The Iraq inquiry should be held behind closed doors
Gordon Brown is under pressure to launch a new inquiry into the Iraq War that should be open to the public. The Government however has suggested that it should be held largely in secret. There have been inquiries before into the Iraq war, such as the Hutton and Butler enquiry’s into the allegations of Tony Blair misleading the public in the run up to war. However there has not been a comprehensive inquiry about how and why the war began and whether the government always intended to take us into Iraq no matter the response of Saddam Hussein to UN resolutions and weapons inspectors.
You can also add to the debate by leaving your comment at the end of the page.
The inquiry needs to be held in private in the interests of national security, both for ourselves and our allies. The Iraq inquiry will be dealing with areas that affect our interests abroad and the combat effectiveness of our armed forces. The Inquiry may well be looking at the lack of supplies of combat equipment that occurred near the start of the war and there are still a very small number of troops in Iraq so their security needs to be considered. Moreover if weaknesses in their protection are revealed this might prove useful to Britain’s enemies in other theatres such as Afghanistan. Iraq is not an isolated conflict but part of a wider war against extremists that stretches from the Middle East to our own streets. This is an information war and as such it is much more necessary to keep information on strategy private than it was even during the cold war.
Many previous conflicts that Britain has been involved in have not had public inquiries even if the military action merited it. The most obvious example is Suez, much more of a disaster than the conflict in Iraq was and yet had no inquiry of any mind. Our involvement in the Iraq conflict did not just involve Britain and therefore any investigation may affect these other countries too, our government’s decisions were not made in isolation and it should be up to the governments of the other members of the ‘coalition of the willing’, that included countries from Australia to Estonia,[[Steve Schifferes, US names ‘coalition of the willing’, BBC News Online, 18th March 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/2862343.stm%5D%5D rather than the British government or British media if anything about their involvement is made public, a private inquiry provides this option.
National Security is no longer a problem for the Iraq inquiry as we have almost entirely pulled out of Iraq. With no troops there the thing to be doing is to look back and find out what went wrong in their deployment and protection rather than claiming national security as a reason not to investigate. If necessary the inquiry can avoid looking at anything that might endanger the troops in other theatres; the circumstances are different and there have been improvements made in light of the conflict in Iraq. What applied then does not necessarily apply now. Having gone into Iraq with allies should not be a reason not to hold a public inquiry. The vast majority of the ‘coalition of the willing’ were democracies ranging from eastern Europe to Spain to Australia and so should not be concerned by any public inquiry that will avoid their involvement and interests as much as possible.
A public inquiry could damage the reputation of the country
A public enquiry that has the constant attention of the press turning up stories would not be good for the reputation of Britain abroad. It could be interpreted in some countries as the agenda being set by the media rather than the government, particularly if the Gordon Brown now has to back down, the government, but also Britain as a whole would be perceived as weak. Keeping the inquiry shows that the government is still in control of the agenda and is willing to investigate past actions but that it wants it done by experts rather than by lawyers and the media. Moreover such an inquiry might discourage the government from any interventions in the future which in turn could affect the actions of countries we might possible have interventions in. In short a public inquiry might tie the hands of any future government preventing them from engaging in necessary interventions.
On the contrary, a public enquiry could be very good for the country as it would create confidence in our procedures and transparency in our approach. Yes, we might reveal some embarrassing secrets, but it is far better to get that out in the open than have people imagine the worst.
