The recent news that the publication of Sir John Chilcot’s Inquiry into the Iraq war was to be delayed once again was met with a mixture of responses from the British public, frustration, anger, indifference, and maybe inevitability?
And after 6 years, since its inception and 4 years since the last witness gave any evidence many are starting to think that the eventual publication, once all of the bureaucratic legal and administrative arguments have been played out to their full, will now just be a pointless exercise.
Those who have not already made their mind up over the UK government's conduct before and during the Iraq war may also be disappointed with any eventual report that has so much redacted and so many criticisms of individuals watered down due to legal challenge. The report itself could end up competing with the original “Dodgy Dossier” which started this whole sorry affair, for the prized title of “most fabricated inadequate official document of the last 20 years”
In fact government inquiries of all shapes, colours and sizes are now becoming so “last century”. They all take an age to be agreed to, even longer to be set up, they then sit for years, prevaricate for months more, if not years, and are then challenged by all and sundry before publication and published only at a time when most of the world has either moved on, or are distracted by a more current, pressing Government cock up to want to spend too much time on reflection of past errors.
So perhaps I should now be the first to call for a Public Inquiry into Public Inquiry’s? That should keep the Westminster establishment in gainful employment for a few more years.
But do we really need any of them? In this age of WikiLeaks and instant internet news traffic isn’t the truth already out there? Doesn't this change in the information available to all allow us to judge matters more for ourselves without the complications of legal challenge and obfuscation from unwilling witnesses. And are there no other witnesses additional to those called by the great and good that can assist us in the search for the truth?
OK so I admit, I am not a Lord, nor a Knight and highly unlikely to become either, but isn’t my testimony just as valid? For example who would be best to pass judgement on the actions of Ministers and the Prime Minister than one of the small group of Labour MP’s who voted against the Iraq war at the time and also spent endless hours being badgered by both Ministers and the whips office into trying to see things their way and to move my vote into the Government lobby?
And when it comes to secret transcripts of discussions between George Bush Jnr and Tony Blair I also unfortunately have history!
Not a day goes by when I wish I couldn't undo that history and unknow what I know, and thus have the opportunity over again to prevent an innocent friend being imprisoned for the folly of others in leaking a report that in the end caused far more trouble than it could have ever resolved.
The law and the Official secrets act prevent me to this day disclosing the contents of some of those discussions and documents, but I can’t ignore their content and I AM entitled to an opinion, so for what its worth lets brush Chilcot aside for the time being and instead publish the findings of the Clarke Inquiry into the five key Questions posed by the Guardian newspaper at the time, related to the Governments conduct before and during the Iraq War!
1) What assurances did Tony Blair give George Bush about Britain's involvement in the war with Iraq?
Well despite Tony Blair’s insistence of innocence I have no personal doubt that when he met with George Bush in Crawford in April 2002 that he gave personal assurances to the President, of Britain’s support for military action in Iraq. What may never be known of course is how “unconditional” that support was.
Yes it could be argued that Blair was buying for time, to get not only the UK Parliament but also other EU leaders on board, but I find it incomprehensible to believe that the understanding between the two of them after that visit was that Britain was thereafter on board, no matter what.
The Prime Minister of course subsequently denied this when telling Parliament in July 2002 that
“No. There are no decisions which have been taken about military action."
But did he mean no decisions by his Cabinet or the UK Government or no decision by him?
2) Was Tony Blair warned by Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, and Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, that regime change was not a lawful justification for invasion? And what happened between 7 March and 17 March 2003 to make Goldsmith change his views about the legality of an invasion?
My belief here is that history itself, proves the case. Why else go through the charade of having civil servants construct and promote the since exposed “Dodgy Dossier” on Weapons of Mass destruction?
The Prime Ministers weakness in my view was that he trusted those closest around him far too much, without ever understanding that the “New Labour” way was to always agree at all costs with your masters and suppress any doubts in your mind in fear of losing position or favour.
My conversations with whips and ministers at the time were riddled with references to “You may well be right Tony, there may not be any legal justification, but we have gone far too far to back down now” so Lord Goldsmith supposed warnings if given must have been watered down or forgotten in the interim
3) Why did the intelligence agencies allow themselves to be used?
Why else are they there? Lord Butler and MI6 may well have glossed over the "who did what when" questions and tried to divert the attention onto the role of the American Intelligence agencies, but for me it was always a case of how can any intelligence from any source be used as cheerleader for the Government intent and as a smokescreen as to what “couldn’t be revealed due to interests of national Security”.
4) Did the government delay military preparations?
Now here’s a surprise. On this charge I find the Government and the Prime minister, not guilty on all charges.
Any lack of preparation and or logistic availability of equipment, body armour or vehicles in my mind had nothing to do with the political establishment, The MoD have proven themselves time and time over of being capable of cocking this one up completely on their own watch.
I remember discussions I had at the time with Peter Kilfoyle MP for Liverpool Walton, and a former Defence Minister who confirmed my worst fears as to the huge chasm between the military competence of those on those on the ground and the blundering incompetence of the many mandarin’s within Whitehall. It seems since time immemorial that this has ever been the case.
5) What plans were made for Iraq after the invasion?
That’s an easy one, none! Those of us who spoke out and voted against the war in Parliament at the time, tried perhaps more than most, to encourage the Government to agree to an exit plan, or even to acknowledge the dangers of mission creep and wider conflict across the region.
But Tony Blair could never respond because he was never in the driving seat and George Bush was a liability.
As said above I had the misfortune of reading a transcript of one of their musings and discussions post invasion, and when questioned by Special Branch in 2004 they asked me why I held such a poor opinion of the President of the United States, the question was made to sound as if I was committing some form of international treason. I told them that in my personal view President Bush was without doubt the most dangerous man on our planet, and that the true axis of evil he had alluded to himself was situated far closer to the Whitehouse than he had himself proclaimed.
Despite that 4 hour interview being recorded and despite me requesting a copy at the time and in writing thereafter, I have to this day never received a copy.
Earlier in this piece I refer to the restrictions placed upon me by the Official Secrets Act regarding disclosure of the contents of the documents to which I had sight. I will not break those, but also as above I restate my right to an opinion and on the question of the post invasion relationship between President and Prime Minister I would say this, (and Tony Blair, despite our differing opinions might thank me for it) I have no doubt that President Bush was more than willing to breach international law and commit to war crimes in order to further his war aims in Iraq, I believe Tony Blair was often not in agreement with the Presidents opinions, but unfortunately for Britain and for the World our Prime Minister own opinion held little sway in the decision making process, either pre or post invasion. His personal crime for me was in making sure that by hook or by crook we were all, in Parliament and in the wider public realm made or cajoled to agree with him, because of the promises he had made himself in Washington.
The Iraq war was to me a conflict completely instigated, propagated and conducted by America, almost in its entirety, unfortunately for the reputation of our island our own Prime Minister at the time was far too willing to please, too eager to be seen as protector of the “Special relationship” and as a consequence we all became accomplices to crimes against humanity and a new world far more dangerous than the one occupied by the likes of one despotic dictator called Saddam Hussein.