ahead of May’s General Election. Labour will also back the Scottish Government’s motion.

That debate should begin some time after 2pm and you can watch it online on the Scottish Parliament t.v. channel.