The Inquiry is the obstacle to disclosure

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, August 4, 2014

by Chris Ames

As I have pointed out on many occasions, for all John Chilcot’s huffing and puffing about what it will be allowed to publish when it eventually releases its report, the Iraq Inquiry is in fact sitting on a large pile of documents which it has asked to publish and is allowed to publish but wants to be able to put its own interpretation on. What makes this worse is that documents that would in other circumstances be released under the Freedom of Information Act are now being withheld because the Inquiry plans to publish them at some point in the future.

In posts here and here, I discussed the way that Tony Blair and Jack Straw conspired to hide the hugely important Cabinet Office Iraq Options paper from most of the Cabinet while giving them a piece of propaganda to look at. I made an FOI request for some of the internal correspondence around this. Surprise, surprise, the Foreign Office has declined to release it on the ground that it is intended that the Inquiry will publish it.

The exemption under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act recognises that it must be reasonable in all circumstances to withhold the information until the date of publication. These documents have been requested for publication by the Iraq Inquiry and I can confirm that it is intended that they will issue as part of its final Report. The Inquiry, which was set up in June 2009, has taken extensive evidence from Departments and witnesses over the last five years and has now entered its concluding phase. Given the necessary preparation and administration involved in publishing the information, we consider that our publication timetable is reasonable.

Interestingly, this is I think the first time that the government has identified specific documents that have (implicitly, I think) been cleared for publication but which neither the government nor the Inquiry will publish. The government has previously hidden the identities of the documents that the Inquiry is sitting on, again on the grounds that we will find out eventually. Speaking of eventually, the word “timetable” is a bit strong here, as it relates to the antipated publication of the Inquiry report. But the main point is that, once again, the Inquiry is not the means by which we find out what happened around Iraq but the means by which we are prevented from finding out.

I will write later about the significance of the documents themselves. There is also one, by the way, that the Foreign Office has not been able to find. The Inquiry may believe that when it has not been given a document, it is more incompetence than concealment. I’m a bit more cynical.

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“Everything he wants to publish”

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, July 17, 2014

by Chris Ames

According to the Financial Times:

Sir Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that Sir John Chilcot had written to him recently to say “he will be able to publish everything he wants to publish”.

Heywood was appearing before the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. It seems the rest of what he said was a lot of yes but, no but:

“My starting point for this is I would like to publish everything that the Chilcot inquiry would like to publish. I start from a presumption of maximum transparency.”

He acknowledged this approach conflicted with “longstanding conventions about the publication of documents”, including Cabinet minutes and details of conversations between the then-prime minister Tony Blair and US president George Bush “that one would not normally dream of . . . becoming public for a variety of very strong reasons”.

Discussions had been undertaken with legal advisers, the Foreign Office and the US in considering which could be made public, he added.

Highlighting transatlantic sensitivities, Sir Jeremy added that he wanted to publish “the maximum possible without destroying our relationship with the US [and] without revealing secrets that don’t need to be revealed”.

If you are thinking, well he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Asked by Paul Flynn, a Labour MP and longstanding critic of the Iraq war, whether his previous close working relationship with Mr Blair had influenced his decision about which documents to publish, he insisted it had “nothing to do with my loyalty to a previous prime minister”.

Filed in Process, Secrecy

Straw’s deceit in his own words

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Monday, July 7, 2014

by Chris Ames

In a post yesterday, I pointed out that Jack Straw had, in a statement to the Inquiry, avoided explaining why he conspired with Tony Blair to give Cabinet colleagues a piece of propaganda but not the Cabinet Office Options paper, which explained how regime change in Iraq could be secured via “the UN route”.

h) Why did you think it important that the policy should be circulation to Cabinet members but you did not submit a formal paper on Iraq policy?
1.26 I was aware that Iraq was down to be discussed in Cabinet on Thursday 7th March 2002 and I therefore forwarded them the brief.
1.27 I felt the brief would be helpful for fellow ministers in preparation for discussion of the topic in Cabinet.

It’s worth just comparing and contrasting what Straw said about the two papers in the same statement. He said this about the document drawn up to “brief” the Parliamentary Labour Party:

If anything it made the case for UN action and the return of UN inspectors, it was never intended to make the case for war.

And said this about the Cabinet Office Options paper:

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.

By way of a quick recap, the Options paper explains how regime change is illegal in itself but can be achieved and justified by obtaining UN cover:

33 In sum, despite the considerable difficulties, the use of overridng force in a ground campaign is the only option that we can be confident will remove Saddam and bring Iraq back into the international community.
34 To launch such a campaign would require a staged approach:
* winding up the pressure: increasing the pressure on Saddam through tougher containment. Stricter implementation of sanctions and a military build-up will frighten his regime. A refusal to admit N inspectors, or their admission and subsequent likely frustration, which resulted in an appropriate finding by the Security Council could provide the justification for military action. Saddam would try to prevent this, although he has miscalculated beofre [sic];

So rather than tell the Cabinet that “the UN route” was a way of achieving regime change, Straw arranged for them to be given a document that “made the case for UN action and the return of UN inspectors, it was never intended to make the case for war.” That essentially is the deception for which former Cabinet Secretaries have criticised Blair and which is likely to be a major part of the Inquiry’s findings.

