More from: Meetings

An open letter to the Information Commissioner

by Andrew Mason

Following the non-release by means of veto of the March 13 and 17 2003 cabinet minutes, Dr Christopher Lamb, the originator of two Freedom of Information requests seeking the release of these records, has now written an open letter to the Information Commissioner.

This letter asks the Commissioner to commission his lawyers to re-examine the case for a judicial review of Attorney General, Dominic Grieve’s section 53 veto over Decision Notice (Ref: FS5041714- ‘Iraq Cabinet Minutes’).

The letter seeks to identify the grounds for such a re-examination.

This is considerably enhanced, he argues, by the exceptional importance of the case in potentially holding the Blair government to some kind of account in the way it took the UK to war against Iraq.

We are now, at Dr Lamb’s request, placing a copy of the letter into the public domain here on the Digest.


Please note that the letter is written in the later Microsoft Word 2007 .docx format. Earlier versions of Word will not open this file, you may need to download and install a compatible file viewer such as the one available here: Free File Viewer

March 2003 Cabinet minutes vetoed again

by Andrew Mason

The Information Commissioner’s Office has now issued a statement following today’s announced decision by Attorney General Dominic Grieve to veto for the second time the release of the March 13/17 2003 Cabinet meeting minutes. The Information Commissioner required the Cabinet Office to disclose the withheld information to the complainant within 35 calendar days of the date (4 July) of the decision notice.

An ICO spokesperson said:

“The Information Commissioner is disappointed that the Ministerial veto has been used to override his recent decision notice concerning the minutes of two Cabinet meetings held immediately prior to the commencement of military action in Iraq in 2003.

“His view is that the significant public interest in this matter justified an exception to the general rule that such information should not be disclosed before the usual due date for the release of Cabinet material.

“This is the third occasion this year where the veto has been used. The Commissioner will now study the Attorney General’s statement of reasons and present a report to Parliament in September. He recognises, however, that the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act allows for a Ministerial veto, and acknowledges that this decision is consistent with that made by the previous government, which vetoed disclosure of the same information following an Information Tribunal hearing.”

The decision notice, reference number FS50417514, can be read here.

Countdown to Iraq

by Andrew Mason

Alastair Campbell is scheduled to release Volume Four of his diaries on 20 June. This further edition, entitled ‘The Burden of Power: Countdown to Iraq’, is the final planned part of his series, although this new volume apparently indicates that he continued to keep a diary beyond 2003, the entries from which may be published at some point in the future.

The earlier volumes were ‘Prelude to Power: 1994-1997’; ‘Power and the People: May 1997 to June 1999’; and ‘Power and Responsibility: 1999 to (September 11) 2001’.

The official launch will be hosting by the Mile End Group at the Queen Mary University of London.

The publication of this part of the diaries was originally expected to have taken place at the end of last year. Whether or not the delays currently being experienced by the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry have also affected the timing of the release of this volume remains to be seen.

UK Iraq oil discussions revealed

by Andrew Mason

The Independent is reporting on a series of newly revealed secret memos exposing government discussions with UK energy companies seeking access to Iraq’s oil reserves in the period prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

These documents, along with many others, were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act over the course of five years by oil campaigner Greg Muttitt. They record a series of meetings held between officials, including ministers and high-level civil servants, and BP and Shell senior executives in late 2002.

Mr Muttitt told the Independent:

“Before the war, the Government went to great lengths to insist it had no interest in Iraq’s oil. These documents provide the evidence that give the lie to those claims.”

Hoon faces calls for Inquiry recall over Franks meeting

by Chris Ames

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon faces calls to be recalled to the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war after it emerged that he discussed Iraq with the American general who would later lead the invasion, three weeks after Tony Blair’s controversial trip to George Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch in April 2002.

General Tommy Franks, head of the US Central Command, also met senior British military figures, including Sir Michael (now Lord) Boyce, the then chief of the defence staff, and discussed plans for regime change in Iraq.

Hoon’s meeting with Franks could be as significant as Blair’s visit to Crawford in revealing the commitment given by Labour ministers a year before the war. But neither Hoon nor Boyce disclosed the meetings in their evidence to the Inquiry.

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd told me the revelation is “very serious”. He said: “It does call for a recall in my view. Mr Hoon has clearly not been forthcoming. The truth is becoming glaringly obvious – that the UK committed itself well before the dates they said they had.”

The revelation comes in a previously secret memo describing Franks’ visit to Britain on 26 April 2002. The memo was obtained by the US-based National Security Archive under freedom of information laws and disclosed at part of its Electronic Briefing Book on the decision to go to war which was published on Friday. The Mail on Sunday has covered the story today.

The memo also contradicts the evidence of other Inquiry witnesses, who said that British collaboration with US war plans did not begin until the early summer of 2002.

