The Iraq Inquiry: The who, what and why of Gordon Brown’s hand-picked ‘independent’ panel By Kevin Blowe

8 August, 2009 –


Iraq Inquiry Cartoon by Steve Bell

What do we know about the Iraq Inquiry members? We know they were hand picked by Gordon Brown, for one thing, and that they won’t be hearing evidence from witnesses until later this year.

So while we wait, it’s worth idly speculating why Brown chose the five establishment figures who will eventually hear testimony from, amongst others, Tony Blair.

One of the pursuits that three of the five Inquiry members share is involvement in the Ditchley Foundation, an organisation that promotes Anglo-American relations and whose Director is Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations in the approach to the Iraq war and a likely witness at the Inquiry.

According to his biography on the Iraq Inquiry website, former ambassador to Russia Sir Roderic Lyne is a governor of the Ditchley Foundation, as well as Deputy Chairman of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). This places him right at the heart of the transatlantic defence establishment, a position he shares with Sir Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College London and Official Historian of the Falklands Campaign.

Freedman has spoken at events organised by the likes of the Royal United Services Institute and Chatham House (which he was a Council member of between 1984 and 1992) and at the Council on Foreign Relations and the World Affairs Council in Washington DC (see footage of an address to the WAC here). He was a participant at a Dichley Foundation event in early May 2009, organised in conjunction with the RAND Corporation, on the ‘military’s role and function in the 21st century’, which was attended by a variety of Ministry of Defence and NATO officials.

Intriguingly, Freedman told the World Affairs Council that ‘the only lesson of history is that there are no lessons’, which does rather raise questions about the inclusion of two historians on the Inquiry panel.

Crucially, Freedman was a regular government advisor and a key architect of the ‘Blair doctrine’ on the use of military action for ‘humanitarian’ intervention. He told the BBC’s Michael Crick that in 1999, a memo he wrote for Downing Street formed the basis of Blair’s famous Chicago speech, which relied almost entirely on his proposals. John Kampfner’s book Blair’s Wars confirms this, saying that Freedman was asked to provide ‘a philosophy that Blair could call his own’, complete with benchmarks defining when countries should intervene in the affairs of other nations.

Baroness Prashar is another Ditchley Foundation governor, along with Lyne and intriguingly, Peter Mandelson, David Miliband, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson and… hang on a second, how did Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti end up on this list?!

However, there is little to tell from the Baroness’ record as a cross bench peer what her views are on issues other than human rights and equalities, as she seldom votes or speaks in the Lords.

Which leaves the historian Sir Martin Gilbert, who appears to have no connection to the Ditchley Foundation but is controversial for different reasons, notably claiming that TE Lawrence (‘of Arabia’) was a Zionist and importantly in the context of the Inquiry, his suggestion that Bush and Blair ‘may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill.’

We can only look forward with exasperation to the quality of his questions to Blair!

Finally, the chair of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, has his own baggage. He is a career diplomat who has close links to the intelligence community and was a former Staff Counsellor to the Security and Intelligence Agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. More importantly, he was a member of the Butler Inquiry that exonerated the government on the intelligence about on Weapons of Mass Destruction, effectively said that everyone seemed to be innocent and suggested that the ludicrous claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was ‘credible’.

So there we have it, five carefully selected individuals with a variety of links to the military and foreign-affairs establishment. If you don’t want to know the result, put your head in your hands now…

Kevin Blowe is a charity worker, campaigner and anti-racist activist based in Newham in east London. He blogs at

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