A public inquiry would be a media circus
An inquiry that is open to the public would result in the media being camped in and outside the building where the inquiry is being held, with reporting day after day on the progress of the inquiry. This would prevent real news from being reported or as thoroughly scrutinised. It would put pressure on those being called to give evidence as they would probably have the media attempting to interview them. The media would be asking their own questions, attempting to pre-empt the result and to set the agenda. Although some sections of the media claim to be unbias they do have an agenda and a motivation to sensationalise to sell more newspapers or get more viewers. This means that the media may well not give unbias assessments of each day’s proceedings. The inquiry would dominate the headlines day after day as the much narrower Hutton enquiry, mostly about the death of weapons inspector David Kelly showed.[[Analysis: An irrelevant Iraq inquiry?, politics.co.uk, 22nd December, 2008, http://www.politics.co.uk/analysis/foreign-policy/analysis-an-irrelevant-iraq-inquiry--$1256453.htm%5D%5D Moreover some evidence may well be best seen through the lens of evidence presented later, the media would have already published their views of the evidence. Essentially a public inquiry means that everything gets taken at its initial face value and while holding the inquiry in private allows the committee to amass all the evidence before passing judgement. We do not want inquiry by media, it is democratically less accountable than the government.
Forgive my arrogance but I do not rely on the media to form my opinions for me and I tend to look down on those who do. I am aware of the political agenda's of certain mainstream media organisations. Those who are more susceptible to media influence should not be indirectly dictating on issues as important as government transparacy.
There will indeed be a media circus, that much is unfortunately largely out of control. A solution could have been to ban the media from expressing opinion or interviewing witnesses for the duration of the inquiry, in the same way they are banned from directly telling us who to vote for during election periods.
Held in the open, I have the option of witnessing the proceedings myself and thus form my own opinion. This would be impossible if it is was held in private. A private inquiry would mean my only the government and the media get to form opinion.
The David Kelly affair means that conscience ridden witnesses might be reluctant to speak against the government. If held in the private those hypothetical witnesses testimony will not be witnessed by anyone outside the inquiry. If they are found in the woods nobody is going to notice, but if the hypothetical witness has his/her face all over the media for speaking against the government and suddenly commits suicide, then Norman Baker will not be the ony person who is suspicious.
Politicians who I did not vote for waged an illegal war on my behalf and they have the chance to cover up most of the dodgy reasons why they did it. That is not democratic accountibility. I prefer my method of for individual autonomy.
Participants can speak more freely
One of the main reasons given by the government is that the privacy of holding the inquiry behind closed doors would ensure that evidence given by politicians, military officers and officials would be as "full and candid as possible". Tory MP Michael Mates, who was part of the Butler inquiry that was also held in private, told the BBC: "Everybody who came in front of us... was able to speak frankly and they were able to say what part they had played in this bit of intelligence or that... I don't think we could have done as good a job for the country as we were able to do if we had to sit in public."[[Anger over ‘secret Iraq inquiry’, BBC News, 16th June 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8102203.stm%5D%5D Essentially in a private enquiry those giving evidence can feel more relaxed and in turn will be more open about their actions. As none of the evidence to the inquiry will be given under oath and because the inquiry has no power of subpoena the privy councillors can’t force the main participants in the events being investigated to come and give evidence.[[Kim Sengupta, Michael Savage, Generals go to war over Iraq inquiry, The Independent, 17th June 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/generals-go-to-war-over-iraq-inquiry-1706908.html%5D%5D This makes it essential that the inquiry is held in private to encourage these participants to come forward and give full accounts of their actions and perceptions. There is little point in the inquiry if some key participants refuse to give evidence because they would be scrutinised by the media.
The defences point here is more of an argument for the inquiry to be legally binding and the testimonies given under oath, than an excuse for witnesses to feel free to say what they like, be it truth or lies, without repercussions.
If the informality of the inquiry is the basis of an argument for it to be held in private, then surely the debate should be for the inquiry to be formal, given the importance of the issue and potential for proof of criminality to be unveiled.
There is little point in the enquiry if not only are the participants not obliged to tell the truth, but also potentially escape the scrutiny of the electorate if they are merely spoon fed dubious information about the inquiry.
