Chilcot Inquiry: why Blair-Bush messages will be censored

Inquiry into Britain's role in Iraq War is condemned as a 'whitewash' as private messages suppressed

George W. Bush and Tony Blair in 2006
(Image credit: 2006 Getty Images)

The Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq War has been branded a "whitewash" after crucial messages from Tony Blair to George W Bush were suppressed.

The inquiry, named after its chairman Sir John Chilcot, was set up five years ago in part to examine why Blair decided the UK should go to war. But Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has vetoed the release of more than 150 letters and phone calls from Blair to Bush in the run-up to the 2003 conflict. Critics claim the British public will now never know the real truth about the war...

What will be censored?The inquiry committee has spent years wrangling with Whitehall about what it can and cannot include when it finally publishes its report, possibly within the next year. It has now agreed that it will not publish 25 letters sent from Blair to Bush, nor the transcripts of 130 phone calls between the two men in the lead-up to the war. According to the Daily Mail, the messages show Blair telling the US President: "You know, George, whatever you decide to do, I'm with you." The US president's replies or any material that reflects his views will not be published in any form.

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What will be published?As a compromise, Chilcot has said the long-awaited report will publish only "the gist" of Blair's messages. He hopes to include some quotes but will have to negotiate with Heywood about the precise wording. The details of over 200 Cabinet-level discussions on the Iraq War will, however, be made available for publication or reference by the inquiry. Overall, the inquiry aims to provide a "reliable account of events" that will identify lessons for future governments making decisions about potential conflicts. The inquiry covers the period from 2001 up to the end of July 2009.

Why has the Chilcot Inquiry been censored?The official reason for the censorship is that publication would deter future prime ministers from speaking freely with world leaders in private. Blair, who is expected to face heavy criticism in the report, has always denied trying to block the release of the messages. US authorities explicitly ordered Britain not to publish confidential conversations involving the former president, The Independent revealed last year.

Why does it matter?Critics are furious as they say the truth about the Iraq War is being concealed. Former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay described it as "a bad, bad day for democracy and justice". He claims the country has been lied to "time and time again" about Iraq and says the lies will now "endure". Labour MP John McDonnell said the move by Heywood "confirms all the suspicions people had that the inquiry will be a whitewash". He added: "Unless there's full and open transparency, the credibility of this inquiry will be completely undermined." Meanwhile, families of some of the 179 British soldiers killed in the conflict, who had hoped the correspondence would reveal the real reason Blair took the country to war, have said they feel betrayed by the decision. Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed at the age of 21 in 2003, told BBC 2's Newsnight programme: "I need to draw a line under this and until I know the whole truth I can't. It will be an open wound until the day I die."

When will the Chilcot Inquiry be published?The date of publication is yet to be agreed. Legal letters will be sent to certain witnesses, including Blair and his spin chief Alastair Campbell, asking them to respond to criticism in the draft report – a process expected to take several more months. The report will then be sent to Prime Minister David Cameron, who will decide if it should be published in the run-up to next May's general election. Cameron has previously suggested that he wants the report to be published by the end of this year.

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