It reveals that Franks was briefed on the UK’s early strategic thinking on a possible invasion of Iraq, which included “how to exploit the no fly zones” (NFZs). This appears to confirm allegations that the US and UK used attacks under the NFZs to reduce Iraqi air defences in preparation for the invasion or to provoke an Iraqi reaction that would justify war.

The Inquiry has sought to establish when Britain began to prepare for war in Iraq and has heard allegations that Blair may have “signed in blood” at the April 2002 Crawford summit.

Hoon told the Inquiry that ministers had wanted to know at the time what the US plans for Iraq were but did not have any specific information. He did not reveal that he had asked Franks this directly.

But the memo states that Franks “met with Mr. Jeoffrey Hoon (sic) at his request” at Brize Norton RAF base and that “Mr Hoon asked about US plans for Iraq”. The rest of the paragraph has been censored and it is not clear what Franks told the then defence secretary or what Hoon said about Britain’s willingness to take part in military action.

In a 2004 television interview, Franks praised Hoon for his “commitment to the value of this [Iraq] mission” and said that he “never had a doubt… that if we were called upon to go to war that the forces of the United Kingdom would be with us.”

The memo shows that Franks also held a private meeting with Boyce, followed by a series of briefings from the wider “UK Defense Staff leadership”.

This substance of Franks’ meeting with Boyce has not been disclosed. But the memo does disclose that senior British military planners told Franks that they had put together a small cell of “two- and three-star flag officers to think strategically about Iraq”.

The account of the issues being discussed makes clear that they were aimed at regime change, rather than the maintenance of the NFZs: “what courses of action are available to handle the regime, what are regime power centers, how to exploit the no fly zones, what could be done with the Iraq army?”

Franks responded that the NFZs were not efficacious in that the [integrated air defence systems] in Iraq have been reconstituted”. The discussion appears to confirm that attacks under the NFZs, were aimed at destabilising Iraq, rather than in response to specific threats against US and UK aircraft.

The NFZs were put in place after the 1991 Gulf war and justified as necessary to prevent the “humanitarian disaster” that would result if Saddam launched new attacks on his internal enemies or Kuwait.

But in 2003 Sir John Walker, a former chief of defence intelligence, told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that in his opinion there had been a noticeable change in the pattern of targeting in relation to the NFZs in the later half of 2002. “The Iraqi air defence system was being attacked in its own right, reaction or not.” This suggested a plan to “prepare the battlefield”.

According to a leaked document, in July 2002 Hoon told a Downing Street meeting that “the US had already begun “spikes of activity” to put pressure on the regime.

In his evidence to the Inquiry, Boyce confirmed that a planning cell had been established after Blair returned from Crawford but expressly denied that British thinking had been discussed with the US. He added: “Whatever planning [the US] were doing about Iraq was not being exposed to us.”

Conservative MP and Digest supporter John Baron said: “if there is any doubt about material information not being disclosed, then Chilcot should leave no stone unturned in seeking the truth.”

Hoon told the Mail on Sunday that he did not ‘hide or disguise meetings’ from Chilcot, saying he volunteered as much information as he could recall.

Get a bigger hall!

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry has held a further meeting with relatives of service personnel killed in Iraq, this time in Edinburgh.

Tony Blair again seems to have been the focus of attention – and anger. According to the BBC, Rose Gentle, a supporter of the Digest asked Sir John Chilcot if the relatives could be present when he gives evidence.

Sir John said that he could not “guarantee a seat” for everyone when the former PM appeared.

But Ms Gentle said: “We want to be face-to-face with him – get a bigger hall.”

Committee to meet families and veterans

The Inquiry has now publicly announced that it is to hold a series of meetings with both the families of those who died in Iraq and veterans of the war, although it prefers the term “conflict”. In a news release, the Inquiry says:

“Veterans of the Iraq conflict and families of those who died or are missing in Iraq will meet members of the Iraq Inquiry in face-to-face meetings during October.

“The meetings have been arranged to allow the families and those who served in Iraq to express their views personally to members of the Iraq Inquiry committee about the issues they think the Inquiry should focus on. The meetings will be held in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bristol and Belfast.

“The Inquiry team wrote to all of the British families who lost loved ones during the Iraq conflict asking them whether they wished to take part in the meetings. Around 50 families said they did. The Iraq Inquiry committee has also contacted organisations representing former and current military personnel, issuing an open invitation to people who served in Iraq during the conflict to take part in separate discussions. Readmore..

Low-key invite to TELIC veterans

By Andrew Mason

On Monday the Ministry of Defence website published a letter from Inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot to former participants of Operation TELIC (the 2003 Iraq campaign). This letter offers veterans the opportunity to give their views to the Iraq inquiry committee at a series of roadshows being held in London, Manchester, Bristol and later in Scotland and Northern Ireland, beginning on Wednesday 14 October 2009.

However, this letter has received very little publicity and has not so far appeared on the Iraq Inquiry website.