Chilcot will not save the damned
Posted on July 6th, 2016

By Dr Kamal Wickremasinghe

Politics and the English Language, the most famous shorter work of George Orwell, is notable for providing a list of writing tips to aspiring writers as well as for its savagely disdainful view of politicians’ use of language. Orwell writes: “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India … and the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face. Political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The reader is likely to be afforded a chance to experience the truth of Orwell’s conclusion today, around 10 AM London time. The occasion marks the release, at last, of the final report of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq; Chilcot’s report is said to be four times as long as War and Peace, containing 2.6 million words. But, as per Orwell’s predictions, the inquiry report is expected to do nothing more than reviving the ugly memory of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s deception of the people of Britain, and the world at large, prior to the illegal invasion of Iraq, in March, 2003.

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The report is unlikely to conclude that Blair’s government lied to the world about the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq as justification for launching an illegal war. Chilcot will not hold Tony Blair or anyone else to account. Reports on early drafts suggest that Chilcot will only impugn government ministers, legal advisers, civil servants, army commanders and intelligence officials about their misdeeds. So, in 24 to 48 hours, the British establishment, and Hugo Swire, can go back to pursuing Sri Lanka!

Indeed, the story of the Chilcot Inquiry itself is as putrid as Blair’s original lies and deception it purported to investigate. Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown, set up the inquiry, back in 2009, with commission to examine the British government processes leading up to the invasion of Iraq and in its aftermath. The broad terms of reference embraced the dynamics of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq invasion, the military action and its aftermath, covering the period between 2001 and 2009; The expressed objective was to establish the mechanics of the decision-making process that led to the disaster, and to identify necessary changes in the British constitutional arrangement to prevent a recurrence.

The report, to be released today, after an inordinate delay of seven years – more than 10 years since the invasion of Iraq – makes it an irrelevance due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, the inquiry did not seek to hold Tony Blair responsible for the murder and torture of Iraqis by British soldiers in Basra and elsewhere in Iraq, as the concept of war crimes at the heart of international law requires; John Chilcot’s announcement at the opening of the inquiry that his intention was not to ‘apportion blame’ but to ‘get to the heart of what happened’ was an attempt to manage public expectations of true justice. Its commission did not include exploratory forays into the war crimes committed by Blair or the illegality of his disgraceful actions. Secondly, the impediments placed by the British government, by way of limiting the publication of crucial information available to the inquiry, made even its modest aims unachievable.

The failure of the Chilcot inquiry was due largely to undermining by Tony Blair through the offices of David Cameron who assumed prime minister ship in 2010, a year after it was set up; Under Blair’s instructions, Cameron first tried to prevent the inquiry proceeding altogether and later did everything possible to stifle its effective operation. Later events provided solid evidence that Blair had persuaded Cameron to hamstring the inquiry, primarily by restricting access to crucial information and by preventing the publication of other important documents. A sequence of purpose-designed legal and other procedural barriers imposed by David Cameron by withholding written electronic evidence reduced the inquiry report to a worthless pile of paper.

Chilcot Inquiry lacked competence and operated in a vacuum

Even before the information ‘road blocks’ were put in place, the Chilcot Inquiry’s capacity to properly inquire in to the subject matter at hand had been curtailed by constituting a panel that lacked the relevant professional backgrounds: the members ‘chosen’ did not include any military experts, lawyers with proven inquisitorial skills or elected representatives. Sir John Chilcot was a former diplomat and his team comprised Roderic Lyne, another former diplomat, two history professors — Lawrence Freedman of King’s College London and Martin Gilbert, an Oxford don with acknowledged Mossad contacts. The other member was Usha Kumari Prashar (Baroness), a member of the House of Lords.

It was clear from the outset that the Chilcot Inquiry included no members with the legal background or capability needed to address the substantive legal issues that arose from Blair’s actions. During a parliamentary debate over the establishment of the inquiry, MPs from all the major parties noted that the membership of the inquiry panel did not provide the requisite expertise or impartiality to enable a rigorous examination of Blair’s dishonesty; The former British Ambassador Oliver Miles wrote an article in The Independent on Sunday (21 November 2009) questioning the appointment of two historians, at the insistence of Tony Blair and his puppet-master Peter Mandelson, purely on the basis of their ardent support for Israel. The appointment of Gilbert (Churchill’s biographer) in particular, was criticised due to his recorded previous comparisons of Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill. Martin Gilbert died in February, 2015, during the inquiry process.

This collective lack of competence in the panel was compounded by the cunning devices and processes put in place by David Cameron to systematically deny public exposure of information that was crucial for an ‘open’ inquiry as required: six months in to the inquiry, by October 2009, the British Government published a Protocol, in agreement with the Chilcot Inquiry, that “sensitive” information will not be made available to the public; In 2012, Cameron got his Attorney General to embargo the release of more than 200 minutes of records of Cabinet meetings held in the days leading up to the invasion. The information was crucial if the inquiry was ever to “get to the heart of what happened” as promised by Chilcot.

