Norton-Taylor voices the scepticism any sane person will feel about Brown's latest volte-face this time on the subject of a new inquiry into Britain's worst war.
There really is no legitimate reason now for any of the inquiry into the invasion of Iraq to be held in private. Extremely sensitive information, intelligence material in particular, has already been disclosed, either here or in the US, by official inquiries or leaks.
The reason why the government wants it to be held behind closed doors – a weapon allowing Whitehall to control proceedings – is to enable it to protect itself, and individuals, from embarrassment. To drive home the point, the members of the inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, the epitome of a Whitehall mandarin, will be made privy counsellors, told to swear an ancient oath of secrecy.
We already know a great deal about how the Iraqi banned weapons dossier was manipulated by Whitehall officials and intelligence chiefs, at the behest of their political masters – most notably, Tony Blair. We know from a leaked Dowing Street memo, marked " secret and strictly personal – UK eyes only", that, at a meeting Blair chaired on 23 July 2002, nearly a year before the invasion, Sir Richard Dearlove, then head of MI6, warned that in Washington "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"; and Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, said "it seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action ... But the case was thin."
Lord Butler told the Guardian that his committee set up to investigate the use and abuse of intelligence in the build-up to the invasion had seen the document. He said his report did not refer to its contents on the grounds that they related to US use of intelligence, which was outside his terms of reference. The explanation is one reason why a fresh inquiry needs to be held in public. That Chilcot himself sat on the Butler committee hardly inspires confidence that this new inquiry will be any more penetrating.
Other leaked documents, which we can assume were also seen by Butler, include a letter in March 2002 from David Manning, then Blair's foreign policy adviser. He told Blair that he said to Condoleezza Rice: "You would not budge in your support for regime change [an objective Blair was advised was unlawful] but you had to manage a press, a parliament, and a public opinion which is very different than anything in the States". A few days later, Sir Christopher Meyer, our ambassador in Washington at the time, told Manning of the need to "wrongfoot Saddam on the [UN] inspectors".
The 23 July 2002 document also revealed that ministers were warned by their officials and the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, that an invasion to topple Saddam would be unlawful. Goldsmith eventually advised that invasion was lawful by reinterpreting an entirely different set of circumstances – namely, the scope of past UN security council resolutions.
We have a good idea through leaked documents that Blair made it pretty clear to Bush two years before the invasion that he would commit UK troops. We know, because senior MoD officials have admitted it, that equipment for British troops was ordered late because ministers did not want to suggest to MPs or the public they had decided to go to war months before the March 2003 invasion.
We know from leaked documents that some ministers warned Blair of the need to prepare for the consequences of an invasion. The warnings were ignored because Whitehall, and the Foreign Office in particular, did not have the stomach to take on the US. To prepare adequately for occupation of a foreign country is a duty imposed by the Geneva Conventions. Senior military officials have suggested Blair, and others, could be prosecuted for war crimes on this ground alone.
These are very serious issues to which answers have not been given by those, ministers and officials alike, directly involved. Senior diplomats and security and intelligence officers were deeply opposed to the invasion. This should been their opportunity to speak publicly for the first time. Alas, it will not be.
You can just imagine the scenes in Downing Street last week: "It's alright, Gordon. Don't worry about Iraq. Just make me head of the judiciary and I'll handle it. We'll make it secret and tell them it's a national security matter. It won't report until after the election anyway so we're in the clear." That's how powerful the unelected have become now that Brown (unelected-in-chief) has finally bust not only our economy, but our democracy too.
"Hutton II" will be an even bigger stitch-up than Hutton I and Butler put together. Yet another terrible, terrible day for Britain. I'm sorry to say that I have no confidence David Cameron will nail Brown for this latest travesty. So, the abuse goes on.