Seeking certainty

by Chris Ames

I wrote here how two articles last weekend gave very different views on the Inquiry. The Independent’s leader today has elements of both articles. And again, I disagree.

It argues that “the steady drip-drip of its evidence has served largely to confirm what many people suspected, rather than revealing anything startlingly new” and gives as an example that “George Bush and Tony Blair were set on regime change in Iraq from very early on”. That is quite a selective view of the witness evidence and one that is by no means certain to be adopted by the Inquiry.

The piece also says that:

“There have been some interesting shifts of nuance: the former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who had been portrayed as believing that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, testified that, though his doubts grew, he still advised Mr Blair fairly late in the day that Saddam probably did still have them.”

What Blix actually said was that he still thought there were “prohibited items” in Iraq:

“I talked to Prime Minister Blair on 20 February 2002 and then I said I still thought that there were prohibited items in Iraq but at the same time our belief, faith in intelligence had been weakened. I said the same thing to Condoleezza Rice. Both Condoleezza Rice and Prime Minister Blair, I sort of alerted to the fact that we were sceptical. I made the remark that I cited many times, that: wouldn’t it be paradoxical for you to invade Iraq with 250,000 men and find very little.
So certainly I gave some warning that things had changed and there might not be so much.”

The article concludes much like Matthew Partridge’s Comment is Free piece. It says:

“The lack of decisive new evidence now severely constrains Sir John’s options. If his final report broadly absolves Tony Blair from the charges of deliberately misleading Parliament and undertaking an “illegal” war, it will be considered a whitewash. If it does not, there will be those who will dismiss it as a kangaroo court. Unless there are further witnesses with something substantively new to say, it is probably now time for the inquiry to be drawn to a conclusion.”

Again, this is to confuse what the Inquiry has done in its public hearings with what it has found out behind the scenes. Given that the Independent has done so much to highlight the unpublished documents, this is surprising. If the Inquiry is not able to publish any further information and thus confront witnesses with the contradictions, it may as well draw its public hearings to a close. But Chilcot’s options are not constrained by the lack of decisive new evidence, just limits on what he is able and willing to make public.

7 comments to this article

  1. Anthony

    on July 29, 2010 at 11:48 am -

    It struck me as a particularly silly article, and the conclusion was the silliest part of it, a contrivance of non sequiturs. The leader writer is telling us that he is bored, but who cares?

    The real issue about the final report is how it will be written. No doubt the first draft will be prepared by the Secretary to the Inquiry, the lady from the Cabinet Office whose day job is as the Director-General (Deputy Head) of the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat. So we can assume that no punches will be left un-pulled at that stage. It will then be up to Sir John and his colleagues to ‘sex it up’.

    Ironic perhaps, but I think true nonetheless that the reception of the report will be based on how many easy headlines it provides, not by precisely how something is put on page 114. If only they could get Alastair Campbell to write the summary, it might be quite a good report.

  2. Anthony

    on July 29, 2010 at 11:52 am -

    Or perhaps I should have said ‘somebody like Alastair Campbell’!

  3. Linda W

    on July 29, 2010 at 3:00 pm -

    The Chilcot Inquiry has been useful for all the damning and detailed information it’s unearthed about our collective inability to control the executive arm of government and the incredible foolishness of so many of our leaders (Blair, Straw etc).

    Sadly, I don’t think the embarrassment of being confronted with what parliament and government has done – and failed to do – in the recent past will be sufficient to create long term improvements in our leaders’ behaviour.

    The Chilcot Inquiry MUST be followed by legal action if at all possible against culpable individuals / organisations.

    Just like the MPs over expenses, you become a lot more careful about your future behaviour if you know wrongdoing could land you in prison.

    Similarly, we need better legislation and procedures to hold the executive to account when it does wrong (and preferably to stop it before it does wrong).

    I think we’re in for a long, hard slog to make any progress along these lines – but we must try.

  4. John Towner

    on July 29, 2010 at 4:29 pm -

    Have to agree with Linda W.

    It seems from the findings so far that the worst case scenario indicates that a majority (?434)of MPs voted for an unprovoked invasion of another country,

    1.the legality of which was seriously in doubt,

    2.the stated reasons for which were fictitious,

    3.the alternatives to which had not been properly explored.

    Anyone of these could have put someone in front of the judges at Nuremburg.

    If this is in reality how the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ performed then there was and presumably still is something seriously wrong with the system which needs to be rooted out.

    As Linda says it could be a long slog but it needs to start with Chilcot and with total transparency.

  5. Lee Roberts

    on July 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm -

    I have not been participating here because it is now so obvious that this inquiry is a stitch-up. All I want to do is launch the idea that Tony Blair be deprived of his Prime Minister pension and all other benefits attached to his parliamentary and government career, in response to the deep dishonour which he has cast upon this country by his crimes, lies, and other misdemenours. They have taken down the Downing Steet Petition for the meantime. Does anyone know of other mechanisms for launching this campaign ? Or maybe its already been launched and you can tell me how to join it.

  6. Anthony

    on July 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm -

    I completely agree with your first para and largely with your second, but I think the prospects of successful legal action against any participant are extremely remote.

    When a prime minister with many things to hide appoints a group of privy councillors to identify lessons to be learned but not to apportion blame, such an inquiry is never likely to reveal evidence for a criminal prosecution. When the ‘culpable individuals’ are all extremely clever people adept at covering their tracks and just about getting away with things, the chances of their having left themselves without a defence are very low.

    I think lessons will be learned though, and pain is felt, especially by those who deny it. Tony Blair was very proud of being a popular Prime Minister back in the day. He likes to think of himself as virtuous and that people see him that way. The fact that 81% of the population believe he lied over Iraq, the fact that his precious ‘legacy’ will forever be overshadowed by Iraq, the fact that he could have stepped down voluntarily as PM and not been forced to, and the fact that he could have become European President were it not for Iraq, all these things must give him pain. Maybe he will never admit it, but it must be so.

    I think that’s all the consolation you’re going to get though. Power corrupts, and no amount of inquiries and lessons learned and attempted prosecutions of culpable individuals will ever stop it doing so. All we can do is be vigilant, and I think Chris Ames is a good example of that.

  7. chris lamb

    on July 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm -

    It still does not seem to be understood that the most serious consequences of this do not concern Iraq but rather the future survival and effectiveness of the UN Security Council and the collective principle of maintaining international peace and security.

    The forebearer of the United Nations, the League of Nations collapsed principally because it could not collectively enforce Article X of its Convenant against the wanton aggression of individual member states- exemplified by its failure to act over Japan’s invasion of Manchuria (1931), Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (1934) and war against Ethipia (1935) and Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia (1937).

    Article X stated:

    “The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. In the case of any such aggression or in any case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled”.

    The failure of the League of Nations to collectively enforce this Covenant Article against a first aggressor meant that this became a template for emboldened later aggressors- instrumental in the rise and spread of Fascism and Nazism.

    Chpater 7 of the UN Charter 1945 was drafted with much more specific and stronger provisions than Article X in response to the League of Nations failures. The US/UK initiated military invasion against Iraq in March 2003 drove a horse and carriage through this Chapter.

    The priority, for those who care about international collective security, must be to call for the full legal enforcement of the provisions of this Chapter. This is why referral to an international court is so important.

    The alternative- if the US and UK get away with it- is that a crucial part of the UN Charter is rendered useless and ineffective. Make no mistake, if Chapter VII is allowed to be rode roughshod over in this way, it will be mortally weakened in stopping future aggressors.