Few High-Level Former Bush Officials Likely to Meet With British Iraq Panel

Members of a British government inquiry tribunal assigned to investigate the conduct leading up to the Iraq War are visiting the U.S. this week to meet with Americans who they hope "have insights" into Britain's involvement in the conflict. But it is unclear how many Americans who were deeply involved in the policy deliberations and governmental machinations that led both the U.S. and U.K. into the war will be willing to cooperate with the British inquiry team.

Declassified has identified at least two prominent former U.S. officials who have been approached by the inquiry team and have agreed in principle to talk with them. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who during the run-up to the war served as chief of staff to then-secretary of state Colin Powell, confirmed that he had been contacted by members of the British panel and is planning to meet them sometime this week in Washington, D.C. Another former U.S. official who was contacted by and agreed to meet with the panel is David Kay, who headed the post-invasion Iraq Survey Group set up by the Bush administration to hunt for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; Kay's team found no WMD stockpiles of any significance.

Both Wilkerson and Kay became publicly known for their negative views of the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War. Wilkerson has been one of the Bush administration's harshest critics, accusing former vice president Dick Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld of heading a national security "cabal" that engaged in a series of "aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations [and] changes to the national-security decision-making process." Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector, initially supported the Iraq War but became disenchanted after his WMD-hunting team spent tens of millions of dollars hunting for a WMD arsenal that U.S. and British Intelligence before the war said threatened the world but that turned out to have been destroyed by Saddam years earlier.

Whether the British inquiry team will have access to other current or former U.S. government figures who were involved in policy, military, and intelligence activities related to the Iraq War is much less clear. Wilkerson says he doesn't think that former secretary of state Powell is interested in meeting with the British investigators. A source who spoke on the condition of anonymity and who is familiar with the views of former CIA director George Tenet, who sat behind Powell at the United Nations when the U.S. foreign policy chief famously laid out to the world what turned out to be a highly flawed American dossier on Saddam's WMD, says that neither Tenet nor most of the senior intelligence officials who worked with him on Iraq-related issues were likely to cooperate with the British inquiry. One former senior U.S. intelligence official rhetorically asked Declassified, "Which current or ex-official in his or her right mind would ever agree to meet with this crowd?"

Two of the most senior Pentagon officials involved in agitating for, and later planning the Iraq War, former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and former Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith, did not respond to messages from Declassified requesting comment. Representatives for former vice president Cheney and former defense secretary Rumsfeld also had no immediate comment.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the inquiry tribunal, headed by former U.K. civil servant Sir John Chilcot, announced that its members had arrived in the U.S. "to speak to officials and military officers from the current and former administrations." The announcement says that the inquiry members would be in the U.S. for five days, visiting Washington D.C. and Boston, and would "have private discussions with a number of people who have insights into the U.K.'s involvement in Iraq over the period being examined by the Inquiry." It's unclear whom the panel might be hoping to interview in Boston; a spokeswoman for the inquiry declined to offer an explanation for the trip.

Although the tribunal has held high-profile, sometimes rambling, public hearings at a conference center in London and has heard testimony from such important figures as former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, given that it has no legal or moral authority to compel cooperation from Americans, whatever cooperation it does get in the U.S. will have to be from people who are willing to voluntarily meet with the inquiry. In its press release, the U.K. tribunal says that as any interviews it conducts are "being held on a private basis, the identities of the people the Inquiry committee are seeing and the location of meetings will not be revealed in advance." The announcement adds, however, that, "subject to the agreement of participants, the Inquiry may provide more details about the trip after it has been completed. Similarly, if the committee wishes to use any of the information it receives from individuals in America in its report, it will seek their permission first."

The press release says members of the inquiry panel visited France earlier in May, where they met a number of French personalities who were willing to talk about the Iraq War. The tribunal says its contacts in France included former French minister of foreign affairs Dominique de Villepin and several government advisers and ambassadors.