Iraq inquiry

Iraq: The inquiry cover-up that will keep us in the dark

Gordon Brown was accused of strangling the inquiry into the Iraq war at birth yesterday by refusing to let it make public sensitive documents that shed light on the conflict.

A previously undisclosed agreement between Sir John Chilcot's inquiry and the Government gives Whitehall the final say on what information the investigation can release into the public domain. Mr Brown, who initially wanted the inquiry held in private, was forced to climb down earlier this year after an outcry and promised that most of its sessions would be heard in public. He said information would be withheld only when it would compromise national security.

However, a protocol agreed by the inquiry and the Government includes nine wide-ranging reasons under which Whitehall departments can refuse to publish documents disclosed to the investigation. Crucially, disputes between Sir John and the Government over disclosures would be resolved by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

Critics warned that the catch-all exemptions on disclosure could spare the Government from a repeat of the embarrassment it suffered during the Hutton inquiry into the death of the weapons expert David Kelly, when a string of sensitive documents were disclosed.

The agreement allows the Government to stop publication of material which would "cause harm or damage to the public interest" such as national security, international relations or economic interests; breach the disclosure rules of the security services; endanger life or risk serious harm to an individual; breach legal professional privilege; prejudice legal proceedings or a statutory or criminal inquiry; breach the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or Data Protection Act; or be commercially sensitive.

It goes much wider than the reasons for preventing disclosure outlined by Mr Brown in the Commons in June. He said then: "I have asked the members of the committee to ensure that the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information – that is, all except that which is essential to our national security."

Last night Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, likened the clampdown to an episode of Yes Minister, saying that senior civil servants had taken their revenge after the U-turn over private hearings. He appealed to Mr Brown to revise the rules, saying they made a mockery of his promise of a public inquiry.

Mr Clegg told The Independent: "This is tantamount to Whitehall putting a blindfold over the whole process. Chilcot and his colleagues have been completely rolled over and have allowed their hands to be bound before they have even started work. The Government will act as judge and jury on what will be disclosed. That is wholly unacceptable."

Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the Government's independent reviewer of terrorism laws and a Liberal Democrat, said: "The protocol has the potential of turning a tiger into a mouse."

He said the reasons for withholding publication were so broad that "almost everything of interest" could be blocked.

Sources close to the Chilcot inquiry denied that it had been muzzled and said it was happy with the agreement with the Government. They insisted that the presumption was that information would be put in the public domain and that the protocol was designed to underline that. They said that they would "kick up a stink" if they felt documents were being withheld unreasonably. If the Cabinet Office blocked publication, the inquiry could announced that this had happened and why.

Inquiry sources stressed that the agreement would not stop its members having access to sensitive documents – only whether they could be published during the proceedings or in the final report.

Yesterday, the second day of the inquiry heard that Britain received intelligence days before invading Iraq that Saddam Hussein may not have been able to use chemical weapons. Foreign Office official Sir William Ehrman said that a report suggested that such weapons may have been "disassembled", while another report suggested Iraq might also lack warheads capable of spreading chemical agents.

Mr Clegg clashed with Gordon Brown over the rules on disclosing information during Prime Minister's Questions. Mr Clegg said: "It is vital that the Iraq inquiry, which started its work this week, is able to reveal the full truth about the decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq."

The Liberal Democrat leader said the nine reasons why information could be suppressed "have nothing to do with national security and outrageously give Whitehall departments individual rights of veto".

He asked the Prime Minister: "Why did you not tell us about this before? And how on earth are we, and the whole country, going to hear about the whole truth about decisions leading up to the invasion of Iraq if the inquiry is being suffocated on day one by your Government's shameful culture of secrecy?"

Mr Brown referred to exemptions on grounds of damaging national security and international relations. He insisted that the inquiry team were happy with the way they were being asked to carry out their work, saying that Sir John had been "given the freedom to conduct an inquiry in the way he wants".

The Liberal Democrats said they would keep up the pressure on Mr Brown to tear up the agreement to allow more documents to be disclosed. They warned that, as currently drafted, the rules would be even more restrictive than the Freedom of Information Act, which forces the Government to state publicly why requests for disclosure are turned down. In contrast, decisions on the Iraq inquiry material would be taken behind closed doors, they said.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible