UK Politics

Iraq Inquiry: Full transcript of Sir John Chilcot's BBC interview

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Media captionIn full: Laura Kuenssberg interview with Sir John Chilcot

The chair of the Iraq Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, has spoken exclusively to the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg to mark the first anniversary of the publication of his report into the 2003 invasion.

Here you can read a full transcript of the interview.

LK: Sir John, it probably feels like a long time ago now, because it is a long time ago. Can you take us back to the moment when you had the first phone call asking you to chair the inquiry and what did you think?

JC: The first phone call came on a Friday evening. I was at home in Devon and - and the cabinet secretary's private secretary came on to say (clears throat) he wants an urgent word. I said, 'well, I'm here.' 'No, no, no. He wants an urgent word first thing on Monday morning.' I was still there on Monday morning, the cabinet secretary telephoned and said, 'there's going to be an announcement this morning that there's to be an Iraq inquiry. Are you going to chair it?' I said, 'well I'd quite like to think about and the terms of reference and the membership and procedures.' 'Well, I can give you about eight minutes.'

LK: Eight minutes?

JC: Yes or no. I said, 'give me a minute.' And then I said yes.

LK: Why did you say yes?

JC: Because I was asked to do it. I'd been involved in Iraq through the Butler Inquiry, I knew some of the stuff, the government was pledged and Parliament had accepted there was to be one. I thought lots of people could do it. But I knew that I could do it in a way that would not be the same as other inquiries which had proved problematic, frankly, in their procedure. So.

LK: What was the difference then?

JC: I was really clear from the outset, even before the Parliamentary statement by Gordon Brown on the Monday, that it shouldn't be an accusatory inquiry, it should be an inquiry into the facts, the history, in effect. That had consequences. First of all, duration. Because the - I had no part, of course, in discussions in the Cabinet Office with ministers and officials about how long it might take. They took the view it might be a year or a bit more, but they were basing that on the assumption that it would be a private inquiry on paper with no public hearings or anything of that character. Like the Falklands Inquiry had been in 1984. I knew right from the outset, by instinct and then by parliamentary discussion, press commentary and the rest, certainly the families that was not going to work. It was going to have to have hearings and it would imply then that it would take longer. I didn't - no idea how long.

LK: You had no idea how long?

JC: No. And I - very sad, I do need to get a reference and mention it here for Martin Gilbert. Apart from him dying sadly part-way through, all the colleagues stuck with it, and so did the - the secretary to the inquiry. I won't say we didn't get a bit impatient at moments, but there it was.

LK: Why did it take so long?

JC: Because there was so much stuff. It was a history of, in effect, starting in 2001, of eight to nine years of diplomatic, military, political resource, every sort of aspect. And I felt very sorry for the families, I really did, and we kept in touch with them as best we could. Some said that's okay, some said, you know... And the lawyers were involved, and their lawyers. Which slows things down when you try and get into a relationship. But one of the other features which, I think, contributed both to duration, but also to process, was an instinctive feeling which all my colleagues shared, that we didn't want an accusatory inquiry so we didn't want legal representation. Gordon Brown actually wanted us to administer an oath. I took a bit of legal advice, said, 'no, I'm not going to do that, because if we do witnesses are exposed to a possible charge of perjury. Then they have to have legal representation, QCs on both sides.' And I thought oh, poor Lord Saville, Bloody Sunday, 200 million quid.

LK: So Gordon Brown wanted you to take evidence from people under oath?

JC: He said, 'think - please consider very carefully, can you or will you?' I said, 'no, but we'll introduce a - an informal procedure where I'd be asking each witness, you know, 'will you stand by what you say because we will then compare it later to the written record, and so be careful.' And they all agreed.

LK: Why do you think he wanted you to take evidence under oath?

JC: Oh, belt and braces. Made sure the truth came out. I'm not so sure. I don't know actually. I think he just felt in procedural terms it was sort of stronger. Well, there it was.

LK: And you say you were against that idea because you were worried about people having to perjure themselves?

