UK gov't ordered to reveal cabinet minutes on Iraq war

Britain's information watchdog ordered the government on Tuesday to release the minutes of cabinet meetings held in March 2003 which discussed the legal justification for going to war in Iraq.

UK gov't ordered to reveal cabinet minutes on Iraq war
Release of the documents could embarrass Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose predecessor Tony Blair was accused by critics of glossing over lawyers' initial reservations about launching the invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Blair was U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest ally in the war, which started on March 20, 2003.

"The public interest in disclosing the cabinet minutes in this particular case outweighs the public interest in withholding the information," the office of Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who adjudicates on contested Freedom of Information Act requests, said in a statement.

Thomas was ruling on a request from an unidentified member of the public for the government to release confidential records of two cabinet meetings held between March 7 and March 17, 2003, just days before the conflict began.

Those meetings discussed the legal advice by then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith on the legality of invading Iraq.

In 2005, Channel Four news published what it said was the text of a secret March 7, 2003, opinion by Goldsmith stating that "a court might well conclude" U.N. Security Council resolutions did not authorise war without a further resolution.

Just 10 days later, after Britain failed to obtain a new Security Council resolution, Goldsmith presented the cabinet with a single page "summary" of his advice in which he said conclusively that the war was legal and mentioned no doubts.

The government has refused to release the cabinet minutes, saying they were exempt from disclosure because they dealt with "the formulation of government policy and ministerial communications," Thomas's office said.

Thomas overruled those arguments, saying release of the information would allow the public more fully to understand the cabinet's decisions on the Iraq war.

He backed the government's request to withhold references in the cabinet minutes which the government argued "would be likely to have a detrimental effect on international relations" if made public.

The government's Cabinet Office had no immediate comment. It can appeal against the ruling to an "information tribunal".

Reuters
Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Şubat 2008, 18:31
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