Holding the inquiry behind closed doors is more cost effective
Gordon argues that a public inquiry would mean "lawyers, lawyers and lawyers"[[Gordon Brown announces Iraq war inquiry, The Telegraph, 15th June 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/gordon-brown/5542414/Gordon-Brown-announces-Iraq-war-inquiry.html%5D%5D This is what has happened to the public inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland lead by Lord Saville. The Bloody Sunday inquiry had cost £182 million by the end of 2008, including £27million since hearings ended in 2005, this inquiry is set to report in the autumn of 2009 eight years since the start of the investigation.[[Cost of Lord Saville’s Bloody Sunday Inquiry reaches £182 million, The Telegraph, 13th November 2008, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/northernireland/3453352/Cost-of-Lord-Savilles-Bloody-Sunday-Inquiry-reaches-182m.html%5D%5D If the Iraq inquiry was held in public it could take even longer and be a massive waste of taxpayer’s money as it has a much broader remit. General Sir Mike Jackson agreed: “If you hold a public inquiry then you’re going to get lawyers, delay and probably economy with the truth, and if you make it private, you’ll get all the facts but people will feel it’s a cover-up.”[[Philip Webster, Outcry over government’s decision to hold Iraq war inquiry in secret, The Times, 16th June 2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6505179.ece%5D%5D
Cost should not be an issue with such a major question. The Iraq war has already directly cost the British taxpayer more than £5 billion with no calculations on what non military costs such as increased price of oil or care for injured personnel might be[[Andrew Stephen, Sam Alexandroni, Iraq: The Hidden Cost of War, New Statesman12th March 2007, http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2007/03/iraq-war-wounded-bilmes-cost%5D%5D, so what is a little more? Essentially anything that may help prevent us getting into a similar conflict in the future is cost effective in the long run.
Precedent – The Franks Inquiry
The Franks inquiry is the best precedent for the inquiry, like this inquiry into Iraq it was given a broad remit to investigate the run up to the war, in this case the Falkland’s war in 1982, dealing with intelligence and why and how Britain got into the war. It was also held in private by senior privy counsellors.[[Richard Norton-Taylor, The Franks precedent: government cleared and intelligence damned, The Guardian, 4th Feb. 2004, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/feb/04/uk.iraq6%5D%5D The Franks Inquiry is seen as the ‘gold standard’ in terms of the thoroughness and access to papers of the inquiry.[[Anger over ‘secret Iraq inquiry’, BBC News, 16th June 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8102203.stm%5D%5D As Margret Thatcher put it at the time: “The Government wanted an inquiry of absolute integrity and independence. Therefore, I sought one of our most distinguished public figures, Lord Franks, as chairman.”[[Margaret Thatcher, House of Commons speech, Hansard HC, 26th Jan. 1983, http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=105242%5D%5D This means that The Franks inquiry is seen as the inquiry to match with this inquiry. If there is a tried and tested way of going about inquiries of this nature why should it be changed? This precedent is made stronger by the ineffectual Hutton enquiry that was held in public but kept itself to a very narrow remit. The outcome of the inquiry was mostly damaging to the BBC rather than the government.
We owe it to those who have died and those who live on
Between an estimated 90-000 and 100,000 Iraqi Civilians have died during six years of combat and counter insurgency operations. [[Iraq Body Count main page" http://www.iraqbodycount.org]] 179 British soldiers (amongst thousands of coalition casualties ofother nationalities) have died and thousands of other people have been injured (some with life changing injuries) as a result of this conflict that may well have been launched under false or wrong pretences and disputed legality[[ icasualties.org "Iraq Coalition Casualty Count" Accessed 18.06.09 http://icasualties.org/Iraq/DeathsByCountry.aspx%5D%5D. We owe all of those individuals friends of those and families that have been directly affected a chance to listen the truth, the whole truth and absolutely nothing but the truth being told out so that they can get answers to the questions as they are discussed.
While hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens may die it is difficult to argue that this was a direct result of British actions, the vast majority of the lives lost were caused by the insurgency and it is difficult to argue that Britain could have done much to prevent these. We have forces in countries around the world including many peacekeeping operations so our armed forces were in no position to deploy more troops on the ground in Iraq even if the government had wanted them too.