JC: Not having to, but by exposing them to the risk. If you take an oath you are open to a charge of perjury if the documentary record, for example, shows that you didn't tell the truth. In that situation every witness is entitled to a lawyer to represent them. That destroys the dialogue. And what we wanted, frankly, was to get the story. And I have got a - collateral - for this for argument. Because Gordon Brown, when the first attempt at a Falklands-style inquiry failed politically.

LK: To hold it in private?

JC: Yeah. He said, 'well, John, why don't you go round all the heads of the relevant select committees and the leaders of political parties and see what they want?' And pretty much without exception they all said, 'we want to know all that happened and the evidence behind it.' They didn't say, 'we want to find the guilty party.' So I followed their guidance. But for a long time.

LK: Did you - did you have any idea at the start how complicated and controversial it would become?

JC: Controversy yes, because it had begun as a very controversial piece of statecraft. Complex, I think I probably underestimated it. There were so many dimensions and facets. Some of them were extremely interesting. I learnt a great deal, in those years. As, for example, the difficulty of finding out how many people die in a civil war or something approaching a civil war. Because you've got hospital records but lots of people are just buried in the ground or blown up, whatever. It's very hard to estimate. And the estimate range was huge. It's not a pleasant subject but it's interesting.

LK: Did the inquiry get too big do you think?

JC: In the sense of too large an army of staff and committee members, certainly not. I think we were very sparse. In terms of range and scale there were two propositions put to us: one was we should do an interim inquiry up to but short of the invasion, or perhaps including the invasion but leave the rest for another tier of report. One or two of the committee saw attraction in that. I have to claim I was opposed and so were others. On the footing that it was already apparent that one of the great failings of this enterprise was the lack of preparation and thought beforehand, which then spills over into the aftermath, and how do you read back if you've already published what you said about the run-up? It just doesn't make historical sense. The other was, could you pair off whole areas of subject matter? The treatment of civilians, for example, increasingly it became too difficult just to - you don't go down every rabbit hole. You can't do that. But when there's a sort of quite wide rabbit hole, it might even be a badger sett, you - you've got to do down it. Partly because people keep giving evidence and raise topics. International law is a classic case. Do you want me to go into that?

LK: So you had to pursue the evidence, you had to follow the evidence where it took you?

JC: Yes.

LK: But did you also get frustrated by the length of time it took, because of course not everything was in your control?

JC: I don't admit to frustration. I don't even admit to fatigue. It was very stimulating. I was - as I said earlier, I was sorry for the families in particular, but also that politically there was a risk that the impact of it would fade. I don't believe myself that happened, but that's a judgement for others.

LK: One of the reasons, of course, it took so long is the process of Maxwellisation.

JC: Yes.

LK: People who were to be criticised were given a right to reply beforehand. Was that the right thing to do?

JC: I hesitate to use the phrase, 'the right thing to do,' because it has echoes of other people using it. Was it necessary? Yes, I believe it was, for reasons of underlying fairness. If you're going to deprive witnesses of the opportunity to have legal representation during a live session, or indeed in representing their case, you have to find some other way of rectifying the potential unfairness. Now, there's a history to Maxwell, as lots of people know, and you go right back to the Salmon principles, and Maxwell of course was a - it was a business inquiry about fitness to be a director. There are those, including my very revered friend of very long standing, Louis Blom-Cooper, who says you didn't have to do that. You can do it without being unfair. To which my reply is you can only do it without being unfair if you give legal representation. And if you do that you expand the time in a different way, and raise the cost.

LK: Did that process, though, lead to you having to change some of the criticisms that you would put forward?

JC: Well, that's one way to ask the question. What it did do was I think it produced some new evidence which we'd not been made aware of, because we had the whole of the government archive, and you can't index a government archive 100%. So there were bits of evidence which were helpful. Others which actually pointed to new directions for us to re-explore. So to that extent did it change our ultimate opinions, judgements, not the basic ones, no. It was of course a confidential process, so I'm even at this stage not saying who was involved and what they argued. Did it have a positive effect? To a degree. I still think it satisfied the fairness criteria. But the other thing it did was avoid the delay question, which I don't know that people accept. We set for those often very senior politicians and military and other people, quite strict deadlines to respond to often very substantial bodies of draft material. And they all held to them, they didn't string it out. Which - well, I think I was slightly surprised actually.

