Brutal for Blair – and Straw, Sun says

by Chris Ames

The Sun (on Sunday) says:

TONY Blair and Jack Straw will be savaged in a long-awaited report into the Iraq War, sources revealed last night.

The ex-PM “won’t be let off the hook” over claims he promised America he would send our troops in a year before the 2003 invasion.

And harsh criticism will be aimed at ex-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over the disastrous post-invasion stewardship of Basra and southern Iraq. An ex-minister with knowledge of the report’s findings said: “It will be absolutely brutal for Straw.”

We have to be careful of course about what axe an ex-minister with knowledge of the findings has to grind. Is it someone who himself – or herself – is due to be criticised and wants to make sure attention is focussed on other culprits?

Here are some more of the Sun’s claims, perhaps with different sourcing:

Mr Blair will be lambasted for over-egging the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, a source who has spoken to two of the report’s authors claims.

Ex-spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove will also be rapped for letting Mr Blair and his aides put a “gloss” on intelligence about the Iraqi tyrant’s doomsday weapons.

An insider says the report will slam Mr Blair for telling US President George Bush a year before the war that he would support military action.

He said: “It is clear that he did commit himself to Bush at an early stage and didn’t want to be seen as letting him down.”

This led to a “gloss given to intelligence assessments” and the claim in a dodgy dossier that Saddam could attack British targets at 45 minutes’ notice.

Of course, to anyone who has followed all the evidence, all of this is obvious, It’s always been a question of whether Chilcot, like the Butler review on which he collaborated, will pull his punches.

 


What is Dearlove up to?

by Chris Ames

The Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary says:

As the publication date of the Chilcot report into the Iraq war approaches with an urgency that makes Godot look punctual, a timely resurgence from Sir Richard Dearlove yesterday. The former MI6 chief appeared from the shadows earlier this week to compare offering visa-free access to Turkish immigrants with “storing gasoline next to the fire”. But is he simply warming up for a bigger story?

The Londoner is told that Dearlove, who was in charge of the British Secret Intelligence Service during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is said to be putting the finishing touches on a book about that difficult period of British history. The report is due in July, after a seven- year wait, and we hear that Dearlove, who is not expecting to come off well in the proceedings, will publish his version of events soon after.

Dearlove has previously threatened to use his memoir to retaliate against Chilcot:

A former head of MI6 has threatened to reveal explosive new details behind the ‘dodgy dossier’ scandal if he objects to the long-awaited findings of the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War.

Sir Richard Dearlove, 68, who provided intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) that was apparently ‘sexed up’ by Tony Blair’s Government, has spent the last year writing a detailed account of events leading up to the war. 

He had intended to keep his work under lock and key and made available only to historians after his death.

But now Sir Richard has revealed to The Mail on Sunday that he could go public after the Chilcot Inquiry publishes its findings.

It seems Sir Richard may not like what Sir John will say. So kind of Sir John to give him advance notice so he can prepare his retaliation.

But, as I’ve said before, how dare Dearlove keep things back from Chilcot? Or, to put it another way, what can he have to say that he wouldn’t have already used in his own defence?


The Shabby Fix

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry says that:

Sir John Chilcot and the Prime Minister have agreed that the Iraq Inquiry’s report will be published on Wednesday 6 July 2016.

The date was confirmed in correspondence between Sir John and the Prime Minister and follows completion of the report and the national security checking process.

So over two months to typeset a report that hasn’t changed, conveniently taking publication past the EU referendum.

It looks like the shabby fix after all.

 

 


The Inquiry will publish the pre-war Cabinet minutes in full – or will it?

by Chris Lamb

The Information Commissioner has issued a Decision Notice for my third request for the Cabinet minutes of 13 and 17 March. He backs the Cabinet Office’s rejection of the request under of Section 22 (i) of the FoI Act.

Section 22 (i) states that information is exempt from disclosure if;

(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not),

(b) the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and

(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a)

The grounds cited for this exemption are that, when the request was made, an agreement had already been made between the Cabinet Office and the Inquiry that the minutes could be published.