British soldiers who have died will have died for Queen and Country, no report is going to change that, if the inquiry finds that Britain should not have gone into Iraq will it make a difference? and if an inquiry decides that we should not have gone into Iraq then surely that is worse? While there is an obvious desire to know the reasons we went to war that is best left to historians in the future to decide based upon information from all the actors involved (ie from other countries as well). The inquiry is simply to look at history (notable that it has 2 historians on the comission) and find out where the government went wrong, this can operate as well in Private as in Public, it is the conclusions that matter for future policy not how visible the process is. Yes the Families of those who have been killed, and those who have been injured deserve ‘the truth, the whole truth and absolutely nothing but the truth’ but the truth can be as easily, if not more easily obtained in Private without media interference.
International Precedent and a standard to raise
There is a strong international precedent when faced with accusations of wrongdoing for example in the case of the Iran Contra Affair the US Congress held open committee hearings that while they may have been a bit of a media circus did their job in holding the executive to account as well as making sure that people were investigated and subsequently prosecuted[[Mckay Houghton and Andrew Wroe "Controversies in American Politics & Society" Blackwell Publishing,2002 p92]]. Further more a leaf could be taken out of the 9/11 commission's report where the investigation into the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks and US agencies which although it faced criticism did hold most of it's hearings in open with most people testifying under oath[[Wikipedia "9/11 Commission" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_Commission%5D%5D
Furthermore as a democracy that has effectively tried to export it's system to other countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. The UK must take the lead in raising the standard on holding government members whether past or present and the armed forces to account both publicly and privately.
Iran Contra and the 9/11 commission are not a strong precedent as neither were an inquiry into a conflict so neither has much parallel to the inquiry into the Iraq conflict. Britain has more obvious precedents in terms of inquiries into conflicts either as they are ongoing or are just ended. Tony Blair argues that a public inquiry is not needed as the background to the war had been examined four times; by Hutton and Butler, by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee and by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.[[Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris, 'There WILL be a public inquiry into Iraq, says Brown', The Independent, 17th March 2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/there-will-be-a-public-inquiry-into-iraq-says-brown-796851.html%5D%5D Meanwhile we have also had inquiries into aspects of other wars notably the Franks inquiry but also We obviously can’t follow an American lead in this as they themselves have not yet had any inquiries into Iraq (excepting Abu Graib) while we are on our third. The 9/11 commission essentially contained no risk for the administration as it was into an attack on the US, the commission was bound to blame the previous administration as George Bush’s. The 9/11 commission was about a singular event and not looking into the effect of administrationpolicy and for the most part criticised the intelligence agencies, our previous reports; both Hutton and Butler inquiries, have already proven that we can go that far and criticise our intelligence agencies and processes while letting the decision makers off!
It may well be more effective to export a system of closed inquiries that reach independent conclusions than it is to export fully open inquries. Countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq would find the idea of open inquiries much more alien to their culture than a closed inquiry by a panel of experts. The Government and armed forces being held to account does not have to mean a public inquiry, private inquiries can be as scathing of government as a public one, it is a question about systems, so long as the inquiry is truly independent and comes up with independent conclusions then it is as worthwhile as an open inquiry.
"Whats left to hide?"
A lot of the information is already in to the public domain or could be accessed through freedom of information requests or possibly through leaks. If there is truly sensitive data then it can be held in closed sessions of the enquiry. But the information that is closed to the public should be a small amount compared to the information that is already open or accessible.[[Kim Sengupta "Generals go to war over Iraq inquiry"The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/generals-go-to-war-over-iraq-inquiry-1706908.html%5D%5D And by the way that doesn't include (at risk of countering) the identities or testimonies of officials ,unless the involve information that can not be declassifed even for the inquiry. We do have "clever technological devices called partitions or audio links which were used in the Hutton enquiry to stop people. And what's more the beauty of audio links is that they can be used to ask private questions as well as private ones[[http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-this-inquiry-into-the-invasion-of-iraq-needs-to-be-open-1706038.html]]
If everything is already out in the open, or able to be obtained through the freedom of information act why do we need a new inquiry? This would imply that the remainder is the material that is truly sensitive to national security that would need to be held in private anyway. We agree that there is little need to protect the identities of individuals unless they are part of the intelligence services and working in the field where any exposure of their identity may jeopardise current operations. As an interesting and mostly pointless sideline partitions and audio links make very little difference to this. evidence could be heard and anonimised so as not to jeopardise operations however this would make no difference to whether the inquiry is public or private. There would be little for the media to look at; they could not verify the witnesses are who they say they are or did what they say they did. In effect you would have the same result as if the inquiry was private as the core of the evidence they give would be published in the final report anyway.