LK: And there was suspicion among the public at the time?

JC: Oh yes.

LK: That some of the key witnesses, senior military figures, senior politicians were trying to water down the criticisms that you wanted to make of them.

JC: They were entitled to make their own argument on fairness grounds. But I don't think the report that came out suffers from dilution.

LK: But did some of them - and I know you can't identify them -

JC: Yeah.

LK: But did some of them try to water down the criticisms that you were making of them?

JC: I think the fair answer to that is no. They would make the best of their own case. They're entitled to.

LK: Isn't that the same thing?

JC: No, it's not the same thing actually. It's not to say 'if you avoid that word in that sentence of the draft, I think it would suit me.' There was none of that kind of argument. There were serious arguments about - and I'll take legal argument as one category - where you can have quite an extended dialogue and come out at the end with a revised draft which is not dilute but is more informative or better informed.

LK: So a different account?

JC: Yes. But I do deny dilution. And anyway, if you look at that report, it's not dilute.

LK: Did you find it frustrating then during that period? Because for a long time you were right in the middle of a row about this, with very few opportunities -

JC: Yes.

LK - to put your side of the story.

JC: Yeah. At this stage and after a year has passed and more than a year, I find it quite reassuring that we held to our ground, and neither truncated the report, which was prime minister Cameron's argument, which I think would have been unforgivable, a terrible waste of a lot of time and effort and truth, the other was - there was understandable pressure from the families. But I think by the time we launched it, it had satisfied their need for - I avoid the word 'closure', but for an account that satisfied their wish to know all that happened and why it happened and by whom.

LK: And David Cameron, he did pressure you to try and hurry up?

JC: (speaking over) Yes, he did.

LK: How did that play out? What did he say to you? What was the form of those discussions?

JC: Essentially messages via the cabinet secretary or senior Cabinet Office staff, and then eventually public correspondence. Which I had no difficulty in replying to politely. Firmness and politeness are different things.

LK: Why do you think he was trying to do it?

JC: Oh, I think you would need to ask him. But there was some media interest from some of the papers. The Guardian is still using the larger format, but others are not.

LK: Did some of the delays with Maxwellisation, and of course the nature of the evidence you were dealing with, a lot of the fact that it had to take so long was because of course, of the nature of what you were asking.

JC: Yes.

LK: And the nature of the witness sessions and the rest. Do you feel that the politicians you dealt with were as straight with you as they ought to have been?

JC: I think I'd need to distinguish. They adopted different approaches. And I have to name names here because these were public sessions. Tony Blair is always and ever an advocate. He makes the most persuasive case he can. Not departing from the truth but persuasion is everything. Advocacy for my position, my Blair position. Jack Straw, on the other hand is much more the historian. And produced, I mean, not only vast amounts of written material, but really stuck to his memory and recall of the key facts as they recurred to him in - under questioning. Others, it was - it varied. You would expect a lawyer to make legal argument.

LK: And they were, particularly the sessions with Tony Blair, they were extraordinarily tense.

JC: Yes.

LK: You say he always tried to make the most persuasive case, the advocate's case.

JC: Yes.

LK: Do you feel he was as straight with you as he ought to have been?

JC: I think I'd have to take us back into the body of the report itself, and the critique that we made. There is, I argued, you know, including in the launch statement, the responsibility on the leading politician, of a government, both to make the case for the policy decision taken but also to balance that with realism about risks, downsides, counter-arguments. If you act simply as a one-sided advocate you risk losing that. And I think that risk did come - come about.

LK: And indeed, your report would say, says, for example on the intelligence.

JC: Yes.

LK: He gave it a certainty that wasn't justified. I mean that's another way of saying it was exaggerated.

JC: He found - I don't know whether consciously or not - a verbal formula in the dossier and his foreword to it. He said - and used it again later. 'I believe the assessed intelligence shows beyond doubt.' Pinning it on 'my belief'. Not on the fact, what the assessed intelligence said. You can make an argument around that, both ethical and - well, there is an ethical argument I think.

LK: Do you think it was ethical to do that?

JC: We criticised it and said it shouldn't have been done.

LK: But was it ethical?