The veto also covered the release of more than 130 records of “conversations” between Bush and Blair and 25 notes from Blair to Bush. Cameron also got the Foreign Office to block the disclosure of extracts of a conversation between Bush and Blair moments before the invasion. Such concealment of evidence was justified by Cameron on the basis of a “significant danger” to British-American relations. A leaked diplomatic cable revealed, however, that the British Ministry of Defence had promised the US to “put measures in place to protect your interests” during the inquiry. Cameron’s limiting of public exposure of crucial information via the Chilcot Inquiry, constituted a ‘moral crime’ that matched Blair’s heinous war crimes record.

Legal procedures connected to some of the bans on information hopelessly delayed the progress of the inquiry to as late as 2015, just as Cameron and Blair had intended. The release of the report was deferred again on account of the May 2015 general election. In August 2015,the report was further delayed into 2016 due to the legal requirement of “Maxwellisation” – a process through which all people criticised in the report are granted a fair opportunity to comment prior to finalisation and publication. Finally, in October 2015 Chilcot proposed a release date of July 2016.

The nub of Blair’s crimes

It is a sign of the shameful US-British manipulation of global power politics that George W. Bush and Tony Blair have not been held accountable for the war crimes committed in the murder of 750 000 Iraqis in a patently illegal “shock and awe” bombing campaign perpetrated by them. The UN Security Council has not been allowed to pursue the case vigorously enough. Prosecutors at the ‘kangaroo court’ of the International Criminal Court (ICC), known only for its pursuit of alleged war crimes by Black African nations, have already ruled out putting Tony Blair on trial for war crimes. Despite the sacrifice of lives of 179 British soldiers, the British government could never be expected to allow the truth about Blair’s dishonesty to surface.

The Chilcot Inquiry only ever anticipated investigating Blair’s “lesser crimes” of manipulation of the democratic process to commit Britain to a war by lying about non-existing intelligence on WMD that never existed in Iraq. Added to these abuses would be Blair’s brushing-off of legal advice that the invasion would be illegal. At the root of Blair’s enthusiasm for committing of Britain to the invasion however, was the unqualified commitment he had given to George W. Bushin 2002, unbeknown to the House of Commons and the British Cabinet.

Tony Blair has always sworn, before the Chilcot Inquiry and elsewhere, that he never committed Britain to war at Bush’s Crawford ranch in March 2002. He also told voters until shortly before the invasion that he was not proposing military action; Blair’s version of events was that he agreed with Bush on the need to confront Saddam Hussein without getting into ‘specifics’.

Unhindered publication of the records of conversations between Blair and Bush would have been the only measure that would have helped the British public and the world conclusively determine whether Blair committed the UK to back US invasion in 2002; This is the reason why the US government colluded with Blair to claim ownership of all critical pre and post-war communications between Bush and Blair, refusing to sanction any declassification. On the British side, Blair and David Cameron joined hands and hid behind a 20 years rule of disclosure.

At the near completion of the Chilcot Inquiry, on 15 October 2015, however, the truth surfaced unexpectedly, through a leaked Secret Memo from the then Secretary of State Colin Powell to George W. Bush. The leak almost certainly came from Powell himself, who was deeply unhappy about being forced to lie before the UNSC in his 5 February, 2003 presentation of the American case for war against Iraq, against the background of Pablo Picasso’s anti-war mural tapestry “Guernica” covered up with a blue shroud.

Written a week before Bush’s secretive “summit” with Blair at his Crawford ranch in Texas on 28March 2002, almost exactly a year before the actual atrocity — with Blair’s wife, daughter and mother-in-law in tow – proved in explicit terms that Blair had committed Britain to the invasion. Revealingly, Powell also notes in the Memo that apart from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, Blair’s Cabinet and 90 per cent of the British public are unconvinced that military action is warranted now. Sir Christopher Meyer, who accompanied Blair to the Crawford ranch as Britain’s Ambassador to the US, but was excluded from the private meetings, informed the inquiry that he was ‘not entirely clear to this day, of what was agreed at the secretive meeting’. Five months after the Crawford “summit”, Blair produced the notorious ‘45 minutes from doom’ bogus dossier on Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD. The disclosure was crucial enough to have forced John Chilcot to reopen his inquiry but nothing of the sort happened.

As to Blair keeping his Cabinet in the dark, Lord Butler, the former Cabinet Secretary who chaired the 2004 Review on Intelligence on WMD in Iraq has accused Blair of deliberately preventing his ministerial colleagues from seeing important data in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. Butler said that none of “a lot of very good official papers” and the attorney general’s advice were circulated to the cabinet. Butler told the House of Lords on 22 February, 2007, that Tony Blair was being ‘disingenuous’ because intelligence reports presented to him, on 23 August, 2002, had unequivocally conveyed that “we know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1998”. Butler reminded that Blair lied to parliament a month later claiming that the picture painted by the intelligence services was ‘extensive, detailed and authoritative’.

Despite such official advice, Blair wrote in the Foreword to the Dossier presented to the parliament, “I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme.”