If there ever was a time for politicians to keep their promises then this is it!
Brown promised, a full comprehensive public enquiry just over a year ago but said it would be, when British Involvement in Iraq had ended [[Grice Andrew and http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/there-will-be-a-public-inquiry-into-iraq-says-brown-796851.html The Independent Online]].
Now bar a few hundred soldiers who are there it has done so. Given the recent outrage over parliamentary expenses which partly turned itself into a protest non vote at the European elections the urgency of a massive demonstration of politicians keeping their promises to the electorate has never been so apparent. As one MP for Plaid Cymru put it : In the eyes of the people" The government that tried to keep MPs expenses under wraps is now doing the same over Iraq "[[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8100432.stm]] Doing a u-turn whatever the reasons would be yet another blow to the faith of people in our current system of government (or at the least our current administration) given that a majority of people in the UK are keen for a public enquiry[[Caroline Alexander "Majority of Britons Wants Iraq Public War Inquiry" Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=a3ULf5Igcm7s&refer=uk%5D%5D
Unfortunately this is an example of the media ‘sexing up’ what a public figure actually said, while the headline screamed There WILL be a public inquiry into Iraq, says Brown the text quoting Mr Brown did not go nearly so far . The quote was “There will come a time when it is appropriate to hold an inquiry," the Independent infered that this would mean a public inquiry when it was left unstated so Mr Brown is not actually breaking a promise.[[Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris, 'There WILL be a public inquiry into Iraq, says Brown', The Independent, 17th March 2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/there-will-be-a-public-inquiry-into-iraq-says-brown-796851.html%5D%5D There is also no reason to believe that with so many previous enquiries into Iraq that there will not be time for Gordon to launch another public one!
The expenses scandal also provides reason for why not everything should be public and the problems of being too open, it has thrown all parties into chaos and judging by the local elections’ results is encouraging extremism.
'A majority of people in the UK are keen for a public enquiry' so claims the article, and I have to admit it is probably true however the evidence provided does not back up the claim. The Question given in the survey was: 'do you think there should or should not be an official inquiry in Britain's role in the invasion?' to which 72% said yes.[[Comres, Radio 5 live Poll, http://www.comres.co.uk/resources/7/Political%20Polls/Radio5Live%20Poll%20Results%20Release%201%20Mar09.pdf, Table 1]] However it should be noted that while the article took this as public inquiry we ARE getting an official inquiry whether it is held in public or private.
Who watches the watchmen? or in this case Who scrutinises the scrutineers?!
If an enquiry is held on major issues particuarly ones concerning the legality of a conflict then justice must be seen to be done by openly impartial . With televised hearings in the Iran Contra Affair and senate committee hearings the public was at least given a chance to at least see and think about whether justice was being done. If it is held in private then there is none or little chance to see whether those charged with investigating what has gone on are doing whether by the media or the general public involved which will reduce the legitimacy of the inquiry and lead to it being described as a "whitewash"[[http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jun/15/iraq-war-inquiry]]. There's a time honoured saying "Who watches the watchers" and this case it applies albeit altered perfectly, particuarly given the background of the five old and new "Privy Counsellors" which could be argued to be too close to the establishment or too pro war.[[Independent "Secret Inquiry into Iraq War will report after the election"http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-inquiry-into-iraq-war-will-report-after-the-election-1706014.html Accessed 18.06.09]]
Even if the inquiry was done in public it would not be about justice, it is not a war crimes court and that is the prerogative of the Hague, they can call for the arrest of Tony Blair if they wish. The legality of the conflict will always remain a grey area simply because much of international law is very grey, States do not wish to bind themselves so make international law ill defined and there is thankfully relatively little case history to work with.