JC: I don't know that I - I'm not an ethicist. (laugh)

LK: But you spent years studying this -

JC: Yes.

LK: Intelligence. The way you put it in the report and what you've just said would suggest that's somebody who's spent their life in government, in public service.

JC: Yes.

LK: That you feel he manipulated the evidence to make his own case.

JC: Again I'm declining the word 'manipulate'. Using as best he could. But it's only fair to him to say that on the very eve of the invasion he asked the then chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, can you tell me beyond any reasonable doubt that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. To which the answer was, yes I can. He was entitled to rely on that. But would it have been wise to rely on it?

LK: And when it came to his evidence to you -

JC: Yes.

LK: Do you feel he gave you the fullest version of events?

JC: I think he gave an - what was - I hesitate to say this, rather, but I think it was, from his perspective and standpoint, emotionally truthful and I think that came out also in his press conference after the launch statement. I think he was under - as you said just now - very great emotional pressure during those sessions. Far more than the committee were. He was suffering. He was deeply engaged. Now in that state of mind and mood you fall back on your instinctive skills and reactions, I think.

LK: But he was relying, you suggest, therefore on emotion, not fact?

JC: Both. I mean fact, insofar as there are facts particularly in the intelligence sphere. Nobody should be allowed to become a senior minister reading intelligence without undergoing a training course. That was a diversion, but it's also true.

LK: But just having been part of those incredibly intense sessions and then having studied that version of events along with the enormous array of documentary evidence that you had, just in the most simple terms, do you believe that Tony Blair was as straight with you and the public as he ought to have been?

(long pause)

JC: Can I slightly reword that to say I think any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don't believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.

LK: In your view was it a necessary war? I mean you say plainly in the report the peaceful options had not been exhausted.

JC: Indeed. To that extent it doesn't satisfy the last resort criteria to that extent. Not necessarily for the United Kingdom to join. I leave the Americans to make their own argument.

LK: If it was therefore unnecessary, do you feel that the politicians who made those decisions for our country ought to bear some greater responsibility? Now you very clearly did not have a legal power in your inquiry, but you probably amassed more evidence than any kind of legal case ever would. Is there a case, do you think, for politicians involved to face some kind of further test, to face the law?

JC: I can't think what it would be. There isn't a court. In theory the general assembly of the United Nations could commission the International Court of Justice, but it never has and probably never - well except in one current instance but that's a trivial one. So it won't happen that way. If it's not a court internationally recognised you haven't got an authoritative verdict as an outcome, so other than reputational damage, what's involved? I take a more nuanced position, if I'm allowed to, which is that it could have become a necessary war had the intelligence proved to be more reliable than it proved to be. But later - and in effect it's the Colin Powell position. Don't exclude war, but don't do it yet, it's not necessary yet. It could even be - I hesitate to take in vain the name of a distinguished French president - but it is even the Chirac position. At least on paper.

LK: And that's one of the things you go through, the whole dynamic as Britain and the US were trying to get France into their place and they were pushing back in that other way. But for you therefore it was the rush to the conflict?

JC: Indeed, and it has so many and quite profound implications. The lack of preparation, the lack of risk analysis. The lack of resource allocation. Mistaken models I take - one thing very close to my heart 'cause of my earlier life in the Home Office and elsewhere and Northern Ireland, was the failure of security sector reform. And the notion that British civil policemen, largely unarmed, could enter into a conflict zone and be effective. I mean that's just loony. The Italian carabinieri were very good.

LK: Whose fault was that? But whose fault was that? I mean when you read through the information in the report, particularly about preparation, it's astonishing. Whose fault was it? Because it must have been somebody's fault.

JC: The critique that we mount and mounted, and I still stand by, was that a prime minister at the head of the government of a large country can't be expected to run a war on his/her own. If you look at the Second World War you have people like John Anderson fulfilling the civil side of government and Attlee signally in the new biography by John Bew - and Tony Blair, the prime minister of the time should, could not, have done it all himself with a tiny Number 10 staff. What we say he could and should have done was appoint a very senior non-departmental minister to run the show and coordinate otherwise very senior ministers - defence, Foreign Office and pull it together. And the fact is there was no - I think we used the rather idiomatic term - there was no buy-in by all the different departments and arms of government. And that should have been pulled together and it wasn't. And to do that you need a lot of political clout. I'm not going to cast that particular role in 2002-3, but there's a good parlour game.

