The Slog delayed posting an Iraq Inquiry update this lunchtime, as information leaked to left-wing magazine Tribune by ‘a Whitehall source’ seemed to corroborate similar claims by a source close to the Chilcot panellists.

The Slog has been trying to make sense of the Sir John Chilcot’s closing statement as the current round of witnesses came to an end. Bear with us – as the words he used are extremely significant.

Sir John’s words are contradictory to some extent. On the one hand he says:

‘…we are committed to being open and transparent about how we are approaching our task and the information we are receiving….’

but then later he admits

‘The great bulk of our evidence is in tens of thousands of government documents. Many of them are highly classified. They allow us to shine a bright light into seldom-seen corners of the government machine, revealing what really went on behind the scenes before, during and after the Iraq conflict…Over the next few months we shall examine all the evidence that we have received, including those documents. That will enable us to see where the evidence joins together and where there are gaps…’

In short, where it suits the Establishment, stuff will be released – and when it doesn’t, it won’t. (Hold that thought on ‘where it suits…will be released’).

We reached the conclusion last night that, based on the above statements, this whole inquiry has been conducted the wrong way round. The simple analogy would be the idea of cross-examining a person accused of murder without having seen the most telling evidence first.
We’ve tried the usual channels as to why it was done this way round – and had about as much success as we did asking Mandelson’s department and the Bank of England why interest rates were reduced to near-zero: much woffle, no real answers. This usually means anything from SNAFU to deliberate obfuscation.

There’s also the question of ‘revealing what really went on behind the scenes before, during and after the Iraq conflict’. Does this mean they already know this? And if so, why hasn’t questioning tried harder to trip people up? Or does it mean they think it will reveal that? And if so, (a) why do they think that and (b) further to the point made above, why didn’t they see the ‘inside-track’ stuff first?

Today we learned from a source (who – as far as we can ascertain to date – hasn’t misled us) that in fact at least two members of the Chilcot panel are furious that ‘certain documents relating to Tony Blair’s role’ were withheld from them. We understand one of these is Sir Martin Gilbert. Then – at around 1pm today – we found this at the Iraq Inquiry Digest website:

‘…more evidence is emerging of how Tony Blair was let off the hook during his session because vital documents given to the Iraq inquiry are not being made public.
Tribune has been told by a senior Whitehall source that panellists could have pursued the former Prime Minister much further on his key assurance to back George W Bush before military action was officially contemplated and how much the Cabinet was told about his meetings with President Bush if the relevant documents had been released into the public domain….’ (My italics)

The reporter quoted is David Hencke. More on this as events unfold…but in the meantime, we should take another look at motives for actually releasing certain soi-disant ‘classified’ material. We have uncovered allegations (believed by some in the Brownshirt camp) that there has been at least some Blairite connivance in releasing documents that could potentially damage Gordon Brown.

Geoff Hoon (a self-confessed anti-Brown plotter) announced his retirement from politics yesterday. The former defence secretary has claimed that during his time at the Treasury, Mr Brown failed to fund the Armed Forces properly. Sources lose to Hoon have told us:

1. The retiring former Minister expected at least one document to damage Brown. And

2. The whole point of Alastair Campbell’s disclosure to Chilcot about Brown being part of an “inner circle” of ministers and advisers consulted daily about Iraq was to prepare the ‘credibility ground’ for a damning release of documents showing how his parsimony caused many deaths.* Further

3. Brown’s confident (and suddenly made) decision to appear before Chilcot – after initial stalling – was based on his certainty that these documents would now be suppressed.

Remember that many sources have told both us and other observers that Brown enthusiastically embraced Chilcot in the belief that it could be used to incriminate Blair….and clear him. Also remember that Brown made a point of telling Clare Short that he was ‘out of the loop’ on Iraq – an assertion that Clare innocently accepted, and to which she gave much publicity during her evidence.

Despite Sir John’s protestations of transparency, he is hoist by his own closing remarks:

‘We shall also need a limited number of private hearings to get to the heart of some very sensitive issues, which are essential for our understanding. The terms under which we will hold hearings in private have been published on our website. We will, in due course, publish as much of that evidence as we can.
Only then can we decide the further evidence we need, the issues and points which need to be clarified, and the identity of witnesses we may wish to question in the next round of public hearings in the summer.’

Or put another way -just in case they win – all the guilty parties in the Labour administrations concerned are off the hook until after the Election.

*While it may seem odd that Campbell would ‘coach’ Gordon Brown to appear with Piers Morgan on the one hand (and then stitch him up on the other) both he and Mandelson are widely believed to be helping Gordon to hang himself – in order to ensure that only Brownite Labour dies after the forthcoming General Election.
Yes, I know – it seems mad. It is mad. But it is also pure New Labour.