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John Chilcot says Iraq war inquiry will not shy away from criticisms
Sir John Chilcot has insisted he was not afraid to criticise those who were in charge at the time of the Iraq war in his long-delayed report into the buildup, handling and aftermath of the 2003 conflict.
In an interview with broadcasters on the eve of publication, the head of the public inquiry moved to preempt accusations of a whitewash by saying there were occasions where he and his fellow panellists had judged that decisions or behaviour would justify a rebuke.
Chilcot said: "I made very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behaviour which deserved criticism then we wouldn't shy away from making it. And, indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that."
His report runs to 12 volumes totalling 2.6 million words, and examines the UK's role in the run-up to the invasion and its aftermath. The Iraq Body Count, which maintains a database of deaths in Iraq, puts the death toll of combatants and civilians from the invasion to the present day at 251,000.
The Chilcot report's main focus is on what commitments Tony Blair gave to George Bush and whether the former prime minister misled the British public over the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be non-existent. Others in line for criticism include the overseas spy agency MI6 for providing inaccurate intelligence and allowing the facts to be souped up for political purposes - and military commanders for failing to stand up to Blair.
Chilcot defended himself against of the length of time the inquiry had taken - seven years - saying its scale was unprecedented. It included an analysis of 150,000 government documents and getting agreement from the government on how much of that could be published.
The former civil servant promised that the report would answer some of the questions raised by families of the dead British soldiers. "The conversations we've had with the families were invaluable in shaping some of the report," Chilcot said.
Some of the families will be at the launch of the report at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, at Westminster. Others will join anti-war protesters outside who are calling for Blair to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes at the international criminal court in The Hague.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, Karen Thornton, whose son Lee was killed in Iraq in 2006, said she was convinced that Blair had exaggerated intelligence about Iraq's capabilities.
"If it is proved that he lied then obviously he should be held accountable for it," she said, adding that meant a trial for war crimes. "He shouldn't be allowed to just get away with it," she said. But she did not express confidence that Chilcot's report would provide the accountability that she was hoping for. "Nobody's going to be held to account and that's so wrong," she said. "We just want the truth."
Chilcot insisted that any criticism would be supported by careful examination of the evidence. "We are not a court - not a judge or jury at work - but we've tried to apply the highest possible standards of rigorous analysis to the evidence where we make a criticism."
It is not clear how anti-war activists will respond to Chilcot's statement that "we are not a court". It reflects the fact that he had no lawyers on his panel and activists are likely to declare the report a whitewash if it fails to declare the war illegal.
Kate Hudson, spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: "It comes down to a principle: where individuals, no matter how lofty, are found to be responsible for crimes, they should face the full force of the law. No one is exempt from justice."
Jeremy Corbyn, who will respond to the report in parliament on Wednesday, is understood to have concluded that international laws are neither strong nor clear enough to make any war crimes prosecution a reality. The Labour leader said last year Blair could face trial if the report found he was guilty of launching an illegal war.
Corbyn is expected to fulfil a promise he made during his leadership campaign to apologise on behalf of Labour for the war. He will speak in the House of Commons after David Cameron, who is scheduled to make a statement shortly after 12.30pm.
Alex Salmond, the former Scottish National party leader, has called for the impeachment of Blair and argues that the findings of the report, even if fails to declare the war illegal, could open the way for legal action.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, said: "Bush and Blair's choices have created a failed state which continues to be the source of extremism and instability across the Middle East."
He added: "Blair knowingly lied to the public to justify this war, and his actions have damaged public trust, damaged the UK's standing in the world and crippled the ability of the UK to make humanitarian interventions. It is time he accepted responsibility and acknowledged his catastrophic mistake."
Geoffrey Robertson, QC, a former United Nations appeal judge and author of Crimes Against Humanity, said the prosecution of the former prime minister as a war criminal was "a legal impossibility".
In an article for the Guardian, Robertson writes: "Both Jeremy Corbyn and Alex Salmond have already hinted that their response to Chilcot will be a wish to put Blair in the dock. This hypothetical, however engaging for television, is a legal impossibility. We need to concentrate on how the law should be changed to ensure that future leaders who wage wars of aggression can be brought to account."
Blair is planning to hold a press conference to deliver a robust response to the findings. He will insist the Shia-Sunni split in Iraq, one of the driving forces of the continuing violence, preceded the invasion and was not the result of the disruption created by the war.
He will claim that Iran and al-Qaida had a role in creating the insecurity inside Iraq after the invasion. At same time, he will acknowledge he is now more cautious about the consequences of unleashing dangerous forces when a strongman such as Saddam Hussein is removed.
He will again apologise for the mistaken intelligence about Saddam's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, but will point to evidence that the Iraqi leader sought to mislead the United Nations weapons inspectors and his own military in order to strengthen his political position inside Iraq.
Blair insists he gave no secret irrevocable pledges to Bush that the UK would go to war and any commitments of solidarity were subject to political support. His attempts to secure a second UN resolution that set tests Saddam needed to meet so as to avoid invasion is presented by Blair as proof there was no pre-ordained invasion.
Blair has previously accepted that the post-war planning was inadequate, but the report is likely to blame Whitehall inadequacy and the lack of expertise in the Foreign Office as well as turf wars in Washington.
The report was delivered to the prime minister at 11am on Tuesday. No one else has received a report, but Downing Street may have sent copies to other senior ministers. Corbyn will not receive a copy until 8am on Wednesday, the same time as the families.
Chilcot is scheduled to make a statement at 11am, lasting 15-20 minutes and the report will go online as soon as he finishes.
Military commanders are expected to face sharp criticism. The head of the army at the time, Sir Mike Jackson, his successor, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, and the then head of military operations and now chief of defence staff, Gen Sir Michael Houghton, are all likely to be criticised for not making adequate preparations for the war and its aftermath.
Admiral Lord Boyce, chief of defence staff at the time, may also face criticism, though he expressed misgivings about the invasion and its consequences.
An internal Ministry of Defence report attacks the ministry for being too "complacent" in the run-up to the invasion.
[Source: By Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton-Taylor and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, London, 06Jul16]
War in Afghanistan & Iraq
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