LK: Do you think though that because of the lack of preparation, because of your view that it was not at that stage a necessary war.

JC: Yeah.

LK: Does that mean then the British government put British servicemen and women and Iraqi civilians in harm's way unnecessarily?

JC: In harm's way, certainly. It might have become necessary at a later point, and you can't of course run an exercise like Iraq whenever you do it without civilians being unavoidably profoundly affected. We - I think I have to stick with - it was not necessary for us to join in that at the time we did.

LK: And of course America's intentions were plain to see at that point. But having studied it in such detail, seeing for the first time before any of us, those notes, those intimate notes between Tony Blair and George W Bush, do you think the relationship between the US and the UK at that stage was appropriate? Was the relationship between the prime minister and the president appropriate?

JC: There are several things I'd like to say about that. One is I think that the fundamental British strategy was fractured, because our formal policy, right up to the autumn of 2002 was one of containment. That was the concluded decision of cabinet. But the prime minister was running one of coercive diplomacy. With the knowledge and support of the foreign secretary, but the foreign secretary hoped that diplomacy would win and not coercion. I think the prime minister it probably looked the other way round. So, I think what is harder for I suppose someone who's lived a life in Whitehall to understand is the fact that other members of the cabinet, including quite senior members, did not raise any kind of challenge to this - it was pretty plain policy was going two different ways - sort it somebody. And that kind of pressure was never really exerted except by Robin Cook who does deserve real credit not only because it's with hindsight now. The other things I wanted to say about that were - the official machine, it did put up good and relevant advice at various points, one of which was, shortly before the invasion, look, you've got to have a proper war cabinet setup. We've always had one, we need it. No. Advice formally went from recall from both the cabinet secretary and David Manning. You need a senior ministerial level committee running it and then an official one to take down the policy intent of the politicians and he'd give it effect in Whitehall. To which the prime minister said, 'you can play your games as officials, do what you like, but I'm not having a ministerial committee.' And I think it's well known why.

LK: Because he didn't want the challenge? He didn't want the scrutiny? He didn't want people to stop him doing what he wanted?

JC: I think that's the broader interpretation and the other is, could it be kept from leaking and would there be dissent by certain other members of that potential committee.

LK: So it was clear to you that Tony Blair was running his own game with George Bush, while the rest of the government -

JC: Yes.

LK: - apart from one or two people didn't know what was going on?

JC: That was the fact of the matter. The really quite damaging effect of that however was to give at every level, in the military and in civil government, the opportunities to shove up any difficult issue they couldn't resolve with the Americans at their level. Well it had better go up to the president/prime minister. Which I mean is hopeless. You can't clog up that relationship with literally hundreds of difficult decisions. You've got to work right through a system. Now the American system was quite fractured, of course, between Rumsfeld and Cheney on the one side and Colin Powell on the other. But leave them to their problems. So was ours. It was also upside down. I've got a rhetorical point to make but it's a real one. Tony Blair made much of, at various points and still does I think, of the need to exert influence on American policy making. To do that he said in terms at one point, 'I have to accept their strategic objective, regime change, in order to exert influence.' For what purpose? To get them to alter their policy? Of course not. So in effect it was a passive strategy. Just go along.

LK: Do you think he was almost played by the Americans then?

JC: I think you would need to have a two nation inquiry to get to that.

LK: If you're not doing much these days, you're officially retired, there you go.

JC: But it is a possible interpretation. We certainly concluded that the amount of effective influence exerted was very slight and short lived. Clearly getting George Bush to go to the United Nations in September '02, but that only lasted two/three months. When it comes to the immediate post-invasion era it's pretty much zilch. Whether in terms of de-Baathification or disbanding the Iraqi army without money or whatever but with their guns, in all sorts of ways. And then the situation reverses in 2006-7 when in the light of the security failure the Americans mount the surge and we're trying to get out.

LK: When you saw some of the most notable documents that emerged -

JC: Yes.