The Commissioner decided that the content of what had been agreed for disclosure essentially covered what I had asked for in my request.

The Cabinet Office explained that the information in the minutes which relates to Iraq is intended for publication by the Iraq Inquiry. It explained that on 22 January 2014, the Cabinet Office wrote to the Chilcot Inquiry confirming agreement to the publication by the Chilcot Inquiry of “the ’full extract’ from the 13 March 2003 and 17 March 2003 Cabinet Conclusions. In the case of the 17 March 2003 document, this amounted to the whole document (Iraq was the only topic discussed on 17 March 2003)”.

Readmore..


Prime minister hints at shabby EU referendum fix

by Chris Ames

The Guardian reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will not be published until after the EU referendum, Downing Street has confirmed.

Other papers have picked up on David Cameron’s comments at PMQs today that ‘the Chilcot report will come not too much longer after’ the EU referendum on 23 June but the Guardian says that:

Downing Street sources later confirmed that July was the most likely timing for the publication.

It’s not clear whether this “most likely” is the basis for “confirmed” or an elaboration but what is more of a concern is why the Prime Minister has this information.

Last month I wrote on Comment is Free and here:

Penrose also said that Chilcot would give a firmer timetable for publication after [national security checking], but has suggested that this will still see publication in June or even July. He said the delay will not be because of the EU referendum, but because the report’s size means “it will take a number of weeks to prepare it for publication”. Has William Caxton been engaged to do the work, or should we be suspicious of some shabby fix?

The Inquiry has made clear that it will not be commenting until national security checking has been complete but it has not yet made any announcement and no date has been set. Obviously the absence of a date doesn’t mean they haven’t told No 10 that publication will be some way off.

I asked the Inquiry’s spokesman if he would comment on the appropriateness or accuracy of the No 10 briefing but he declined.

Should we be suspicious that the timing of the Inquiry’s report is not independent of government after all?

I think so.


National Security Checking begins today

by Chris Ames

I understand that the National Security Process will begin today, not last week as many people, including myself, were assuming.

But, because the process appears to involve officials visiting the Inquiry at some point today, rather than the report being sent to the government, it may be that the finishing touches are still being put to the report.

Note that Sir John’ Chilcot’s letter last October referred to officials being given ‘confidential access to the report’. The report will remain in the hands of the Inquiry throughout.

Publication is still going to be in June or July,


Read this first…probably

by Chris Ames

I am told by the Inquiry that there is no update on plans to give the report to the government for National Security Checking this week.

In the meantime, my colleague Peter Oborne has written a book Not the Chilcot Report, which is to be published on 19 May, almost certainly before Chilcot publishes.

Here’s the story on the book on the Bookseller website:

According to the publisher, Not the Chilcot Report is a “concise summary of what should be in the Chilcot Report”. The publisher added: “Peter Oborne shows how the British government colluded in deceiving the public, grossly exaggerating the threat from Saddam Hussein. The book will prove that Tony Blair repeatedly misled the British people in his determination to stand with America at all costs.”

The publisher continued: “The invasion of Iraq was ‘the defining calamity of the post-cold war era’, in Peter Oborne’s words. It has led to the collapse of the state system in the Middle East. Iraq is shattered, Syria may never be put back together again. And the great wave of refugees unleashed by this breakdown is threatening what is left of democracy in Turkey and the very existence of the European Union.

“Oborne provides a forensic examination of the way evidence was doctored and the law manipulated in order to justify a war for regime change. The government bent facts to fit its determination to go to war, Parliament failed to scrutinise wild allegations, the intelligence service was perverted, and the media lost its head.”

Oborne said: “I hope that this short book, which is based very largely on evidence publicly presented to the Inquiry, will assist lay readers who want to make sense of Chilcot. It stretches to 35,000 carefully written words. The Iraq Inquiry by contrast is a reported 2 million words long –  which is approximately four times the length of War and Peace.”

I should declare an interest: I have read through and checked the book at Oborne’s request and am acknowledged in its foreword.

