Monday, June 22, 2009

William Hague on Blair

Why the ex-PM MUST give his Iraq War evidence in public

By William Hague

Last updated at 2:01 AM on 22nd June 2009

The Iraq conflict is one of the most significant and controversial episodes in modern British history.

Even with the end of Britain's involvement in sight, serious questions about the war and its aftermath remain unanswered.

A total of 179 of our brave servicemen and women lost their lives, as did thousands of Iraqi citizens and hundreds

These are just some of the reasons why MPs from all sides, the families of the fallen and the country as a whole have called for an inquiry into the origins and conduct of Iraq war.

Last week the Government finally tried to answer those calls - but did so in a way that has led to an outcry.

The proposals fall down in four respects. First and foremost: Secrecy.

It is not just politicians who want to know the full story on Iraq, though they and Whitehall have most to learn from it, it is the British people and --most importantly - the families who lost their loved ones there.

It is clearly right that a matter of national importance should be conducted as transparently as possible.

Distinguished senior military officers-have said they would have no difficulty giving evidence in public. General Sir Mike Jackson, who was head of the Army during the Iraq invasion, said: 'I would have no problem at all in giving my evidence in public.'

The former Cabinet Secretary Lord Butler has said 'there is no prospect that an inquiry conducted entirely in private can purge the national feeling of mistrust'.

Even former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer has said we need a more open inquiry.
It has been alleged that the unnecessary secrecy of this inquiry is at the express request of Tony Blair. He is the last person who should be setting the rules for an inquiry that will largely be concerned with decisions and events during his time in office.

If the former head of the Army is happy to give evidence in public then the Prime Minister at the time should certainly be willing to so do so.

Few outside Downing Street ever imagined that in the 21st century an inquiry of this nature and importance would take place entirely behind closed doors.

Second, although its members are distinguished historians, commentators and public servants, the inquiry's composition still leaves a lot to be desired.

Not a single committee member has high-level military or government experience - there are no former Chiefs of Staff, no one with experience of Cabinet. Both are extraordinary omissions given that much of the inquiry's scope will be either military in dimension or concern the decision-making process at the highest levels of government.


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