Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iraq inquiry 'must not be held in secret.'

And so, six years after the war began, it is rumoured that Brown will next week - finally - announce an inquiry into why Blair took us to that God forsaken place. However, more worryingly, it is being suggested that this inquiry might be held along the same lines as the Franks inquiry into the 1982 Falklands war, which was mostly in secret.

Last night, as families of the dead said they would march on Downing Street if any of its deliberations were kept secret, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stoked the controversy saying he would boycott the entire investigation if it was not open, wide in its remit and did not report speedily.

Clegg told the Observer that, unless those in charge were granted full access to all documents, could subpoena witnesses, had a remit to look back to events at least a year before the war began and reported within months, the inquiry would be seen as a sham.

He said: "If it does not have this kind of remit, my party will not back it or participate. We are talking about the biggest foreign policy mistake since Suez. To lock a bunch of grandees behind closed doors in secret and wait for them to come up with a puff of smoke, like the election of the pope ... would be an insult."

Clegg added that the inquiry could be held on the lines of an open Commons select committee that the public and press could attend. "This inquiry is an acid test for all of Gordon Brown's talk of reforming British politics," he said.

"If he holds it all or partly in secret and kicks the eventual report into the long grass, it will be a betrayal of all those families who lost children serving in Iraq. They need answers, not another Whitehall stitch-up."

There are so many questions regarding the decision Blair took to go to war which - six years later - remain unanswered.

We have the question of the Attorney Generals advice and his apparent strange change of heart as the war approached. The man who had always insisted that a war without a second resolution would be illegal, did a 180 degree U-turn and suddenly decided that the war would be legal after all, prompting the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, who wrote in her resignation letter:
I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it.

My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March.

I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the Office or to the public or Parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.
If an inquiry is held along the lines of the Franks Inquiry then we will only be presented with the results of the inquiry and will hear nothing about how the inquiry reached the conclusion that it reached.

This would be utterly unsatisfactory. The Hutton report was widely dismissed as a whitewash because it had been held in public and we could all follow the evidence, which was why Hutton's conclusion left most of us shaking our heads.

We have waited six long years for an inquiry into this war. The very least it should be is public. And, more importantly, it should be allowed to look into the reasoning behind the decision to go to war.

Rose Gentle, whose teenage son, Gordon, was killed in Iraq in 2004, said that families who had lost sons and daughters in the conflict would march on Downing Street to protest if the proposed Iraq inquiry was "closed". She said it was vital that the government dispelled concerns over the reasons for invading Iraq.

"What is the point of an inquiry behind closed doors? No family would be happy with that. We already feel that we have been lied to by the government. We don't want any more lies. We would be prepared to go to Downing Street if the inquiry is not transparent."

Philip Cooper, whose son Jamie was the youngest soldier seriously injured in Iraq, said: "Ministers should not treat us like us mushrooms - kept in the dark and fed on shit."

There is an overwhelming feeling that we were lied to in the run-up to this war, nothing other than a full airing of all the evidence will suffice to take that feeling away.

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