Thursday, June 18, 2009

Retreat? Hutton and Butler 'back public Iraq inquiry'

The Independent are reporting that Gordon Brown might be forced by Labour backbenchers into an embarrassing U-turn over his decision to hold the Iraq war inquiry almost totally in secret.

Backbenchers are threatening to inflict a humiliating Commons defeat on the Prime Minister next week.

And in a further blow to Mr Brown, two peers who chaired previous inquiries into aspects of the Iraq conflict, Lord Hutton and Lord Butler of Brockwell, support the bulk of the evidence to be heard in public, The Independent has learnt.

Their views undermine the Government's claim that the best way to learn lessons would be for the inquiry to be held in private.

The decision to hold the inquiry in private was a simply dreadful one and any action which backbenchers can take to change that is to be welcomed.

However, even that won't really be enough. There is also the question of apportioning blame.

Brown, by demanding that the inquiry does not apportion blame, is essentially demanding that it be toothless.

He wants it to be about "lessons we could learn" rather than what most us us would like it to be about, an inquiry into why we ended up fighting this war in the first place.

The British general with the most extensive involvement in the Iraq campaign said the inquiry should be held in public. Major General Tim Cross, who was intimately involved in the planning and military operation, and appointed deputy to the US General Jay Garner to head the authority running Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, told The Independent: "This inquiry should be in public as much as possible, and then, if necessary, go into private sessions to hear sensitive intelligence-related testimonies. I can see no reason at all why I cannot give my evidence in public if I am called before the inquiry.

"It is vitally important that there is a thorough review of what took place, both pre and post war.

"This would be of enormous benefit not only to the military, but other government departments as well... [and] in planning current and future operations in Afghanistan and military missions in which we may become involved." In private evidence given to the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Lord Hutton and Lord Butler agreed that secret inquiry hearings into Iraq could not be justified given the interest in the war.

When Brown wonders why the expenses scandal has caused such a breakdown in public respect for the government, he really should include the Iraq war in his calculation as to why the government are held in such contempt.

Most people believe we were lied into going to war in Iraq.

There is no way to win public respect for any inquiry into that war which does not look into that fact. Even if the inquiry ultimately decides that Blair acted in good faith, it should at the very least attempt to answer the many questions which the public have regarding this conflict.

Was it legal? Was it necessary? When was the decision made to invade? Was the evidence cherry picked to make the case for war? Why weren't the UN inspectors allowed to finish their work? Did the Attorney General change his mind regarding the wars legality... and why?

Any inquiry that doesn't answer all the questions we all have regarding this war won't be an inquiry at all. It will be a whitewash. And we've already had one of them.

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