Don’t hide the report from the voters – Plaid Cymru

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, November 24, 2014

by Chris Ames

Wales Online reports that:

On the fifth anniversary of the first session of Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry, politicians have condemned the fact that the report into the lessons of the conflict has yet to be published.

There are fears that the public will now not see the report ahead of the May 2015 election.

The party’s parliamentary leader, Elfyn LLywd said:

The delay in publishing its report only adds fuel to speculations as to its credibility. The report must be published without delay, and certainly before the general election in May.

This is now the most important point of contention around the Inquiry – not who may have been responsible for the delay so far but whether it is right for the government deliberately to hide it from the electorate in case it should influence how they vote. Government ministers have previously talked about an arbitrary deadline of Febuary, after which the report will have to be delayed until after the election.

It’s hard to believe that in a supposedly mature democracy in the 21st century anyone thinks it’s a good idea to keep information from voters.

 

 

 

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Salmon letters sent out “some time ago” – Daily Mail

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Mail reports that:

Letters containing the detailed conclusions of the public inquiry into the Iraq War have been sent to the main participants, the Daily Mail understands.

The revelation will increase speculation that the conclusions of the long-delayed inquiry could be made public in the coming months.

Tony Blair and Jack Straw are among those thought to have received letters in recent weeks warning them of any criticisms to be made by Sir John Chilcot.

Whitehall sources have told the Mail the letters were sent out ‘some time ago’.

 

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Lord Wallace: I want books for Christmas

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Tuesday, November 4, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry is in the news again today, with further discussion about the delay, whether the report will be published before the election, and the cost, which is likely to go over £10m.

Here is the whole of yesterday’s debate in the Lords.

 

Asked by Lord Dykes

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to expedite the publication of the report by the Chilcot Inquiry.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, the inquiry is completely independent of government. However, Sir John Chilcot has said that it is the inquiry’s intention to submit its report to the Prime Minister as soon as possible. I very much hope that its conclusions will shortly be available for all to read.

Lord Dykes (LD): I express sympathy to my noble friend that HMG appear to be at the mercy of pressures from outside to connive in a delay in this report possibly to help Mr Bush and Mr Blair. Will he please come back to the Prime Minister’s exhortation in May that the report should be published by the end of this year at the latest and say when the date will be?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I refute that there is in any sense a conspiracy connected to the former Prime Minister or the former American president. It has taken a good deal longer than was anticipated to clear the many thousands of documents that have been examined and which will be published on the website with a number of redactions. That process is now virtually complete. The Maxwellisation letters,

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which were sent out as a warning last year, should now be going out and we hope that that process will be completed. As soon as those who are to be criticised in the report have responded, the report will be ready for submission to the Prime Minister.

Lord Morgan (Lab): My Lords, is this not a scandal following on a scandal? Is it not a public disgrace? In other countries—for example, the Netherlands—there were far more competent professional inquiries, full of lawyers who could comment on international law, which replied very swiftly. We have had this endless delay. Does it not indicate that perhaps the Government as well as the Civil Service have ceased to believe in open government?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: No, my Lords, I do not think that it does. It has taken longer than we had hoped or expected. This is an entirely new sort of inquiry. I suppose it is comparable to the Saville inquiry, which also took a great deal longer than we had anticipated. We underestimated the complexity before we started, but we are encouraging the committee as rapidly as possible to complete and we are anxious to have the report published.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, does the Minister accept that repeated press reports of rows between the Cabinet Office and the inquiry over the declassification of documents are deeply hurtful to the families most affected by the Iraq conflict? Does he agree that until the inquiry is completed, many bereaved and grieving families will not be able to move on?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I appreciate that many have been affected by the issues studied by this inquiry. I am not aware of any rows between the Cabinet Office and the inquiry. I am aware of a long series of complex discussions within the British Government, between the British Government and our allies and with the inquiry about the exact nature of what should be published. I am conscious that what will be published includes notes from more than 200 Cabinet meetings, for example, including some extracts from Cabinet minutes.