‘Who scrutinises the scrutinisers?!’ there is very little reason for the answer to this to be ‘the media’ or ‘the public’ neither are expert in the area and would not scrutinise the whole of the enquiry; the media would give short excerpts each night and the public would form their opinions based upon these. The inquiry should be scrutinised either by experts or a parliamentary committee who can go through all the evidence that the inquiry gathers to make sure that the inquiry is not missing things or misconstruing evidence.
There is little to suggest that the inquiry team is overall pro war; much of the establishmen, including the armed services and the diplomatic corps in Britain was anti-war. although ‘Critics of the war might argue Sir Lawrence was himself one of the causes of the war!’ This is based upon his views on humanitarian intervention (so kosovo not Iraq) rather than his views on the war. Iraq was for not justified on humanitarian grounds but on security grounds; 45 minutes, chemical and biological weapons, it is only since these were not found that advocates of the war have been arguing that it could be taken as a humanitarian intervention.[[Michael Crick, ‘Is historian the best judge of Iraq war history?’, 15th June 2009, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/michaelcrick/2009/06/is_historian_the_best_judge_of.html%5D%5D Similarly while Sir Martin Gilbert did argue that Blair and Bush may someday be seen as Churchill and Roosevelt are he did stress that ‘Any accurate assessment of Bush and Blair must wait, perhaps a decade or longer’.[[Martin Gilbert, Statesmen for these times, The Observer, 26th December 2004, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1379819,00.html]] There is little reason to think that any of the members of the inquiry will not come to the inquiry with an open mind.
Purpose of inquiry is not just about government
This inquiry should not be and must not be an exercise in just merely learning operational mistakes i.e never underestimate the scale of the task of invading and then rebuilding a country ! or merely to cover up officials mistakes or worse. During the build up to the invasion and afterwards public opinion was (some would say bitterly) divided over the Iraq War between those who supported it and those who opposed it and those divisions are still around[[Johnathan Oliver http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-104241/Britain-split-going-war-Iraq.html Daily Mail Accessed 18.09 05]]. By being comprehensive and open about all the issues and questions this could heal divisions amongst the people and between people. This is our best shot now that troops have left to do such a thing before age and memory set in to those who made the decisions and those that have taken part.
A public inquiry would not heal divisions rather it would just as likely reopen old wounds. The opponents of the war are already able to say they have been vindicated by the consequences of the invasion: chaos in Iraq, an increase not fall in oil prices etc, there is no need to haul the government and various agencies through the dirt at the same time. Far from lets forgive each other it is vindictiveness to want to hold everything in public where the media can crow about what has occurred in Iraq and generally pull the government through the mud.
"Insult to democracy"
The government's decision to hold a private inquiry reeks of something like out of scene in"A Few Good Men": "You want answers," "I think I'm entitled", "You want the Truth I want the truth", "You can't handle the truth." "Try me."[[Imdb "A Few Good Men (1992) - Memorable quotes" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104257/quotes%5D%5D This quote underlines precisely the message the government has been sending out firstly during the war and secondly after it with the proposal of a private inquiry rather than a good one. Democracy depends upon people whether inside or outside government being able to make informed decisions and the truth being out about the issues that affect society however sensitive or insensitive they may be. By holding the inquiry behind closed door informing people fully about the issues as they develop because they and the nation can not "handle the truth" is an insult to democracy because it means that people either have to go through extra layers to get to the truth something that was done with the MP's expenses or just plain don't know and are worse informed than people who are in the know.
