In mid-June Gordon Brown announced that there would be a “non-judgmental”, behind-closed-doors inquiry into the Iraq war, conducted by hand-picked insiders.
On Thursday 30 July, responding to widespread criticism, the latest version of the inquiry was announced.
The chairman, Sir John Chilcot, a former top civil servant and staff counsellor for the security and intelligence agencies, said that “as much as possible” of the evidence would now be heard in public.
He implied that would include Tony Blair’s evidence.
Chilcot said the inquiry will begin taking evidence this autumn. Its final report may not come out until 2011.
Chilcot said, “The independence of the members of this inquiry, I think, can’t reasonably be challenged”.
But its members are the same insiders announced by Brown in June. Chilcot said that it would not be “helpful” to discuss questions like whether any of them had opposed the Iraq war.
Chilcot himself was a member of the Butler inquiry, which cleared Blair of dishonestly using intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.
Other members of the inquiry include historian Sir Lawrence Freedman, who helped Blair develop the doctrine of “liberal interventionism” that he used to justify the war.
Historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who wrote an article in 2004 saying Blair and George Bush could one day be compared to Churchill and Roosevelt, is also a member of the inquiry.
The events covered by the inquiry will go back only to the summer of 2001.
Yet US governments have aimed to overthrow the Iraqi government since 1998.
Chilcot has limited the scope of the inquiry to dealing with “mistakes” and “shortcomings” on the road to war and its aftermath.
The inquiry will have no legal powers. No evidence will be taken on oath and no perjury charges can be brought.
The inquiry will not even employ its own barrister to cross-examine witnesses.
But there will still be some private hearings, “to ensure candour and openness from witnesses”.
The cards are stacked in favour of an inquiry that concludes that “mistakes were made” and they should be “learned from” next time.
It is unlikely that the over one million dead and four and a half million refugees will get much of a look in either.
But there is scope for the anti-war movement to intervene in this cosy process.
The Stop the War Coalition plans to give evidence—and groups and individuals should submit theirs too.