Lord Dobbs (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend remember that, before the war broke out, 1 million ordinary people marched in the streets of London telling us not to go to war, yet we politicians did a pretty miserable job in waving that war on willy-nilly? While no one underestimates the difficulties that Sir John Chilcot faces, does my noble friend not accept that any further delay, after all this time, can only increase the sense of injustice that so many people feel about that war?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I remember that march very well: I was one of the marchers. We are very conscious that we now need to bring this to a close. I deeply regret that it has taken three years since the end of the interview phase of the inquiry to get as far as we have. We are all anxious to complete the next stage which, as I stress, is showing to those who will be criticised in the report what it says about them and giving them a chance to reply. As soon as that is

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completed—so we are a little dependent on them, I am afraid to say, and on their lawyers—the report will be submitted to the Prime Minister and published.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, does the Minister regard “as soon as possible” as nearer or further off than “in due course”?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I very much hope nearer. In the debate in the House of Commons last week, my colleague the Minister for Civil Society commented that they very much hoped to have this published before the end of February. We are all conscious that we do not want to have this published in the middle of an election campaign.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): My Lords, could we have the report as a Christmas present?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: There are many things that the noble Lord might like as a Christmas present. I am not sure that I would prefer to read this report, with all its appendices, rather than the novels that I hope my wife will give me for Christmas.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD): Does the Minister agree that sometimes in these enormous investigations it might be wise to set a time limit with an understanding that there are some things that simply can never be found out?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I think one of the lessons we will have learnt from this inquiry is that time limits are highly desirable. I stress again that the review of thousands of documents, which were at high levels of classification, was unprecedented and did unavoidably take a great deal of time.

Lord West of Spithead (Lab): My Lords, how much has the Chilcot inquiry cost so far? Is it rather like building work in one’s own house that “as soon as possible” ends up costing an awful lot more?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the inquiry has cost £9 million so far. We estimate that by the time it is completed it will have cost £10 million. By comparison, the Saville inquiry cost £100 million.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, how far will the extra £1 million take us? Can my noble friend give an assurance that it will not be within the pre-election period before the next general election when silence is observed?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, that is the assurance that the Minister for Civil Society gave last week. We are all anxious that if it is not published by the end of February it would be inappropriate to publish it during the campaign period.

Lord Mawhinney (Con): My Lords, I declare an interest as I had the privilege of working very closely with Sir John Chilcot when he was the Permanent Secretary in Northern Ireland. Is my noble friend concerned that the backstage manoeuvring and perhaps even bickering going on as people allegedly seek to protect their reputations could over time start to have

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a damaging effect on the reputation of Sir John Chilcot? It would be a disgrace were that to be allowed to happen.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I am not sure about backstairs manoeuvring. I would say that the members of the Chilcot inquiry would not pass the necessary test as all being members of the establishment. Indeed, one of the members of the Chilcot inquiry disrupted the first lecture I gave as a university teacher when he was himself a rebellious student. The inquiry does have to consult those whom it will criticise and allow them to provide a defence. That is the process that now remains to be completed before we publish. We all have to accept that in natural justice that has to be allowed to go ahead even if there are lawyers involved.

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords, the process referred to by the noble Lord could take months. It could take a very long time. If criticisms are made in the report they then have to go to the people who have been criticised. They have the right to comment. It then comes back to Sir John Chilcot. He has to consider those representations and then, if necessary, reflect them by amending the report. That is a recipe for a delay that will go on and on and on.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I hope that will not be the case, but I am sure the noble Lord will accept that this is a necessary part of the process. There will be criticisms of people who served in the previous Labour Government and they are entitled to see them before publication.

Lord Woolf (CB): My Lords, the question of what happens in the course of inquiries was reported on by the committee, of which I have the privilege to be a member, headed by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. One of its recommendations was that we should look again at the process of writing to those who may be affected. Many of those who have conducted inquiries said that it led to additional expense and waste of time. The Government were not sympathetic to what we recommended. Does the noble Lord think that the Government should look at the matter again?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, when the inquiry is complete and published, it might well be appropriate for some body of government or House of Parliament to look at that question again.