Much of the most damning evidence in the public domain about Blair’s deceptive behaviour has been corroborated by the most senior civil servants who advised Blair at the relevant time: the former Head of the civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell, told the inquiry, in 2010, that Blair was “reluctant” to hold Cabinet discussions about. Blair did not believe his Cabinet was “a safe space” in which to debate the issues involved in going to war. He added that the records of informal meetings held under Blair were not “as complete as” he would have liked.

Sir William Ehrman, director general for defence and intelligence between 2002 and 2004, told the inquiry that the government received intelligence days, before invading Iraq, that Saddam Hussein did not have chemical weapons.

The UK’s ambassador to the UN at the time, Sir Jeremy Greenstock said advice had been provided that the invasion was of “questionable legitimacy” as it was not backed by the majority of UN members or possibly even the British public. In separate evidence, former Cabinet Secretary Lord Wilson said that he alerted Blair to the legal issues involved with the intention of halting military action.

History will be the judge

Public inquiries in democracies aim to serve many purposes: they aim to establish facts and make recommendations to prevent incidents from recurring. One of their key roles is to hold those in authority to account.

The British history with public enquiries however, has been “mixed”, to put it mildly. Such inquiries appear to have a habit of turning in to devices designed and conducted by the British political class to keep the lid on its disastrous and dishonest activities.

A case in point is the 1916 Dardanelles Commission of inquiry in to the role of Winston Churchill as First Sea Lord in instigating the disastrous plan and the incompetent military decisions he made as a battalion commander (while remaining a Member of Parliament) during the Dardanelles Campaign of the First War. The appointment of Churchill’s close friend the Earl of Cromer chairman and events such as the commission holding its meetings in secret and the mysterious drowning death of Field Marshal Kitchener, who had been secretary of state for war a month before the establishment of the commission failed to instil confidence in the minds of the public. As expected, Churchill went scot-free in 1919 with the commission concluding that the campaign had been poorly planned and executed and problems were exacerbated by personality clashes at high levels. The “personality clashes” was a cryptic reference to Churchill’s obstinate war decision making, without ever having had any military experience, against the advice of Ian Hamilton, the general in command.

Similarly, the Chilcot Inquiry has faced widespread public criticism from its outset in 2009: many hearings took place in secret and there were protracted disputes with the government over the publication of Cabinet Office minutes and memos between Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

Chilcot is reported to have criticised Blair for the decision to join the US-led coalition and lying to parliament, stopping well short of accusing him of anything. Chilcot is thought to have criticised British military generals heavily for accepting the role in running Basra in the south of Iraq that led to besieged UK forces scrambling in 2007, marking possibly the greatest ever humiliation of their military might.

It will be too much to expect the Chilcot Inquiry to find the correct words to describe Tony Blair’s bigger atrocities on Iraqi people. The report is expected to have sought refuge in euphemisms; Chilcot is also likely to sprinkle his report with “terminological inexactitudes” – the phrase Churchill devised to describe lies.

As much as Blair’s lies may have debauched the standards of public life in Britain, they fail in to insignificance when compared with his war crimes in Iraq. It must never be forgotten that Blair’s (and Bush’s) deception caused the loss of life of 750,000 Iraqi women, children and men. The result of deposing Saddam Hussein on false pretences and setting up a Shia majority government is clearly behind the sectarian fury that led to the creation of IS, with disastrous impact on the world. Blair will be damned by history irrespective of what Chilcot says in his report.

From a Sri Lankan point of view, until Britain cleans its own backyard of the blood of war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere, countries like Sri Lanka are entitled to discard their uninvited lessons on morality as hypocritical garbage.

2 Responses to “Chilcot will not save the damned”

  1. aloy Says:

    Perhaps this is a deviatory tactics. Why release this report at this particular time?. I think they want to divert the attention of the world from Brixit to save their economy.

  2. plumblossom Says:

    The US and the UK and actually the EU etc. all wanted regime change in Iraq so that the secular Arab nationalist and a socialist government of Saddam Hussein who has used oil revenues to benefit its people rather than Western oil companies could be deposed and a puppet government installed in order to obtain a large number of contracts on considerable favourable terms in order to dominate the oil industry of Iraq. For that they installed a puppet government. They also created an unstable situation in terms of different factions within Iraq being in conflict with each other which is never ending. These factions now include Islamic terrorists who were not around when Saddam Hussein was in power. Now it is even more easier to obtain the Iraqi oil at very concessional terms for the Western oil companies what with all the fighting going on and the instability. A similar regime change took place in Libya where the leader Ghaddafi who has used oil revenues to develop the country rather than privatizing oil extraction, was deposed and a puppet government installed. Similar changes took place in Tunisia, Egypt etc. where things are no better and probably are worse than before. Therefore it is obvious that the objectives of the US, UK, EU were actually very successful in Iraq. The only outcome however for the Iraqi people is disaster, war, conflict and mayhem. It is a good lesson for Sri Lanka where people wanted a ‘change’ and now Sri Lankans are realizing what change means which is partition of the country with federal states being created, unstable situation in terms of federal states, puppet government, extremely bad economy, instead of reconciliation, appeasing separatists who are favourable to US, UK, EU interests etc.

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