 

 

 

 

 


Will a censored Chilcot be worth the wait?

by Chris Ames

I have posted a piece for Comment is Free this afternoon. Here is the original version:

The end to the seemingly interminable Iraq Inquiry is in sight, for sure. A couple more months perhaps and with scope for another dose of farce and some more censorship. To use a cliché that predates even the inquiry, the glass is half full. Or is it still half empty?

On the positive side, we are on track for publication of the inquiry report (in parliament and simultaneously on the Inquiry’s website) in June or July, as per the timetable set out by Sir John Chilcot in October.  But why it will take quite so long is inexplicable.

Sometime this week, and possibly as you are reading this, a near-final version of the report will be winging its way from the ”independent” inquiry to the government, which will then complete a process of national security checking within two weeks.

Reassuringly, Cabinet Office minister John Penrose told MPs on Thursday that the process “cannot be used to redact or censor material that … might prove embarrassing to Ministers or officials”.

But this is only reassuring until you remember that Gordon Brown told MPs when he launched the inquiry that “the final report will be able to disclose all but the most sensitive information—that is, all information except that which is essential to our national security”. Officials then drew up a list as long as your arm of reasons why information might need to be withheld. “National security” covers a multitude of sins.

Penrose also said that Chilcot would give a firmer timetable for publication after this, but has suggested that this will still see publication in June or even July. He said the delay will not be because of the EU referendum, but because the report’s size means “it will take a number of weeks to prepare it for publication”. Has William Caxton been engaged to do the work, or should we be suspicious of some shabby fix?

Penrose gave MPs an assurance that the government will publish the report “as soon as it is delivered to us in its final form by the inquiry team, whenever that may be.” This is good news, as ministers had previously said that the report could only be published if MPs were available to debate it. Even if Chilcot fails to provide the report before the summer recess on 21 July ministers will (probably) not hold onto it.

What will the report say? If Sir John has forgotten the question, the Iraq Inquiry Digest has a list. I think it can safely be assumed that the Iraq misadventure will not be rewritten as a roaring success. There has been plenty of speculation about who will be criticised most, and for what. Military and establishment figures will be “singled out” for criticism, or the blame will be apportioned “widely”. Again, it depends which way you look at it.

My own area of interest has always been how we got into the debacle, not the debacle itself. We can still only speculate about what Chilcot will say about the legality of the war, or whether he will say Tony Blair lied about the non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or lied when he told MPs that it had not been possible to get “a” second UN resolution because Jacques Chirac said France would veto any resolution “whatever the circumstances”.

We should remember both that there is a traditional squeamishness within the establishment about accusations of lying and that the inquiry has no particular protection against a defamation action if it accuses someone of bad faith. It has probably already been threatened by the lawyers of “Maxwellees”, who have been given advance sight of criticism.

What I do know is that the inquiry will publish documents that set out clearly how Blair promised US President George W Bush a year before the invasion that he would back regime change to overthrow Saddam Hussein but proposed setting a trap for the Iraqi dictator based on his alleged WMD, on which intelligence was ‘poor’. But even here we are back to that half-empty glass.

The documents in question are often referred to as the Downing Street documents, because they include a revealing record of a meeting at No. 10 in July 2002. They were leaked many years ago to journalist Michael Smith and have been available online, almost in their entirety, ever since.

The good news is that the inquiry cannot publish these documents and produce a narrative that ignores what they show. For example, a Cabinet Office paper from March 2002 set out two options: one was to try to use the UN and a threat of force to try to disarm Iraq of WMD; the other was to use WMD as a pretext for regime change. At the time, Blair told his cabinet and the rest of us that his policy was the former.  In 2011, he explained to the Inquiry why this wouldn’t have worked and why he chose the latter.

The bad news is that both the inquiry and the Information Commissioner have told me that these documents will be partially censored at the government’s request.

It is well established that there has been a lot of argument between Chilcot and the government about what the inquiry can publish, particularly regarding Blair’s intercourse with Bush. If you are an optimist you will trust Sir John when he says he can publish enough evidence to stand up the story he wants to tell. If you are a pessimist you will be very worried when Sir John says he will publish only the evidence that stands up the story he wants to tell.

