Saturday, July 28, 2007

MP submits FOI request

John Baron

Press Releases (23 July 2007)

John Baron MP requests Iraq covering letter under Freedom of Information Act

Following his debate and questions in the House of Commons, John Baron MP has submitted an Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Minister Kim Howells requesting a copy of a covering letter sent to the Hutton Inquiry by the Government in 2003, along with a draft of the Iraq dossier written in 2002 by John Williams – a press officer at the FCO. This document was written one day before the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee wrote his own first draft of the dossier, and is itself subject to an FOI and appeal against the Information Commissioner by the Government.

John said:

"Despite assurances from the Government, there is no firm evidence that the Williams draft was given to the Inquiry – and no evidence that its significance was properly flagged up and understood. I was previously told that the covering letter accompanying the Williams draft would be made available, but now the Government is stalling. I am therefore seeking this document under the Freedom of Information Act."

"We do know that the BBC as a party to the case has no copy of this letter among its records. The document was not part of the evidence made public by Lord Hutton, and now a link to the list of confidential submissions is not working on the Inquiry's website. The covering letter proving that the Hutton Inquiry did indeed receive the Williams draft is therefore important."

"Everyone knows about the "sexing up" of the Iraq dossier, but we need to examine better the role played by spin doctors in its production. If the Williams draft was a purely innocent exercise, and if Lord Hutton did have an opportunity to see it, Ministers should have nothing to fear from publication."

From Hansard (also 23 July 2007)

Written Answers

Iraq: Weapons

Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the adjournment debate in Westminster Hall of 13 June 2007, Official Report, column 288WH, on the Iraq Dossier (September 2002), when he expects to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Billericay, dated 18 June, on John Williams's draft Iraq dossier. [151824]

Dr. Howells: I replied to the hon. Member on 19 July.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gordon Brown considers the case?

PMQ's - 11 July 2007

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Q10. [148630] Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Prime Minister talks about the need for more open and transparent politics, so can he explain why his Government continue to defy the Information Commissioner by refusing to publish the first full draft of the Iraq dossier, which was produced by the Foreign Office press officer, John Williams, on 9 September 2002—one day before John Scarlett produced his first draft? Does the Prime Minister not believe that actions speak louder than words?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that is a process in which the Government have rights under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 too, and we are pursuing a policy in which we are defending our rights in relation to it, but a decision will be made in due course.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More on the 'revelatory' dossier

Make the dossier 'revelatory' - Campbell

Chris Ames

Published 09 July 2007

Alastair Campbell's diaries show the Government decided it wanted a strongly worded dossier days before they knew the view of intelligence, reports Chris Ames

Alastair Campbell told intelligence chiefs the Iraq dossier "had to be revelatory" even though Tony Blair had told him "there was really not much to say at the moment", according to his diaries. Blair was reluctant to recall Parliament and did not want the Cabinet to discuss the dossier. Campbell also thought the secret draft of the dossier by spin doctor John Williams represented a Foreign Office takeover attempt. But the diaries leave out many key events that show how heavily Williams and other spin doctors were involved in drafting the dossier and the insertion of the notorious 45 minutes claim...

Draft dossier rumblings

Iraq: Weapons

5 July 2007 : Column 1145/6W

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will consider further the merits of releasing into the public domain the draft of the September 2002 dossier on Iraq written by John Williams.

Dr. Howells: This issue is the subject of an ongoing appeal to the Information Tribunal following a recent decision by the Information Commissioner. However, as I recently made clear in the House on 13 June 2007, Official Report, column 296WH, the Government believe it is vital to provide "thinking space" for officials and others involved in drafting policy documents. They should not feel constrained in presenting their ideas because they fear these will be made public. This principle is specifically recognised in the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On the end of UNMOVIC...

With a whimper …

Jacqueline Shire

I should be in a good mood—it’s Friday and I have family coming this weekend for several birthdays and a cupcake taste test (long story involving my chef mother, and the relative merits of Magnolia Bakery vs. Cupcake Café’s buttercream icing).

But I’m not. Because the Security Council adopted a resolution today formally disbanding UNMOVIC, the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Inspection Commission.

Of course the hunt for Iraq’s WMD is over. Denied a role in the post-war WMD search, UNMOVIC inspectors have been working away at UN headquarters, in ever dwindling numbers, continuing to examine satellite imagery and issue quarterly reports to the Security Council. Not that their efforts should be laughably dismissed—they have warned persuasively, for example, of the risks posed by poorly secured chemical and biological weapons sites and the insurgents who one imagines would love to find a little forgotten but still potent mustard agent. The final word on UNMOVIC’s work is contained in a giant 1,000-page compendium, which Ewen Buchanan promises is “bold and honest” with no attempt to “shy away from the mistakes and difficulties encountered” by inspectors.

The loss of UNMOVIC is meaningful in a larger sense. Here is a collection of skilled experts with experience in WMD monitoring, inspections and verification, and whose pre-war assessments of Iraq’s WMD programs were, need anyone be reminded, untainted by dogma and gulp, accurate. There are the calls for establishing a permanent UN body to monitor WMD. Richard Butler’s op-ed in today’s NYT mentions a report by the United Nations Association and Canada’s Trevor Findlay, whose Center for Treaty Compliance has called for a standing UN verification body. The problem, of course, is the U.S. allergy to multilateral institutions with the word verification anywhere in their mandate.

Perhaps the speed with which this resolution was tabled and brought to a vote (two months, or lightening speed in UN time), has caught the arms control and nonproliferation crowd off guard. Reportedly, Ambassador Khalilzad promised the Iraqi government that revoking the UNMOVIC mandate would be high on his agenda when he arrived at the UN. Iraq wants to close this chapter and retrieve its escrow money from the old oil-for-food accounts which were paying UNMOVIC’s bills. Sadly, there have been no accompanying efforts to forge a new identity for UNMOVIC.

So this weekend, in between birthday toasts, I will offer a quiet one to all the current and former UNSCOM and UNMOVIC inspectors, staff and supporters