The truth will out about Blair and Iraq, whatever the Chilcot Inquiry ends up telling us

The families of the soldiers who died need to know if there was a worthy cause behind the war


With their backs to the wall, but resisting still, are the politicians and civil servants who seek to block the inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot into the calamitous Iraq war. A deal between Sir John and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, was announced on Thursday.

It allows extracts from exchanges between Tony Blair and the former US President, George W. Bush to be published but the full texts will remain secret.

No wonder the political establishment is worried. It is about to be shown as the ineffective, shortsighted, borderline dishonest group of people that it is. A study by the authoritative Royal United Services Institute released this week gave this opinion: “Far from reducing international terrorism … the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] had the effect of promoting it”.

The Iraq war was indeed the worst error in British foreign policy since the unsuccessful invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956.

Confronting the political establishment, pressing on, desperately seeking the truth are, in first place, the families of the 179 British troops who were killed in the conflict and of the 6000 who were wounded.

They cannot come to terms with their losses until they know whether their loved ones died and suffered for a worthy cause. Reginald Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed at the age of 21 in 2003, said on BBC2’s Newsnight programme on Thursday: “I need to draw a line under this and until I know the whole truth I can’t. It will be an open wound until the day I die”.

Pushing forward with the families are the many people who want to understand whether Tony Blair and his administration should answer to something like the ancient accusation of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

It used to be employed in cases involving breaking promises to Parliament, obstructing justice, cronyism and wasting public money. Even now, in the 21st century, the subject matter of Sir John’s inquiry is, in effect, a contemporary version of the antique charge.

Consider the terrible accusations directed against Mr Blair and his colleagues. Here are two from the 15 grounds for complaint often cited. The first is misleading Parliament. Members were told that Britain could legally join an invasion.

We now know, thanks to what the Chilcot Inquiry has already discovered, that the Prime Minister’s chief legal adviser, Lord Goldsmith, did not agree with this assertion.

Next is the charge of misleading the nation over weapons of mass destruction. In a dossier on Iraq published in September 2002, Mr Blair stated in a foreword that it had been established “beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein was producing WMD. None has ever been found.

In that same month, the Prime Minister informed the Commons: “[Saddam's] weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working.”

When the Inquiry team told Mr. Blair that it had not seen evidence indicating that the threat from Saddam was growing at the time of the invasion, the former prime minister conceded this was true. “It wasn't that objectively he had done more. It was that our perception of the risk had shifted.” In other words, what Mr Blair thinks is true is, by definition, true.

Then there is what witnesses to the Inquiry have revealed about the working of the Government. I don’t think of these revelations as being in any way dated or typical of one particular political party. They are the way things have worked for a very long time. The former head of UK armed forces, Admiral Lord Boyce, commented that he suspected that if he had asked half the cabinet whether we were at war, “they wouldn't know what I was talking about”.

Lt Gen Frederick Viggers, Britain's senior military representative in Iraq, said we had been “putting amateurs into really really important positions and people were getting killed as a result of some of their decisions.

It's a huge responsibility and I just don't sense we lived up to it.“ Without naming individuals, he said he blamed those at the highest levels of government. ”I am not talking about the soldiers and commanders and civilians... who did a great job. But it's the intellectual horsepower that drives these things [which] needs better co-ordination,“ he said. Better co-ordination? Is that all that was lacking?

The political establishment began to build its defences on the day the Inquiry was announced by the then prime minister, Gordon Brown. The proceedings would take place in private, he said. This decision was subsequently reversed after receiving criticism in the media and in the House of Commons.

Then the establishment got back to work. It was decided that the Inquiry would be unable to receive evidence under oath. Care was also taken with the membership of the Inquiry.

Although the subject matter was war, there would be nobody on the team with first-hand military expertise. Nor would there be anybody with legal experience even though legality had been an issue from the beginning. One of the members, the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, had once compared Bush and Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill.

Having reached a decision in principle with the Cabinet Secretary, arduous discussions will now take place regarding which documents can be put into the public domain and in what manner. There will be detailed consideration of the so-called “gists” and quotations.

From this will emerge a draft final version of the report – “draft” because the last step is to show it in confidence to those who find themselves criticised in order that they may have a chance to make representations before publication if they think they have been unfairly treated.

However, I don’t think the seekers after truth should be too disheartened. The Chilcot/Heywood deal represents an advance, even if it does not go as far as many of us would wish.

It is possible that the gap that remains between what the establishment finds it inconvenient to disclose and what genuinely touches on national security or on the freedom of heads of government to write frankly to each other is not very wide. We just don’t know whether that is the case or not at the moment.

Yet we live in an age of whistleblowers. We have before us the example of the unauthorised disclosure of literally thousands of classified documents by Edward Snowden, who worked for US intelligence. There will be more leaks. We shall get there in the end.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living