From Saville to Chilcot. Eamonn McCann, MLA argues that in the end both reports have protected those at the top.
The Chilcot Report into the Iraq war and the Saville Report into Bloody Sunday have a lot in common.
Chilcot was published to on July 6th. Many were taken aback by the sharp tone of its criticisms of Blair. The families of British servicemen who blamed Blair for their bereavement were delighted. Their reaction helped shape how the report was received.
But Chilcot dodged key questions – had Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, media manipulator Alistair Campbell etc. broken the law in conspiring to procure the invasion? If that had been among the conclusions, the case for bringing Blair etc. to trial would have been hugely boosted. A precedent would have been set to make any future leader pondering a dodgy declaration of war to think twice. The British ruling class couldn’t have that. Chilcot resolved the dilemma by asserting that the legality of the enterprise was outside his competence and remit.
Second: if Blair etc. had known there was no evidence for the proposition they’d advanced to justify the invasion – that the Saddam regime possessed weapons of mass destruction – why had they been so determined to take Britain to war? Blair wanting to keep in with George W. Bush was hardly an adequate explanation.
What then? The word missing from Chilcot’s findings is “oil.”
So while the report was brilliant in some respects, particularly in the perspective of the families, it wasn’t a bad result either for those ultimately responsible for the blood-letting.
Similarly with Saville. There was an uprush of joy among the families of the Bloody Sunday victims at the publication in June 2010 of Saville’s conclusion that none of the dead or injured had been armed or posing a threat to anyone. But a closer reading of Saville’s text revealed that, while rank-and-file paratroopers were denounced for their rampage of murder, the top brass, the intelligence agencies and government ministers were let entirely off the hook.
Notoriously, General Sir Michael Jackson, second in command of the killers in the Bogside on the day and author of the cover-up which lasted almost 40 years, was cleared of any wrong- doing – a conclusion which flew in face of a plethora of facts which had emerged in the course of the inquiry.
After Bloody Sunday, Jackson rose to be Chief of the General Staff, Britain’s top soldier. If Saville had followed the evidence and damned Jackson for his role in the massacre, David Cameron wouldn’t have been able to condemn the killings as “unjustified and unjustifiable” and at the same time insist that the British Army’s reputation was in no way besmirched.
Again, Saville’s report was great for the families – and even better for those ultimately responsible for the killings.
In June 2010, as the Saville Report was being published to mass acclaim in Derry, Chilcot put out a call for submissions on the question of the Iraq war’s legality. Fifty-seven experts, including academics, lawyers and historians, and six organisations responded. Just one individual dissented from the opinion that the war had been illegal. The responses formed part of the evidence before Chilcot. Along with the wealth of evidence about Blair’s manoeuvring and manipulation in the months before ground troops and warplanes were sent in, they leave no room for doubt that the war was illegal and that Blair had been well aware of this.
But Chilcot, following Saville, makes an irrational finding that leaves the establishment unscathed. And the mainstream media shows no stomach for pointing this out.
As for oil: five months before the invasion, Blair’s Trade Minister Baroness Symons assured BP that Blair would push Bush to allow British companies to share in the expected oil bonanza in exchange for Britain backing the war. The Foreign Office’s Middle East director, Edward Chaplin, noted: “Shell and BP could not afford not to have a stake in [Iraq] for the sake of their long-term future… We were determined to get a fair slice of the action for UK companies in a post-Saddam Iraq.”
You won’t find that aspect of the matter in Chilcot’s conclusions.
The conclusion the rest of us can draw is that inquiries by establishment figures rarely, if ever, reach conclusions which threaten the establishment’s vital interests.