UK panel begins investigation into legality of Iraq war involvement

UK panel begins investigation into legality of Iraq war involvement

[JURIST] The Iraq Inquiry [official website; BBC backgrounder], charged with investigating UK involvement in Iraq, began its public proceedings in London on Tuesday. The committee is expected to assess the legality of the UK’s participation in the Iraq War, although several legal authorities have questioned [BBC News report] its ability to thoroughly evaluate the issue, since none of the five members are legal professionals. Chair of the Inquiry Sir John Chilcot [Guardian profile] opened the meeting [statement]:

The Iraq Inquiry was set up to identify the lessons that should be learned from the UK’s involvement in Iraq to help future governments who may face similar situations. To do this, we need to establish what happened. We are piecing this together from the evidence we are collecting from documents or from those who have first hand experience. We will then need to evaluate what went well and what didn’t – and, crucially, why.

Sir John later expanded on the nature of the committee, clarifying the extent of its authority:

[W]e are not a court or an inquest or a statutory inquiry; and our processes will reflect that difference. No one is on trial. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that. But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms where they are warranted.

Later in the session, the panel focused on [BBC News report] the country’s pre-war foreign policy regarding Iraq, and heard testimony from four senior advisors, including a former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee [official website].

Documents implicating improper, and potentially illegal, activity by the UK government were leaked [JURIST report] to the press on Sunday. Last month, the UK High Court criticized [JURIST report] the Ministry of Defence for its failure to properly organize an independent inquiry into claims that war crimes had been committed by British soldiers. Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] established the Iraq Inquiry committee in June 2009, but a report is not expected until the end of 2010.