First published in Pluto Student Newspaper.
The Iraq Inquiry started last week and after serious deliberation over the previous months Gordon Brown said it will be held in public. So we undertook our public duty to attend the hearing on Monday.
Unlike the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, the Iraq Inquiry “is not a court of law. The members of the Committee are not judges, and nobody is on trial.”
Members of the audience were sceptical about this remit.
If evidence is deemed to be a threat to national security, the cloak can be cast back over
proceedings. It will be interesting to see what happens when Blair makes his appearance early next year.
There were no lawyers present, which meant Sir David Manning, former foreign policy adviser to the Prime Minister, spoke at length.
His evidence highlighted the New Labour dependence on unelected advisers. While Condaleeza Rice, then US Secretary of State’s name frequently came up, the UK foreign secretary did not.
Robin Cook had been the Foreign Secretary until he was moved in the 2001 general election.
And the new appointment, Jack Straw was, by Manning’s account, nowhere to be found.
He emphasised that when Bush and Blair met, they did not just talk about Iraq. Which again makes you wonder why the PM was taking such a front seat in someone else’s portfolio.
Largely reading from a document he’d brought in with him, it was almost like he was trying to bury the important things. Or bore everybody so they didn’t come back for the second half.
The man leading the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot was Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies from 1999 to 2004 and the National Criminal Intelligence Service from 2002 to 2006. Both are government intelligence agencies.
Michael Crick, Political Editor of BBC’s Newsnight commented on the appointment of war historian Sir Lawrence Freedman to the inquiry in his blog on the 15th June: “Critics of the war might argue Sir Lawrence was himself one of the causes of the war!
“The professor once told me how, back in 1999, he was contacted by Downing Street seeking his thoughts for a speech on humanitarian intervention which the-then Prime Minister Tony Blair was about to make in Chicago.
“When was military action justified for, liberal, humanitarian reasons?
“Sir Lawrence says he was astonished when he heard and read Mr Blair's famous Chicago speech- perhaps the most important of Blair's premiership - that it was based largely on the memo he had sent to Number 10.
“And the rest was history.”
He went on to question the appointment of another historian, Sir Martin Gilbert: “In 2004, he went so far as to compare US President George W Bush and Mr Blair to Roosevelt and Churchill.
It was also Sir Winston Churchill’s birthday on Monday 30th of November so we took a trip to the cabinet war rooms hidden beneath the ground near 10 Downing Street.
Churchill is known as a great wartime leader, but less is known is the writing he did throughout his life.
Having been to the Inquiry, and thinking what could and should come out of it I pondered
Churchill: “Words are the only thing that last forever.”
In a world of deeply woven webs, with many powerful and self-interested parties, one can’t help but think that often words mean nothing at all.