This is a guest post by Chris Ames
The new revelations about Tony Blair’s Iraq dossier are pretty devastating. Emails revealed intelligence experts veering from despondency about exaggerated claims to black humour about Doctor Frankenstein while policy officials asked for unhelpful caveats to be removed. Surely this is why the documents have been hidden for so long.
I first asked for these papers in June 2005, nearly four years ago. The Cabinet Office delayed for as long as it could before turning down the request, at which point I appealed to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas. Last September, nearly three years on, Thomas ordered that the papers should be released, hinting along the way that they would provide ‘evidence that the dossier was deliberately manipulated in order to present an exaggerated case for military action’.
The Cabinet Office then quietly appealed the case to the Information Tribunal. Given recent tribunal decisions, such as the cabinet minutes case, they can’t have had much hope of achieving anything other than a further delay.
It’s not clear that the Cabinet Office even intended to fight the case. At the beginning of last week, as it was due to submit skeleton arguments, it told the tribunal that it was withdrawing. This looks like a scandalous waste of time and public money.
The Cabinet Office promised the tribunal that it would give me the papers ‘as soon as practicable’. But no-one told me this until I went to the scheduled hearing on Monday this week. The Cabinet Office was still reluctant to tell me what was happening. Eventually it was claimed that they had been put in the post on Monday night (9 March). [UPDATE: I have just received the documents in the post (Friday morning, 13 March). They package is dated Wednesday 11 March]
Whether this really happened remains to be seen. I have still not received the hard copies. Yesterday morning the Cabinet Office emailed me electronic copies and I learnt that they were going to publish them at midday. This is what government departments usually do with freedom of information requests, discouraging journalists from thinking that they will get much of an exclusive.
In spite of these apparent attempts at news management, the media have woken up to what the documents show. The Iraq dossier was deliberately sexed up, against the wishes of the intelligence community. The case for war was heavily spun.