Sunday, January 27, 2008

Publish and be damned

From The Times

January 24, 2008

Publish the secret document on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, ministers are told

Michael Evans, Defence Editor

Ministers were ordered yesterday to make public a secret document about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that could shed light on the origins of the Government’s claim that Saddam Hussein needed just 45 minutes to launch non-conventional warheads at British troops.

The unpublished draft document was drawn up by John Williams, who in 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, was the head of information at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and one of the senior government spin-doctors.

Yesterday the Information Tribunal ruled that the Williams report should be made public so that people could make their own judgment as to whether its contents could have influenced the official dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including the 45-minute claim.

Although the Government, under Tony Blair, acknowledged that Mr Williams had written a draft report on Iraq’s WMDs, officials said that he had done so on his own initiative, and that it was dismissed.

The Government insisted that the official dossier on Iraq’s WMDs published in September 2002 was drawn up by the Joint Intelligence Committee, then headed by Sir John Scarlett, who is now the head of MI6, and that it was based on intelligence material.

Critics of the Iraq dossier, however, accused the Government of using Downing Street and Foreign Office spin-doctors to dramatise the contents to make the case for invading Iraq.

This has always been denied. But opponents of the war will want to see whether the 45-minute claim was included in the Williams draft.

The unprecedented ruling followed a request by the New Statesman under the Freedom of Information Act for the Williams dossier to be made public.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled in favour of the magazine in May last year, but the Foreign Office appealed to the tribunal.

Last night the Foreign Office said that the tribunal ruling was being studied closely.

Sources at the Foreign Office said that a minister had to give authorisation for the release of the document, and would still be in a position to claim that publication would not be in the national interest...



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