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Hague hopes for report before the election

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, October 16, 2014

by Chris Ames

The BBC reports that

William Hague has said he “hopes” the Iraq Inquiry report will be published before the 2015 general election.

Hague was speaking as leader of the House of Commons  and reminded people that as shadow foreign secretary he led debates calling for an Iraq inquiry, which the Labour government resisted for as long as it could. Hague pointed out that it would all be over by now without the delay setting it up.

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Iraq’s “hidden’” chemical weapons

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, October 15, 2014

by Chris Ames

The New York Times reports that:

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The NYT story focuses on the US Government’s alleged concealment of these discoveries and injuries as well as the fear that remaining chemical agents may have fallen into the hands of IS/ISIS.

Interestingly, the 2004 report of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group said that

While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.

Just one of many ironies in this story.

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Miliband: Let’s learn the lessons of Iraq

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Chris Ames

Twelve years to the day since Tony Blair (reluctantly) recalled Parliament to present the Iraq wmd dossier, it looks as if Parliament may again be recalled to discuss UK military action in Iraq.

We may have to wait for a decision from Ed Miliband though. Miliband told Sky News this morning:

Miliband said in a series of media interviews today that he’s “open” to British action in Iraq, though he wants a UN Security Council resolution before considering supporting U.K. bombing raids over Syria.

“We’ve got to do it in the right way, let’s learn the lessons of the Iraq war,” Miliband told Sky News television. “We’ve got a democratic state in Iraq that has asked for help, if that ask were to come to us I’d have to look very seriously at that possibility — the situation in Syria is more complex.”

As the Inquiry still hasn’t reported, we don’t know what the lessons of the Iraq war are. If doing it “in the right way” means getting a UN Security Council resolution, isn’t that what Blair claimed to have?

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Report in February, Fox says

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, September 22, 2014

by Chris Ames

Writing for The Week, the highly respected veteran defence writer Robert Fox says that:

After much wrangling about what can and cannot be published of the personal correspondence between Tony Blair and George W Bush, I understand the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War will at last be released in February 2015.

The gist of Fox’s article is that proximity to the general election will not prevent publication of the report but that:
To bring the Chilcot report into play when it cannot be seriously debated politically just ahead of the general election may be part of a cunning plan to justify Cameron’s increasingly neo-isolationist stance.

This of course contrasts with Tony Blair’s position, as reported by the Telegraph:

Tony Blair has said that politicians should heed his advice that British boots on the ground in Iraq should not be ruled out because he had experience of taking Britain to war in that country.

The former Prime Minister said people should “appreciate” that he has learnt lessons through going to war in Iraq and listen to his thoughts on tackling Islamic State because they are “precisely” the same terrorist forces he battled during the conflict.

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Delay upon delay upon delay

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, September 14, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Independent reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war is still making fresh requests for the release of classified government papers, suggesting that its report is unlikely to be published before the general election.

Government sources say Sir John Chilcot and his team are still filing a “steady stream” of requests asking civil servants to declassify documents that he wants to quote in his report – meaning it is still being written.

While there is an element of speculation here, the absolutely concrete aspect of the story is that:

A spokesman for the inquiry confirmed yesterday that the process of Maxwellisation, whereby Sir John will warn those he intends to criticise, has not started.

We are back to wondering whether the issue of getting clearance to publish certain documents was a smokescreen for the Inquiry’s own inability to complete the report. It’s not clear whose speculation, or excuse, this is…

One senior source suggested the inquiry chairman may also be having to balance the views of different members of his panel which may be contributing to the delay.

… but it is potentially worrying. The Butler Inquiry pulled its punches because Tony Blair planted Ann Taylor on the panel and she argued strongly for its report to be watered down. We should not forget of course that all members of the Inquiry were appointed by the Labour government.

