Newspaper article International New York Times

Still Clinging to Secrecy in Britain

Newspaper article International New York Times

Still Clinging to Secrecy in Britain

Article excerpt

The Iraq war investigation is one of a series that the authorities use to airbrush official errors or at least to delay embarrassment.

What do we really know about events that mold the national narrative? In this era of digital information harvested by whistle- blowers, who draws the line in the contest between security and openness? Is it, indeed, surprising that some might suspect the maneuvers of a hidden cabal of power and privilege narrowing the limits of disclosure?

The questions intrude insistently in this country with its reflexive reverence for official secrecy, despite -- or perhaps because of -- years of investigations and inquiries that have sometimes offered illumination and sometimes achieved the opposite.

Most notable at the moment is the panel investigating the Iraq war in 2003, named for its head, Sir John Chilcot, a retired civil servant. Although it began its work in 2009, it has yet to produce a final report on its interviews with 129 witnesses and its scrutiny of 150,000 government documents including confidential exchanges between Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush.

Months of dispute between Mr. Chilcot and high government officials have turned on Mr. Blair's deliberations when he took Britain to war alongside the United States on the basis of falsehoods about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

Not only have government officials sought to limit publication of these exchanges, but Mr. Blair and other senior figures have been given time to reply to their critics -- a process that could last into next year.

"There is a danger that the pattern of delay looks like an establishment stitch-up," said Tim Farron, a Liberal Democrat politician.

Mr. Chilcot's is only one of a series of inquiries into issues from royal shenanigans to child abuse that have provoked charges that, rather than shed light on transgressions, the authorities use them to airbrush official errors or at least to delay embarrassment.

Even the establishment of an inquiry deflects attention, enabling government leaders to argue that comment on the issue at hand would be "inappropriate," a favored word in the lexicon of obfuscation. …

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