Asking the right questions

by Chris Ames

There is some excellent press coverage of the Inquiry this morning. For the purposes of these blogs, I tend to look beyond the headlines at what the press are saying about the Inquiry itself – and it’s quite impressive.

To get the headline issues out of the way first, the Daily Mail and others focus on witnesses’ doubts about whether the human cost of the war was justified by the outcome, the Independent and Mirror look at Sir John Sawers’ admission that Britain had some advance knowledge of problems at Abu Ghraib and the BBC covers both issues, as well as pointing out that:

“Panel member Sir Roderic remarked that [Lt Gen Sir Robert Fry] was the first witness to suggest that the UK’s contribution was ‘critical’ to winning the war.”

The BBC’s Peter Biles also says that:

“With the steady accumulation of evidence over the past few weeks, there has been a noticeable and welcome change of tone at the inquiry.

Sir John Chilcot’s five-member committee now has some important issues to raise with the key witnesses. A more robust line was taken today as top Whitehall civil servants were asked to assess the cost of the Iraq War.”

The Mail also looks at Sawers’ backtracking yesterday, which he otherwise seems to have got away with:

“The MI6 boss also found himself at the heart of accusations that key witnesses have misled the Chilcot Inquiry team. Sir John was forced to correct evidence that he gave last week after the panel made clear that his claims were disputed by official documents. He admitted that the Department for International Development was ‘not substantially involved’ in Iraq policy in the two years before the war after denying claims from aid officials on Friday. But the inquiry failed to publish the documents which caught him out, provoking new claims of a cover-up.”

The Mail also mentions Brian Jones’ observation in yesterday’s Independent that Sir John Scarlett misled the Inquiry about the reliability and sourcing of the 45 minutes claim. The Indy’s Michael Savage returns to this point this morning, with calls from MPs for the Inquiry to challenge Scarlett on the issue, in public, the next time he appears.

Also in the Independent, Adrian Hamilton criticises the civil servants who have so far given mainly self-justifying “evidence” to the Inquiry:

What kind of soldiers are we promoting to generalship these days[?]

The answer is the same kind of men (for they are all men) that we’ve witnessed throughout these hearings, masters of bureaucratic temporising with an eagerness to please their political masters matched by an equal desire to evade responsibility if things go wrong.

In all the evidence before Chilcot not once did we get a diplomat who said that the Foreign Office had so downgraded its Middle Eastern expertise that it no longer understood Iraq let alone could advise on what to do there. There was not one admission by the intelligence services that their competence in Iraq was virtually nil, although they claimed more to please their political masters. Instead we got a litany of excuses and pretences in which nothing was anybody’s direct responsibility, it was all the fault of No.10 or the Pentagon or the White House, everybody was at fault except the officials before Chilcot.

4 comments to this article

  1. Lee Roberts

    on December 17, 2009 at 10:13 am -

    That fits my theory perfectly. When it comes to Blair’s reputation, winning hearts and minds, enough body armour, all the stuff which is legally safe, Chilcot will be fairly rigorous because he wants to convey the impression that this is an open and independent inquiry. When it comes to the reasons for war, and anything that could help the indictment of Blair, he will not only pull the plug and hide the documents, we will resort to secret, classified interviews, and he will allow witnesses to get away with almost no probing or cross questioning.

    He has been told to ensure that any really serious evidence against Blair is kept secret and is ultimately classified, but aside from that he should do his best to convey the impression that he is free to go anywhere and establish the truth….the truth that mistakes were made, lessons must be learnt, but no laws were broken.

    I am stunned at how gullible the media are. Chilcot and Brown are, of course, relying on that gullibility

  2. Stan Rosenthal

    on December 17, 2009 at 11:16 am -

    Yes, Chris, the press coverage was excellent in proving the point of the Ban Blair-baiting brigade that the media is only interested in anything that will discredit “Blair’s war”.

    Lee, I’m truly amazed by your certainties regarding what’s going on behind the scenes. You really must have a chrystal ball. I think I’ll have to call you Gypsy Rose Lee from now on (although I appreciate the name has other connotations which I do not ascribe to you, I hsten to add).

  3. Lee Roberts

    on December 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm -

    Unlike you Stan, I am an intuitive. Alas, I do not have Gipsy Rose Lee’s most admirable assets