 

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No cover-up, says Blair aide

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Tuesday, September 9, 2014

By Chris Ames

The BBC reports Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood’s appearance before the Commons Public Administration Committee.

 The Iraq Inquiry report will “not be a cover-up in any shape or form”, the UK’s top civil servant has insisted.

Sir Jeremy Heywood told MPs that the report would be “more transparent” than people were expecting and would include material that would not normally be disclosed “in a million years”.

But then Heywood, who was Tony Blair’s Principal Private Secretary at the time of the invasion, tried to play down the extent to which disagreement over what could be published has delayed the report so perhaps we are back to, well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

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Concealment upon concealment upon concealment

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, August 7, 2014

by Chris Ames

I wrote on Monday about the Foreign Office’s refusal to release documents I had identified and requested under the Freedom of Information Act, on the grounds the the Iraq Inquiry will publish them, eventually. Looking at the documents and the context, you can see why the Inquiry thinks they are significant.

What we know is that there was a Cabinet meeting on 7 March 2002, where Iraq was discussed but Jack Straw and Tony Blair conspired to hide from most of the rest of the Cabinet the various papers that had been commissioned from the Cabinet Office to define policy on Iraq. The key document was the Cabinet Office Options Paper, of which Straw told the Inquiry in a statement:

I almost certainly discussed this document with the Prime Minister, if not the document itself specifically, then all the issues in it were then part of the current debate about Iraq.

The question that Straw ducked was why, if this document contained all the issues that were then part of the current debate about Iraq, they hid it from the Cabinet. The answer is of course that this was exactly why they concealed the document: they wanted to hide their true policy.

At this time, the Cabinet Office, in the form of the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments staff, chairman John Scarlett and assessmments staff Julian Miller and his deputy Jane Hamilton Eddy, were preparing an early version of what became the September 2002 WMD dossier. A previous FOI release around that document includes an extract from a memo on 11 March 2002 from Simon MacDonald, Straw’s principal private secretary, to Peter Ricketts, political director at the Foreign Office:

Thank you for your minute of 8 March covering the draft non-JIC papers for the Prime Minister’s use at Crawford next month. The Foreign Secretary would like (as you suggest) an office meeting later this week or next week to discuss all this. The Diary Secretary will be in touch.

Straw appeared to refer to this memo in the continuation of his statement concerning the Options paper:

Within the FCO internally, the document was discussed. A note from my Private Secretary to Peter Ricketts, the Political Director, on the 11 March 2002, for instance, sought extra detail on a number of areas discussed in the paper.

I asked for the whole memo (or memos) of 11 March, the “minute of 8 March” and any note of the subsequent office meeting. The FCO has said that it cannot find the minute of 8 March, which is careless to say the least. It may merely be a covering memo or it may include comments from Ricketts. The questions that MacDonald asked on behalf of Straw and the note of the meeting are likely to be illuminating. The story appears to be that Straw was sceptical of Blair’s approach. To return to the issue of Straw not actually asking the questions that he was asked:

Q2) Discussion with the Americans
When asked about the events of March and July 2002, Jonathan Powell told the Inquiry that you were “arguing for alternative options…I think he was thinking about particularly politically, and the domestic political differences that it would cause in the Parliamentary Labour Party and more generally” (page 69).
a) What was your assessment of whether the policy being pursued by the Prime Minister was sustainable domestically?
b) What risks did that present for the strategy being pursued? How did you understand those risks were being managed?
2.1 The strategy of the Prime Minister had obvious risks, for him and his Administration. Managing these risks was one of the many pre-occupations for me, as it was for the Prime Minister.
2.2 Crucial in my view to managing the risks was a) a new resolution from the UNSC, b) a clear undertaking that any decision on UK involvement in military action would require the explicit approval by substantive resolution of the House of Commons.

This is typical evasive Straw. Note that he didn’t actually answer the first question. To some extent the answer is here.

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