 

 

 

 


No further forward

by Chris Ames

Today’s debate on the National Security Checking process does not appear to have taken us beyond what has already been reported this week – that publication of the report is more likely to be delayed by the preparation of the report for publication rather than the checking process or the EU referendum.

Cabinet Office minister John Penrose told MPs:

we expect the inquiry’s report to be ready for national security checking in the week beginning 18 April—that is, some time next week. Once Sir John indicates that that is the case, the work will begin. As the Prime Minister promised, it will take no longer than two weeks.

Once that is done, the inquiry team will prepare the report for printing and publication. I should make it clear that at that stage, even when the national security checking process is complete, the report will still be in Sir John Chilcot’s hands and will not be released to the Government until everything is ready. The inquiry team has said that it will complete the remaining work as swiftly as possible, and Sir John Chilcot indicated in his letter to the Prime Minister last October that he expects publication in June or July this year.

He also said:

I want to reassure everybody, in Parliament and elsewhere, that the process will not and cannot be used to redact or censor material that does not need to be secret, or that might prove embarrassing to Ministers or officials from the time covered by the inquiry. I am also pleased to inform the House that I understand that the inquiry team expects to announce a firmer publication date soon after the national security checking process is complete

and:

I should also reassure the House that I have checked with senior officials in the Cabinet Office and been assured that nothing in the rules of purdah for the EU referendum could provide a reason to delay the publication of Sir John’s report once he delivers it to the Government. We will therefore publish the report as soon as it is delivered to us in its final form by the inquiry team, whenever that may be.

This last commitment does not even appear to be dependent on the government getting the report before the summer recess, although that seems almost certain now,

Meanwhile, the Guardian speculates about what the report might say, although this also seems to get us no further forward:

Senior military figures may be singled out for criticism in the long-awaited Chilcot report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which is due to be handed to Downing Street next week.

This is almost meaningless. The ‘may’ is speculative, while ‘singled out’ is contradicted by the rest of the piece and contradicts a controversial story six months ago that blame would be spread ‘far and wide’.

It seems that:

Ministers in focus will be the former defence secretary Geoff Hoon, former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and former international development secretary Clare Short, as well as Blair.

specifically:

The Chilcot report is certain to point to Hoon’s instruction to the then chief of defence staff, Lord Boyce, to delay military preparations so as not to alert parliament and the public, that war was a given, as one well-placed source put it to the Guardian.

So we’re back to ‘far and wide’, with ministers as likely to be criticised as generals, and no further forward.


Commons to debate national security checking

by Chris Ames

Tomorrow (Thursday) the House of Commons will debate a motion on the national security checking process that is due to begin next week, and specifically the motion:

That this House calls on the Government to conclude the National Security checking of the Iraq Inquiry report as soon as possible in order to allow publication of that report as soon as possible after 18 April 2016, and no later than two weeks after that date, in line with the undertaking on time taken for such checking by the Prime Minister in his letter to Sir John Chilcot of 29 October 2015.

Tory MP David Davis, one of those putting forward the motion, is quoted in heraldscotland as saying:

A lot of the reason it’s delayed already is haggling over what they can and can’t use. If they weren’t security clearing at that time, I don’t quite know what they think they were doing.

There’s really no argument for it taking any more than two weeks.

I think we’ll win the battle. If not, frankly, there will be an uproar.

Labour MP Paul Flynn is quoted as saying:

This is an attempt to keep it outside of the referendum and the political fallout from both sides.

I think they could publish it ahead of the referendum, but they won’t.

We all want to get things settled and to be informed and to know the truth about these events which took place, in our lifetimes.

The delay is sinful, damaging and wicked. The debate will be a chance to get some answers from the Government.

The trouble is, the Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend the government is still saying it can complete national security checking in two weeks and that any subsequent delay will be because of a tortuous printing process, rather than the EU referendum.

Perhaps the debate will clarify this.