Friday, July 01 2016

Government vetoes disclosure of key cabinet meeting before Iraq invasion

The Guardian reports that an order for the release of the minutes of cabinet meetings held before the Iraq invasion in 2003 has been vetoed by the Government. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, explaining the government's decision said that the disclosure protects the public interest. The veto goes against calls by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham to disclose the information due to the "exceptional gravity and controversy" of the issue. The report also adds that the FCO is appealing a decision by the Information Commissioner to disclose extracts of a conversation which took place between former leaders Tony Blair and George Bush just days before the invasion of Iraq.

From the Guardian:

The government has vetoed an order by the independent freedom of information watchdog to release the minutes of cabinet meetings held immediately before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

“The decision was announced on Tuesday by Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, the only minister to have access to papers of a previous administration, in this case Tony Blair's Labour government.

“Grieve said he issued a certificate under the Freedom of Information Act vetoing disclosure after consulting former Labour ministers, his cabinet colleagues, and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband.

“He described the case as "exceptional" and one where, in his view, the public interest demanded the papers should be kept secret. He says he took into account "serious potential prejudice to the maintenance of effective cabinet government".

The article states that Grieve considered the issue of an armed conflict where British servicemen were deployed to be very serious and ongoing, iterating the link between the "overall security situation in the Middle East and the perceived link between the terror threat to the UK and military action in Iraq". He also noted that most present in cabinet meetings in March 2003 were still MPs or active in public life.

The Guardian adds that Grieve’s reason for vetoing disclosure- the Chilcot Inquiry - rendering “the invasion of Iraq a "live" issue”, is somewhat contradicted by the fact that the Inquiry is being held up by the withholding of key documents on the decision to invade Iraq, of which the March 2003 cabinet meeting minutes are believed to be significant. The Guardian further notes that “The continuing dispute between Chilcot and Whitehall officials over disclosure is a main reason why his report has been delayed.”

It adds that, “In a separate move last week, the Foreign Office appealed against a judge's ruling that extracts of a conversation between Blair and George Bush days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed. It argued that revealing Blair's comments to Bush on the telephone on 12 March 2003 would present a "significant danger" to UK-US relations.”

The issue of government transparency and the public interest has increasingly come to the fore in recent years. A report published today by a select committee on Public Accounts concludes that the government has made significant progress on increasing government transparency, as was pledged by the coalition government in their ‘Transparency Agenda’. However it would seem that the government is not so keen to increase transparency in a number of areas where it has played the ‘security’ card. The disclosure of key documents relating to British complicity in the torture of British citizens, notably that relating to the torture of Binyam Mohamed at Guantanamo Bay, was forced and has damaged Britain’s credibility both at home and on the world stage. Such embarrassment may be behind government proposals to extend the mandate for secret trials. It would also appear that the decision to veto disclosure of cabinet minutes may be another attempt at covering up the government’s folly, this time in its most serious decision to embark on a war which cost hundreds of thousands of lives and which continues to impact on the stability of Iraq today. All of this points to a government which is not willing to stand by the principles of democratic public accountability which it claims to believe in.

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