Saturday 5 December 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: The insistent doubts about Chilcot's tame professor
It's supposed to be an inquiry but there's not much sign of any inquiring going on. I have been studiously following reports of the current investigation into the Iraq war and have even seen bits of it on television and I have yet to read or see a single case of any of the five-strong panel asking a question of those giving evidence. One by one the civil servants and the army generals queue up to say their piece and that's about all there is to it.
The lack of probing questions ought not to surprise us given the composition of the panel, all of them with close links to the political establishment. One of them, our old friend Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, pictured, of King's College London, provided further evidence of this when during Tuesday's session he volunteered the information that he had "instigated" a pre-war seminar for Blair to discuss Iraq because, he said, "I was aware of misgivings among some specialists in Iraq about the direction of policy". He added that this was "my only direct engagement in Iraq policy making". We were not told how a professor of history came to be in a position to organise such a seminar for the Prime Minister, nor, for that matter, whether there might have been some indirect engagements subsequently on the part of Freedman.
This hitherto unreported seminar is further proof of Sir Lawrence's close links to Blair. We already know that he provided the bones of a speech Blair made in Chicago in 1999 justifying the military intervention in rogue states. Later, in a TV interview, Freedman spoke of the "rather noble criteria" which lay behind the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In a more scrupulous society than that in which we nowadays live there would be calls for Professor Freedman to resign from the inquiry.
And not a judge to be seen
There were no High Court Judges to be seen at Ludovic Kennedy's crowded memorial service in Oxford Cathedral on Monday. But one of their most notable victims, Billy Power of the Birmingham Six, was sitting alongside me in the same pew, as was the Guildford Four's indefatigable lawyer Gareth Peirce. Judges tended to abominate Ludo particularly because they regarded him as a traitor to his class. How infuriating it must have been for the late Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane, who airily dismissed the Birmingham Six appeal in 1987, to be reminded that Ludo, who savaged the verdict, still looked on him as a friend with whom he had played "the odd round of golf".
Judges are generally treated with exaggerated respect, especially by barristers. As a result they come to resent any criticism from the likes of Ludovic Kennedy, or any journalists for that matter. Mr Justice David Eady, who nowadays has a virtual monopoly of all libel actions, this week launched a ferocious attack on the media for their general disrespect of people in his position. This "personal abuse" was deplorable, he said. And in the meantime, according to a report in the Guardian, he had been "profoundly hurt" by the recent attacks in the press.
We have heard this kind of thing before from judges. Lord Hutton was equally hurt and resentful when the press generally labelled his report a whitewash. Lord Denning, another of Ludo's targets, said it was better for innocent men like Billy Power to be kept in prison (or even hanged) if only to maintain the public's confidence in the legal system.
It's never safe to send an email
If only those professors at East Anglia University's Climate Research Unit had committed their thoughts about global warming to a postcard instead of sending one another emails, the world would have been spared a major upheaval which has now culminated in the United Nations commissioning a full-scale investigation into the affair.
High-level scientists probably know better than any of us that emails are an extremely dangerous form of communication, if what is being communicated is in any way confidential or compromising. They are virtually impossible to delete and hackers seem to have little difficulty in gaining access to them.
Yet there is a never-ending stream of stories of men and women being disgraced and discredited by their emails. It all confirms my view that emailing for many people has become an addictive activity involving the suspension of any rational thought processes. And that goes for the internet as a whole. Watch anyone Googling and the chances are that you will see a human being in the grip of an uncontrollable urge – once they start they will find it almost impossible to stop.
The Government's feisty digital champion Martha Lane Fox, above with Gordon Brown, recently pointed out that there are 10 million of us who want nothing to do with the internet. She claims – on what evidence it's hard to tell – that we could all save £560 a year by being linked to the web.
Saving money is one thing, but what about saving time by having nothing to do with it? Not only that, but having the assurance that our more lively personal correspondence is safe from unwelcome hackers.
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