Public Warning to try to stop history from repeating itself
The Iraq War was a war of aggression against another sovereign nation ,launched under a cloud of suspicion and illegitimacy similar to the Suez crisis only this time the UK was playing a co conspirator rather than being the chief conspirator. It is galling and worrying that within fifty years of the Suez crisis something that effectively marked the end of Britain as a colonial power, the UK found itself in a similar situation again in Iraq in a war of aggression seemingly with ulterior motives and against the majority of public opinion . A public inquiry is necessary so that we can clarify and reinforce the lessons learnt in the preparation for the invasion and hopefully avoid doing yet another repeat performance of launching a virtually unsanctioned war against another sovereign state within a century. If we repeated the mistakes we made and launched yet another unsanctioned war in a short space of time it could cause major trouble once again possibly at worst leading to the break up of the United Kingdom
The Suez crisis is well documented by historians and is well known by the political classes however the event was not in the political consciousness because the members of the government were not directly involved in Britain’s handling of Suez. As decisions are often based upon what decision makers have been involved in the chances are Tony Blair will have drawn from the Kosovo intervention and possibly Bosnia and Rwanda. These actions show good reason to get involved in Iraq. On the other hand even without an inquiry there will not be another action along the same lines as Iraq for approximately 20 years because it will be in the political memory of politicians and Civil servants.
I therefore suggest that a similar action is unlikely as is shown by the determination to keep negotiating with Iran and North Korea despite greater provocation than Iraq gave. To suggest that a major action by the UK could mean the break up of the UK itself seems absurd. The SNP may have been against the intervention but it would have been difficult to use it as a reason for breaking away as there are many potentially bigger issues such as taxes, would Scotland be a part of the EU etc.
An open enquiry can not just be set up by the government
We risk going into countering territory but I would argue strongly that a closed enquiry can not just be set up by the government. This is exactly the principle of self policing of self regulating that has caused the public to become greatly distrustful of the government and politicians in generally. Admittedly this has been exacerbated by other factors such as the parliamentary expenses scandal but this was an example of all parliamentary parties failing to police themselves rather than just a specific area.[[Having an open and honest public enquiry would be an ideal way to gain consensus and would be in line with past precedent set by the establishment of having consensus between the parties on how an enquiry should proceed [[Hansard " Lords Hansard Text for 18 June 2009 pt 0010" http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldhansrd/text/90618-0010.htm%5D%5D Also it will start although it will not finish restoring trust in politics.
Furthermore although the Privy Counsellors are a quasi seperate branch of government the fact is that Gordon Brown choose the panel on advice from civil servants making it top down rather than from the bottom up ,something that raised the hackles of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee[[House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee "The Iraq Inquiry" http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/INQUIRYREPORT.pdf Accessed 20.06.09]]. This is because while It may be that the four men and one women making up the team are independent but they were not picked independently whether by a panel of the Speaker or a judge. That's like the accused in a trial picking the jury members or even the judge to try him !. [[Wikipedia "Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Her_Majesty%27s_Most_Honourable_Privy_Council Accessed 20.06.09]]
Lessons learned could be beneficial to organisations and departments inside and outside government
Major General Tim Cross argues that ""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."[[http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/hutton-and-butler-back-public-iraq-inquiry-14342695.html ]] I'd agree with the general but would argue the benefits of a government enquiry doesn't just extend to departments .
Not every organisation or government department has Challenger tanks or Eurofighter Jets at it's disposal or the same structures as the British Government but a lot of policy organisations do deal with policy issues whether it's the National Union of Students or the National Autistics Society. Having an enquiry could generate lessons for dealing with policy issues and making decisions based on suspect legality amongst other issues. For government departments the same lessons could also apply but also lessons on data handling could also be gained
Lessons can be learnt as well from the final report if the inquiry is held in private as if it were held in public. Organisations and departments are not going to want to draw lessons while the inquiry is half way through as those lessons may be incomplete so they might as well wait for the final report before drawing conclusions, at this point is makes very little difference whether the inquiry was held in public or private (unless the report is very short and contains very little).
What do you think?