Chilcot inquiry must investigate abuse claims, say lawyers

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The man heading the inquiry examining events surrounding the Iraq war faces growing pressure to ensure that the most serious allegations facing the British Army are not brushed under the carpet.

Lawyers representing Iraqis who claim to have been tortured and abused and their family members murdered believe the full account of Britain's role in the conflict must include the treatment of prisoners and detainees.

Sir John Chilcot, a retired career civil servant, has promised to produce a "full and insightful" investigation that will begin hearing evidence today. But critics have asked whether a committee chosen by Downing Street can be independent of the Government. Questions concerning the alleged behaviour of a minority of officers and soldiers have not yet been addressed in Sir John's assessment of his task.

But Sir John has insisted he and his four colleagues are impartial and open-minded. "When you set up an independent inquiry of this sort, you set the members of it free to do what they will," he said. "Our determination is to do not merely a thorough job but one that is frank and will bear public scrutiny. All five members of the committee are now completely independent, from different perspectives and bodies of experience."

Opposition politicians have also asked why a barrister will not be used to cross-examine politicians and civil servants. Instead, the committee will question witnesses. But Sir John said he was conducting an investigation, not a trial or a court hearing. He believes the fact he has access to all government records will deter people from lying because, as he puts it, "the stuff is there on paper anyway".

In the run-up to Christmas, witnesses called will include senior officials, diplomats and military officers. Tony Blair, who signed off the war, will give evidence in early 2010. Sir John said his team had been working its way through an "absolute mountain range" of documentary evidence. Members have also met the families of most of the 179 British service personnel who lost their lives in the campaign, which began with the US-led invasion of 2003. Through this work, some of the main areas the inquiry will focus on have become clear, he said. They included the perennial issue of resources, the interaction between political decision-making and military planning, and aftercare for the bereaved and wounded.

Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing the victims and their families, wants the Government to set up a separate inquiry looking at all the allegations of abuse. The Government has already opened an inquiry into the killing of the Basra hotel receptionist Baha Mousa and the Ministry of Defence is investigating 33 further allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq.

Who's who: The Iraq inquiry

*Sir John Chilcot

Retired career civil servant. A member of the Butler Inquiry in the run-up to the Iraq war and a former staff counsellor for the security and intelligence agencies, prompting claims he is an unsuitable choice.

*Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman

Professor of war studies at King's College, London, and expert on security issues. Advocate of humanitarian intervention in Afghanistan and Kosovo

*Sir Martin Gilbert

Historian specialising in the 20th century who has lectured widely on international affairs. Work includes several volumes on Winston Churchill. Accompanied both John Major and Gordon Brown on official Middle East visits.

*Sir Roderic Lyne

A career diplomat until 2004. A special adviser to BP, which has interests in Iraq, and deputy chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

*Baroness Prashar of Runnymede

Former director of the Runnymede Trust. Chair of the sub-committee on Lords' interests and inaugural chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission.