Chilcot: verdict on those sitting in judgement
One interrogator stands out on the panel, while another looks a bit out of her depth, says Michael Savage
Monday 25 January 2010
SIR JOHN CHILCOT
Former permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office. Member of the Butler inquiry. The occasional anecdotes, nervous cough and oddly frantic panting of Sir John soon raised concerns that the inquiry chairman was more an old-fashioned English eccentric than an interrogator filled with iconoclastic zeal. Those fears were not eased when Sir John asked one perplexed witness: "Was there anything, any juice in the lemon to be squeezed out of trying to peer behind the curtain into the mind of the regime of Saddam?" He told another that his question did "not deserve an answer". Many also questioned why someone involved in writing the Butler Report, into the use of intelligence before the Iraq invasion, should sit on a related inquiry. But he did step in to help colleagues as Alastair Campbell and Jack Straw tried to avoid answering uestions. He has defended his team against the criticisms it has faced, saying that evidence sessions were not designed as "public sport or entertainment". VERDICT: **
SIR RODERIC LYNE
British ambassador in Moscow, 2000-04. From day one, Sir Roderic has demonstrated the greatest willingness to take on witnesses. He has picked up on key language used by Blair, suggesting there is no evidence that confirms Blair's claim that the threat of Saddam was "growing". His questioning also led to the revelation that Blair assured George Bush in notes that Britain would "be there" if military action was needed. Yet some felt he was not tough enough with Jack Straw. He also allowed Straw lengthy musings on the economist, JM Keynes, and the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, before he answered. Still, he remains the one to watch this week. VERDICT: ****
SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN
Professor of War Studies, King's College, London. Concerns over Sir Lawrence's impartiality were apparent from the day the inquiry team was announced. It was already known that the historian advised Tony Blair in 1999 on his Chicago speech, in which the then Prime Minister outlined his support for liberal interventionism. Sir Lawrence also arranged a No10 seminar on Iraqi society. But Sir Lawrence has become keenly interested in the September 2002 dossier, which set out Blair's case for taking action against Saddam. He appears to have grave concerns over Blair claim that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. VERDICT: ***
BARONESS PRASHAR OF RUNNYMEDE
Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission. Onlookers and inquiry witnesses have been perplexed by the performance of Baroness Prashar. Her selection led to accusations of tokenism; she was the last member of the team to be appointed after complaints that no women were on the committee. But the real worries about her arose when she appeared to misunderstand some of the evidence and struggled to get to grips with the chronology of events. While those early problems seem to have disappeared, most of her interventions are merely to "clarify" earlier answers. Tony Blair will not lose sleep over any questions she may have .VERDICT: No stars
SIR MARTIN GILBERT
Historian. Official biographer of Wintson Churchill. Sir Martin is well aware of the strong feelings about the Iraq war. He revealed that two of his children were in the march against military action in 2003. Yet, for most of the public hearings, the historian has been a passive figure. When he has addressed witnesses, he has shown a nerdish interest in the workings of government departments and how different areas of Whitehall worked with each other. Insiders say his real value is behind the scenes, with his skill in analysing the tens of thousands of government documents handed to the inquiry. He has had plenty of practice. His forensic biography of Sir Winston Churchill ran into six volumes.VERDICT: *
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