Why the Chilcot Enquiry report will be a ‘whitewash’ – connecting the dots
By Graham Vanbergen – Immediately after the announcement of the “Iraq Inquiry” also referred to as the “Chilcot Inquiry” named after its chairman, Sir John Chilcot, into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, a battleground of lies, deception, propaganda and backstabbing got underway. The inquiry was announced on 15 June 2009 by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, with an initial announcement that proceedings would take place in private, a decision which was subsequently reversed after receiving fierce criticism in the media and the House of Commons.
The Inquiry was pursued by a committee of Privy Counsellors with broad terms of reference to consider Britain’s involvement in Iraq between mid-2001 and July 2009. It covered the run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath. The reality is that the choice of Chilcot was always going to be contentious.
If one cares to look there is plenty of evidence of political scandals and subsequent attempted cover-ups and whitewashed reviews in the past such as cash-for-influence/questions/access, Plebgate, the hugely damaging expenses scandal, VIP paedophile ring, the list is indeed long.
In the case of Chilcot we have to go back a few years to the troubles in Northern Ireland.
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The Loughinisland massacre took place on 18 June 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fired on unsuspecting customers, killing six civilians and wounding five more. The pub was targeted because it was frequented mainly by Catholics and was crowded with people watching the Republic of Ireland team playing in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes called the World Cup massacre. The attack was claimed as retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).
Allegations persisted that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informers were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman investigated the police. The Ombudsman concluded that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. However, the Ombudsman did not investigate the role of informers and the report was branded a “whitewash”.
Ombudsman investigators demanded to be disassociated from the report because their original findings “were dramatically altered without reason”, and they believed key intelligence had been deliberately withheld from them. This led to the report being quashed, the Ombudsman being replaced and a new inquiry ordered. Just last week, the latest report subsequently found ‘collusion‘ between police and the killers. A whitewash had indeed been attempted.
Who was the Permanent Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office, the most senior civil servant throughout this time, none other than, Sir John Chilcot.
Next was The Hutton Inquiry, a 2003 judicial inquiry in the UK chaired by Lord Hutton, who was appointed by the Labour government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a biological warfare expert and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq.
A British ambassador called David Broucher reported a conversation with Dr Kelly at a Geneva meeting in February 2003. Broucher related that Kelly said he had assured his Iraqi sources that there would be no war if they co-operated, and that a war would put him in an ‘ambiguous’ moral position. Broucher had asked Kelly what would happen if Iraq were invaded, and Kelly had replied, ‘I will probably be found dead in the woods.’
The result was that a number of national newspapers judged the report to be so uncritical of the Government that they accused Hutton of participating in an “establishment whitewash”.
Hutton was a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
Then we have the Butler Review, sometimes known as the Butler Report. This was a review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, named after its chairman Robin Butler, Baron Butler of Brockwell, which was announced on 3 February 2004 by the British Government and published on 4 July 2004. It examined the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction which played a key part in the Government’s decision to invade Iraq.
The Liberal Democrats opted not to take part, because the role of politicians had been excluded from the Inquiry’s remit. Explaining their position Foreign Affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell asked the prime minister:
“Don’t you understand … that following the public response to the Hutton report that an inquiry that excludes politicians from scrutiny is unlikely to command public confidence.”
Hardly surprising then that the newspapers got stuck in when its findings blamed the intelligence services and not the real perpetrators. Private Eye magazine expressed misgivings against members of a committee personally appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. The magazine was particularly critical over the choice selection of New Labour Party politician and close acquaintance Ann Taylor, writing “Taylor is hardly a disinterested observer: she was herself involved in the famous ‘September dossier’ that explained Blair’s reasons for going to war.”
Yet again, another major investigation conducted by politicians ended up being called a ‘whitewash’.
The five member committee of the Butler Review also included Sir John Chilcot. Two other committee members were politicians, both of whom supported the case for war with Iraq. One of them, Michael Mates Conservative MP was chair of the Northern Ireland select committee.
Finally we arrive at the Chilcot Enquiry. As mentioned, Chilcot was a committee member of the Butler Review, widely perceived as a whitewash. Another member of his investigative team was Sir Laurence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London. Freedman has been described as the “dean of British strategic studies.” However, he was a big contributor to the preparation of the 1999 Chicago speech in which Tony Blair set out the ‘Blair doctrine‘ which outlined circumstances, as he saw it, that warranted the international community to intervene in the affairs of other nations. This was the precursor to war in Iraq.
Sir Martin Gilbert was also a member of the Chilcot line-up who was a British historian and honorary Fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford who described himself as a proud practising Jew and a Zionist. He was also an advisor to Tony Blair amongst other political leaders throughout his time. He also compared Tony Blair and George Bush to Churchill and Roosevelt, a comparison so widely off the mark as to be comical if not thoroughly insulting.
Sir Roderic Lyne is another Chilcot enquiry member. He served as Britain’s ambassador to Russia from 2000 to 2004. Prior to that he was Britain’s representative to the World Trade Organisation, the UN and other international organisations in Geneva from 1997. He was private secretary to John Major for foreign affairs, defence and yet again we see another member with previous senior civil service experience in Northern Ireland from 1993 to 1996.
Lady Prasher finalises the team. She has a distinguished career that includes being President of the Royal Commonwealth Society and deputy chair of the British Council. She was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and was made a Life Peer on 15 July 1999 as Baroness Prashar during Tony Blair’s reign.
Despite Chilcot’s participation in the discredited secret Butler report. Opposition parties, campaigners and back bench members of the ruling Labour Party of the time condemned the decision to hold the inquiry in secret and its highly restrictive terms of reference which would not, for example, permit any blame to be apportioned. Chilcot has subsequently been heavily criticised as the Iraq Inquiry remained unpublished after seven years. Even the head of the British civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood said the inquiry had repeatedly turned down offers of extra assistance to help speed up the report in what many see as a deliberate attempt to use a delay to assuage blame. In the meantime, Chilcot is paid £790 a day as head of the inquiry.
In essence, what we have is history repeating itself. The Chilcot team is an establishment team. They are largely made up of Blair supporters. Many have connections to each other and Northern Ireland appears to be the training ground of whitewashed reports defending government officials from appalling behaviour to meet their own ends.
The Chilcot Enquiry will be published next month. The Independent reported just last week Tony Blair set to be savaged in ‘absolutely brutal’ Iraq war inquiry verdict. It may appear like that initially but Chilcot will, in his 2.6 million word report, spread the blame so far and wide that Blair will walk away unscathed after the dust has settled a few weeks later.
Amazingly, a decision was made to charge the families of dead British soldiers £767 for a hard copy of Iraq inquiry report in what appears to be one last attempt to stifle the information from many who would know some of the fine detail. Instead the next of kin will be offered a summary report.
It should not be forgotten that Blair committed British forces to (an unjustified) war where MoD figures show that on top of 453 British deaths in Afghanistan, more than 7,300 were treated in field hospital for battlefield injuries, non-combat wounds or disease. In Iraq, there were 173 deaths and 5,800 were treated in field hospitals. In addition, as many as 75,000 British service personnel may have been left wounded, sick or psychologically harmed following the UK’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military charity has warned. All this now the responsibility of the families and taxpayer to clear up.
The Chilcot report will no doubt be branded as yet another ‘whitewash’ in a conflict that has turned out to be a bloodbath in the Middle East that continues to this day with no sight of real peace, law or order into the foreseeable future.