LK: And I'm thinking of course of the note.

JC: Of course. 'I shall be with you whatever.'

LK: What did you think when you saw that for the first time?

JC: I thought exactly the same as David Manning and Jonathan Powell thought.

LK: Which was?

JC: You mustn't say that!

LK: Because?

JC: Because you're giving away far too much. You're making a binding commitment by one sovereign government to another which you can't fulfil. You're not in a position to fulfil it. I mean he didn't even know the legal position at that point.

LK: And on the legal position, I mean you weren't constituted to set up to adjudicate on whether the war was illegal or not.

JC: No.

LK: But you do make the point, very clearly, in very polite yet quite damning terms, that the ways in which the legal decisions were taken were far from satisfactory. What did you mean by that?

JC: I suppose if you take it right to the sharpest point the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, was able by middle of February to say that I think there is not only a reasonable argument you can make, it might not prevail but you can make a reasonable argument, that was early February. Then under some pressure, I think the better view is that Resolution 1441 by itself without further resolutions could sustain the argument of legality. His legal secretary writes to the prime minister's foreign affairs secretary at that moment and says, 'there needs to be very strong evidence that Saddam is in continuing breach,' and what happened? The prime minister takes no advice from anyone as to the strength or quality of the supporting evidence. Doesn't discuss it with any colleague and simply instructs the private secretary, write back, say it's fine. Now that is perfunctory to an absurd degree. So failure of process - and for me that's very striking. I don't particularly want to pursue the ins and outs of the legal arguments up to that point, but at that moment I think there was a real failure of responsibility.

LK: So whether the legal arguments meant that it was okay or not, the ways which those decisions were reached -

JC: Yes.

LK: - fell significantly short in your view?

JC: I think that's a euphemism.

LK: Having studied the aftermath, as you did, do you think fundamentally that Britain's involvement in Iraq has made the middle east and therefore by extension our country, less stable, more dangerous?

JC: I always hesitate to reach these broad judgements, particularly on affairs which I haven't studied myself. However, I think it is necessary to say that the security failure in Iraq - both Iraq as a whole and in the south east where we took responsibility - I'd like to make a point about that too - can only have disrupted not only Iraq itself but the whole balance of power - Iran, Iraq, the Gulf States, the rest, and indirectly Syria. Libya is a possible exception up till much later. But what I do think is that the failure of security was staring people in the face from very early on. Certainly from the autumn of 2003. By the very latest at the end of 2003. And far too little was done about it. Now could anything useful have been done about it? You could have poured in more resources, you could have confined your activity, you could have put more weight on the Iraqi political community. But nothing happened until it was frankly too late. And I go back one to the pre and post invasion connection. We started off offering the Americans a large scale force of a divisional headquarters and one armoured brigade to go in through the north of Iraq. We wound up, at very short notice, giving them a divisional headquarters and three armoured brigades in the south. Now for that you would need first of all six month's notice according to the Strategy Defence Review, as we sit here, and - but you would also have to point out, we could only sustain that for a very brief period. And allowing for the new chapter of the Strategic Defence Review we were running two with Afghanistan from 2005 anyway, two medium scale operations without end. And we couldn't do that. We hadn't got the men, the equipment, the means.

LK: So we were hugely overstretched almost from the very beginning?

JC: Yes.

LK: In terms of your report having put politicians and senior military people who were involved under such intense scrutiny, so close to the events really -

JC: Yes.

LK: Do you think we could ever go to war in the same way, given what your Report uncovered?

JC: Oh yes. In an existential crisis, certainly. No question about it. And I don't think we would need a war powers act to prevent us to do that. But more generally, I think we have seen evidence of - not of a failure of nerve, but of an insistence on much better control of capacity, resources before reaching a decision to do something on that scale. And I don't think that's wrong. Whether the machinery is perfect and whether memories will survive say a decade or two I'm more doubtful, but the lessons are there.

LK: So you believe the report should in theory - could stop a similar rush to war where not enough was being done whether in the legal process or the intelligence process to be sure that it was the right thing?

