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The sooner the Chilcot report comes out, the sooner the haters can cry, ‘Whitewash!’

Opponents of the Iraq invasion are bound to see the latest delay as further evidence of Establishment perfidy

John Rentoul
Wednesday 21 January 2015 09:50 GMT

Some people’s conviction that they disagreed with the Iraq war has been strengthened by the failure so far of the Chilcot inquiry to publish its report.

Which is one good reason for publishing the report several years ago. On the other hand, if it had been published several years ago, that would also have reinforced the certainty of some opponents, because it would have been denounced as a whitewash. But at least we would have got it over with.

Whenever the report is eventually published, it will be denounced by the unreasoning antis, because it will fail to find that Tony Blair invented weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to join the military action.

Now, though, it is the delay that is the great crime. It is obvious, isn’t it, that someone must be hiding something? Well, no. Those of us who thought the decision to join the American invasion in 2003 was justified also want the report to be published. It will confirm that the decisions at the time were made in good faith on the available evidence. It will confirm that Saddam Hussein’s chemical and biological weapons were a given – accepted at the time even by those who disagreed with military action.

And the publication of Blair’s conversations with George Bush would only show how impressive the Prime Minister’s advice to the President was.

So why the delay? I tried to explain some of the complexities here. One of the inquiry’s mistakes, possibly fearful of being accused of a cover-up, was to try to publish as much of the Cabinet minutes and the Bush-Blair conversations as possible. This required line-by-line negotiation with the Cabinet Office, which has a moral as well as a legal duty to preserve the 30-year rule (now being reduced to 20). This rule is worth observing not for the sake of Bush and Blair but for that of their successors, who need to know that their conversations are confidential.

Another problem has been the illness of Martin Gilbert, one of the panel members, who was originally the report’s lead author. A third has been the ambition of the inquiry in trying to tell a comprehensive history of Iraq policy before and after the invasion. And a fourth has been the Maxwellisation process, now in train, of putting sections of the draft report that are critical of individuals to those people so that they have the right to comment.

I understand that more people have been criticised than expected, and that, although politicians are used to criticism, some of the officials concerned might be taking it badly. If lawyers are involved, the whole business was bound to drag on.

As for ulterior motives for delay, I can think of one possibility. It is that the panel saw what happened to Brian Hutton, the former judge of unimpeachable integrity, when he came to the only reasonable conclusion on the evidence in his inquiry, the third of five, which was that the Government did not invent or “sex up” its case for military action.

It would not be surprising if John Chilcot and his colleagues privately decided that they would rather meet the Wall of Blair Hate later rather than sooner.

Which is a pity, because the delay merely feeds the beast. It is a democratic scandal that the report is not being published before the election, says Sanctimony Clegg. No it isn’t. The inquiry was set up to learn the lessons of Iraq war (shorter Chilcot: don’t do that again), not to provide a verdict. It was explicitly not a judicial process, and if you want a democratic verdict, that was passed by the British people when they re-elected the Blair government in 2005.

Nothing has changed since then. Hardly anyone has changed their mind. Little new has come to light as a result of the Chilcot inquiry. One important thing the inquiry established is that Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General, thought military action was unlawful before he thought it was lawful. But his final judgment was the right one, and it was the one that counts.

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