Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Iraq Inquiry - The still-secret transcripts of Blair's conversation with Bush in March 2003

I've only fairly recently become aware of an appeal before the Information Tribunal relating to transcripts of a hitherto secret telephone conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in March 2003.

The hearings before the Information Tribunal started in March 2012.

The original Freedom of Information Request by Stephen Plowden dates from as far back as February 2010.

Mr. Plowden requested an Internal Review by the FCO on 28th April 2010.

On 6th July 2010 the FCO informed Mr. Plowden that he still wasn't going to be given the document(s) he wanted.

In that response the FCO exhibited a rather warped sense of humour, as quoted in paragraph 8. of the Decision Notice:

The FCO also advised the complainant that, ‘you will be pleased to know that the Iraq Inquiry Unit is working tirelessly, in concert with the Iraq Inquiry Secretariat, to release as many documents as possible, through declassification, into the public domain. This is an ongoing process which will lead up to the publication of the Inquiry’s full report at some point early next year’.

On the surface the FCO are claiming they are "working tirelessly" to put documents into the public domain.

In reality they're, at least with respect to the Blair/Bush transcript working feverishly to keep it hidden.

On 13th September 2011, the Information Commissioner issued a Decision Notice indicating that Mr. Plowden should be given part of the single remaining (if I understand the sequence of events correctly) document in dispute between himself and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That's the transcript or note of a call between Bush and Blair.

Stephen Plowden is appealling a Decision Notice of the Information Commissioner which would allow him access to part of the transcript. He wants it all.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants the ICO Decision Notice overturned. The FCO wants to continue to conceal all of the transcript.

At least that's how I read the situation.

The Decision Notice by the Information Commissioner has the reference number FS50341647 and is 29 pages long. If you click on the preceding link you will be asked if you want to download the file.

The Decision Notice is particularly interesting since it makes reference to a "confidential annex" on page 1 of the Decision Notice:

The Commissioner decided that the withheld information was exempt under section 27 and that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosure of most of it. With regard to the remaining information (identified in the confidential annex to this Decision Notice) the Commissioner accepts that this information is exempt under both section 27 and section 35(1)(b), but considers that the balance of the public interest favours disclosure.

The Guardian ran this story, Foreign Office fights order to disclose 'key phone call' between Bush and Blair on 28th March 2012.

On 29th March 2012 the Guardian ran a follow-up story focussing on Clare Short's evidence that Tony Blair had misled Parliament and the British public: Blair deliberately misled colleagues and public over Iraq, says Clare Short.

According to the Guardian report, the Information Tribunal reserved judgment.

As far as I know their judgment has not yet been made public.

1 comment:

  1. Just for information, the reference numbers of the two appeals to the Information Tribunal are EA/2011/0225 and EA/2011/0228.