JC: I've got good reason to have real confidence in both the Ministry of Defence institution and in the armed services, to think that they would not allow that to happen without much more rigorous analysis. And just to take one - it's not a small point - but I had so many years in Northern Ireland where the troops were after all the evolution of our presence there, given extremely clear instructions and orders as to how to operate. No such instructions or operational guidance was given at all at the beginning of the Iraq affair. What do we do when a bunch of Iraqis come at us and we've got rifles? Do we shoot or not shoot? Nothing. Now that can never happen again. That was awful.

LK: And you believe -

JC: That was professional failure.

LK: - that's because the report has brought in a new level of challenge you believe?

JC: I believe so. In fact I'm assured so and hope it's so.

LK: By whom? What assurances have you had?

JC: The rising generations of military. They don't want to be in that position, face a report like ours in ten or twenty years time.

LK: So the rising generations of the military have told you they won't make the same mistakes again, because of the Report?

JC: Yes, and they weren't their mistakes.

LK: What about the families?

JC: Yes.

LK: Do you think the report changed things for them?

JC: Well, I can only report what actually happened on the day of the launch. I was extremely uncertain as to what kind of reception we would get. We gave the families an hour and a half before I went into their room and I didn't know whether you'd get boos or brickbats or even rotten tomatoes. Instead we got loud applause. I then made a little talk and at the end of that even louder applause and thank yous and whatever, without real dissent from anywhere in the room. And then on the occasion of the actual launch statement at the end, there was I think something close to a standing ovation from some. Now the sense of relief I experienced was huge. But not to say there wasn't uncertainty. I think the families showed remarkable patience actually and endurance, having to live with real doubts about what would come out. But I have to say one thing which is not to set against that observation - well two. One is we did try to keep contact but the other was it was not a report for an about and to the bereaved families. It was about the whole thing. In that sense quite different from say the Hillsborough Report. And I have to get in another mention of Bloody Sunday. It wasn't about three hours of an afternoon, it was about eight years.

LK: Do you think therefore in your own mind it was worth it?

JC: Worth it in the sense of the public money spent, of the human effort involved, I've no doubts about either. I think it was a stopping place looking to the future which may have set, if not a new direction, set new criteria for big scale decision making by governments in conflict situations. And I think that was necessary.

LK: And as somebody's still a Whitehall watcher, do you think the deficiencies in how government works that you observed and detailed have disappeared? Have the problems been fixed?

JC: I think they've been recognised and I hope are in the process of being fixed. I mean certainly institutional changes have been made. National Security Council etcetera, etcetera. But the only test will be in the event, in the future event.

LK: What was the worst thing about it for you? Did you have any moments through the whole process where you just thought, argh, this is never gonna work?

JC: Not so much that, but both I, and I think I speak here for our very senior military adviser who'd been chief of general staff for the first Gulf War and around then, was a disappoint - a profound disappointment - at the failure of professional standards in both civil and military government in too many cases and on too many occasions. I mean things had really not gone at all well and that - there was individual failing as well as collective institutional failing.

LK: And presumably that meant lives were lost because of it?

JC: Well, you can't make a direct cause or connection. You can only say a situation was allowed to eventuate and the consequences of that situation were for some people fatal. But you can't then say therefore those people are responsible for those fatalities.

LK: Not directly.

JC: Yup.

LK: And what was the best thing?

JC: The best thing at one level was the intellectual rigour and stimulus of the committee and it's quite admirable staff. That was almost a counterbalance to what I've just said about failures of professional standards. This was done by - to my eye - to the best standards I've ever experienced in Whitehall. Unfailingly and over a good number of years by a lot of people. I was very pleased about that.

LK: And in terms of the best thing about the report's impact? Because the classic public response to these things is to say, it gave us lots of new information but it didn't change any minds. Do you think you changed minds?

JC: My hope is that some future minds will have been changed. Because you can't just say that block of volumes never existed. It's there now. It's standing in the way of a retreat back down the road to a lesser standard.

LK: And is that the best thing for you in terms of its impact?

JC: Yes. It says to me it was worthwhile the personal efforts involved by all of us.

LK: So you're glad you said yes when you had a couple of minutes to think about it all those years ago?

JC: Now, yes, but there were moments in between. But yes.

LK: Sir John, thank you so much.

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