In his evidence to the Inquiry, former UK Washington ambassador Christopher Meyer made clear that Blair and Straw were on the same page:

It is not as if the British Government was speaking with a forked tongue, that the Foreign Office was sending out one set of instructions and Number 10 another, I think the attitude of Downing Street on this was this: it was a fact that there was a thing such as the Iraq Liberation Act. It was a fact that 9/11 had  happened and it was a complete waste of time, therefore,  in those circumstances, if we were going to be able to work with the Americans, to come to them and say any longer — and bang away about regime change and say, “We can’t support it”, and the way I think the attempt was  made to square the circle of supporting something to  which the Foreign Office, and maybe other lawyers objected, was actually so to wrap it, so to contextualise it, that regime change, if and when it happened, would be with the benefit of the support of the international community in the framework of UN action, quite possibly through a Security Council Resolution.

What I still find astonishing is that even though the Options paper sets out quite clearly that the UN route is the route to achieving regime change and explicitly rejects the idea of using it to toughen containment and thereby achieve disarmament, people like Straw continue to insult our intelligence. From the beginning of the Inquiry, people like Straw, David Manning and other officials have played a game of the emperor’s new clothes with the Inquiry, daring them to look a documents like the Options paper and reject their utterly transparent sophistry.

In the meantime, Blair can apparently no longer be bothered pretending it was ever about anything other than regime change.

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Sedwill to be probed over dossier cover-up allegations

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, July 6, 2014

by Chris Ames

Mark Sedwill, the Home Office permanent secretary who is to appear before a parliamentary committee over his department’s somewhat careless handling of allegations of child abuse by politicians, is an important figure in the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq, in his role as foreign secretary Jack Straw’s private secretary. However, although a number of documents from or to Sedwill have been published by both the Hutton Inquiry and the Iraq Inquiry, he was not asked to give evidence to either. This contrasts with Tony Blair’s private secretary for foreign affairs, Matthew Rycroft, who did give secret evidence, of which a redacted version was subsequently published in which Rycroft effectively called Blair a liar.

It was Sedwill who circulated to the Cabinet the briefing paper that had been produced for the Parliamentary Labour Party in March 2002. As the Inquiry has noted, Blair and Straw conspired to give MPs a propaganda document while concealing from them the formal Options paper that the Cabinet Office had drawn up. Here is the relevant bit of Straw’s statement to the Inquiry, in which Straw typically avoids the Inquiry’s question about this concealment:

h) Why did you think it important that the policy should be circulation to Cabinet members but you did not submit a formal paper on Iraq policy?
1.26 I was aware that Iraq was down to be discussed in Cabinet on Thursday 7th March 2002 and I therefore forwarded them the brief.
1.27 I felt the brief would be helpful for fellow ministers in preparation for discussion of the topic in Cabinet.

Sedwill also sent a briefing document to the Tony Blair in September 2002, which, as the Inquiry has noted, set out an unequivocal claim that Iraq had WMD, which did not match JIC assessments. Essentially though, this was intended as a Q&A for Blair to use when launching the September dossier.

And during the drafting of the dossier, Sedwill passed on both his own comments and those of Straw. Having been a weapons inspector in Iraq, he obviously felt qualified to comment in his own right. Both Sedwill and Straw liked the dossier’s executive summary, which presented claims as if they came from the JIC, but which Straw’s spin doctor John Williams has now admitted creating.

A good establishment figure to get to the bottom of claims of an establishment cover-up.




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The Lords debate Chilcot

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Wednesday, July 2, 2014

by Andrew Mason

The House of Lords yesterday held a short debate on the delays being experienced by the Iraq Inquiry, following a question by Lord Dykes, who asked Her Majesty’s Government on “what date they expect to agree with the Chilcot Inquiry for the publication of the Inquiry report.”

The full transcript can be read here.

Whilst no direct answer to the question was given, a small number of interesting points were aired.
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed in Process

Inquiry costs rise

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Saturday, June 28, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Inquiry has published its costs for the last financial year. Rather embarrassingly, this has gone unnoticed by this website and the media generally for a few days, until this story in the Sunday Telegraph.

The Sunday Telegraph points out that a lot of money has been spent paying people not to do very much and that compared with the figures with the previous year:

There was also a big increase in spending on IT and website development – from £71,000 to £196,100 – as the inquiry prepares to publish hundreds of thousands of pages of its findings online.

It’s a good point, based on the inclusion on “website development” in this category, although of course there will not be hundreds of thousands of pages of findings, and probably not hundreds of thousands of pages of supporting documents either.



