From Maxwell to Chilcot: Delaying tactics stand to ruin credibility in the Iraq Inquiry


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The name of that rogue businessman, Robert Maxwell, who drowned in 1991, lingers like a bad smell. In 1971 trade inspectors published a report arguing that Mr Maxwell was unfit to run a public company. They were right, but Mr Maxwell was able to argue that he should have been forewarned and given a chance to defend himself before the report was published. The point was taken.

Forty-four years on, the Iraq Inquiry, chaired by Sir John Chilcot, is entangled in the endless process of “Maxwellisation”, as politicians and civil servants named in the draft report battle to protect their reputations.

This is not the sole reason that the Chilcot report has been delayed for so long. There were arguments with the US government over which documents could be declassified, then the illness and death of the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the members of the Chilcot panel. But it is “Maxwellisation” that is now holding up proceedings. It is a very frustrating and unsatisfactory state of affairs: 12 years have passed since Tony Blair sent British troops into Iraq. The inquiry opened, belatedly, in November 2009. Hearings ended in February 2011, and still there is no word about when we might see a report.

Sir John and his team may well feel caught between a rock and a hard place. They dare not cut short the process until every objection from every lawyer representing any of the named individuals from Mr Blair to some middle-ranking intelligence officer has been answered, but the longer this process goes on, the more it attracts suspicion and ridicule.

This is the British Establishment at its worst, using delay to avoid controversy. Sooner or later – preferably sooner – Sir John will have to rule that this has gone on long enough. Let us hope the report, when it comes, is worth the wait.