You have to admire the tenacity of Teflon Tony. To most observers it’s beyond doubt that the former prime minister’s reputation was burnt to a crisp by the overheated intelligence on Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction. And yet, he rumbles on as though none of it ever happened.
Blair surprised rather a lot of people this week by saying he was quite prepared to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into the UK’s treatment of terrorism suspects.
Given the revelations made about CIA torture just a week previously, this led to fervent excitement that we would finally learn the truth about what Blair knew and what he oversaw.
Really? We’re still waiting to hear from the Chilcot inquiry. So febrile media speculation about the prospect of him being hauled over the coals should be treated with more than just a degree of scepticism.
In fact, the very idea that there could even be a British government inquiry even remotely capable of bringing the actual facts into public view is so full of nonsense as to risk being mistaken for something from the works of Dr Seuss.
Not to put too fine a point on it, British government inquiries are something of a category error. Far from aiming to uncover the truth, they are designed to provide a narrative of lessons learned and of a line having been drawn. The goal is for everyone involved to be able to pretend that something meaningful has happened while continuing to go about their business unimpeded by pesky facts or legal consequences.
What’s more, there is no evidence to suggest that the UK government has been even remotely interested in examining the country’s role in the dark arts of the war on terror. If it was, it has not exactly been short of opportunities to show it.
Successive governments have an incredible record of sidestepping unfortunate evidence in this area. Take lost documents detailing the use of Diego Garcia for extraordinary rendition flights. Take attempts by the Foreign Office to block the release of documents revealing that the authorities knew about the torture of UK resident Binyam Mohamed, and had not tried to stop it.
And how about something from the Joint Human Rights Committee highlighting a “disturbing number of credible allegations” of British involvement in the use of torture from 2008? How about its complaint that the government seemed “determined to avoid parliamentary scrutiny” about its knowledge of such things?
Even if none of this is enough to make it clear that an inquiry would fail to uncover anything significant, it’s worth remembering that another torture inquiry has already been and gone. At least, sort of. Although you could be forgiven for having missed it.
This was the “fully independent” torture inquiry headed by a former commissioner of the intelligence services that was set up by the coalition government in 2010. It had limited access to documents, no power to compel any former government officials to testify, and was abandoned following the discovery of documents in Libya reportedly showing the involvement of MI6 in rendition operations, so as not to prejudice a police investigation into the case.
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. Maybe this time it will all be different. Perhaps this time they mean business. Perhaps, for once we’ll have an inquiry that leaves no stone unturned in its quest for the truth, an investigation that doesn’t set out to instigate an establishment cover-up right from the outset.
Maybe this time Britain will actually live up to all the usual blathering nonsense that gets spouted about respect for democracy and freedom and human rights and international law. Oh, who am I fooling? No-one, probably.