Filed in Coverage, Process

New report of new delay

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Thursday, June 26, 2014

by Chris Ames

The Guardian’s Richard Norton-Taylor reports that:

The Chilcot inquiry, which is expected to contain damning criticism of the way Tony Blair and his close advisers led Britain into war against Iraq, is unlikely to be published until next year, the Guardian has learned.

A further delay in the report on the 2003 invasion, due to have been published three years ago, could mean the issue will continue to haunt British politics in the runup to next year’s general election.


Whitehall sources suggest the latest delay in the long-awaited report is the result of continuing disputes over criticisms the Chilcot panel plan to make of Blair and other ministers and advisers involved in the decision to invade Iraq.

It’s not entirely clear what the connection is between the planned criticisms and this new delay, or even whether this is a new delay. It isn’t being said here, as has been said before, that the knock-on effect will be to postpone the report beyond the election.


Filed in Process

The appeal letter to the Quartet

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Tuesday, June 24, 2014

by Andrew Mason

This Friday, 27 June, will mark the seven-year anniversary of Tony Blair’s appointment as the Quartet representative to the Middle East. We, the undersigned, urge you to remove him with immediate effect as a result of his poor performance in the role, and his legacy in the region as a whole.

We, like many, are appalled by Iraq’s descent into a sectarian conflict that threatens its very existence as a nation, as well as the security of its neighbours. We are also dismayed, however, at Tony Blair’s recent attempts to absolve himself of any responsibility for the current crisis by isolating it from the legacy of the Iraq war.

In reality, the invasion and occupation of Iraq had been a disaster long before the recent gains made by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The sectarian conflict responsible for much of the war’s reprehensible human cost was caused in part by the occupying forces’ division of the country’s political system along sectarian lines.

In order to justify the invasion, Tony Blair misled the British people by claiming that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaida. In the wake of recent events it is a cruel irony for the people of Iraq that perhaps the invasion’s most enduring legacy has been the rise of fundamentalist terrorism in a land where none existed previously.

We believe that Mr Blair, as a vociferous advocate of the invasion, must accept a degree of responsibility for its consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed in Opinion, Submissions

More on Tony Blair’s ‘untruths’

By andrewsimon - Last updated: Sunday, June 22, 2014

by Andrew Mason

In a letter to the Observer published yesterday, John Morrison wrote:

You quoted Tony Blair last week as saying: “What we now know from Syria is that Assad, without any detection from the west, was manufacturing chemical weapons. We only discovered this when he used them.” He (Blair) adds: “We also know, from the final weapons inspectors’ reports, that though it is true that Saddam got rid of the physical weapons, he retained the expertise and capability to manufacture them.”

As well as being DCDI from 1994 to 1999, Morrison had been head of the intelligence analytical staff and the secretary to the JIC. He was also the founder and head of the ‘Rockingham cell’, a small intelligence unit set up within DIS which coordinated with UNSCOM personnel, Dr David Kelly and quite likely Charles Duelfer amongst them. After leaving the civil service in 1999, Morrison became the ISC’s first formal ‘investigator’. His contract was ended in 2004 after he told the BBC’s Panorama programme that he “could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall”, after Blair had asserted that the threat from Iraq’s WMD was “current and serious”.

As holder of these various positions within the intelligence community, Morrison would have been well aware of the Iraqi ‘Air Force document’. This had a fairly long history, going back to July 1998, when it had been initially discovered during an UNSCOM inspection of the operations room at the Iraqi Air Force headquarters building in Baghdad.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed in Evidence, Issues

Even Prescott (finally) gets it

By Chris Ames - Last updated: Sunday, June 22, 2014

by Chris Ames

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has already said that, although he supported the invasion of Iraq at the time, he no longer believes it can be justified. Now, writing in the Mirror, he admits that, despite what Tony Blair said at the time, it was all about regime change.

As Tony’s Deputy Prime Minister at the time, I know I must carry my share of responsibility.

His recent statements on Iraq have clearly increased the demand for the early publication of the ­Chilcot Report into the war.

That’s something I totally support.

At the Iraq Inquiry I made clear Tony always told us the invasion was not about regime change and he was determined to push US President George W Bush down the UN route, rather than rush to war. To his credit, that’s what he tried to do.

But it’s clear now, from his recent statements, it was all about regime change.

For the former deputy prime minister to say that Blair lied to him is pretty significant. Given all the statements Blair has made since and the extensive documentation available, it’s surprising it has taken him so long.

Prescott’s main point is in fact that, despite what Blair has said recently, the invasion did bring Iraq to where it is now.

I cannot agree our invasion of Iraq did not contribute to the chaos and violence we see in the Middle East today.

The truth is it did.

So let’s learn from the past and leave Iraq and its neighbours to sort out this mess.

The current condition of Iraq will clearly be a relevant issue when the Inquiry finally reports. Who knows what that will be?


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