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UK Papers Link Manning Memo and Iraq Inquiry
UK Parliament to debate whether to keep inquiry closed-doors
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2009-06-23 02:48 (KST)   
The Observer recently reported on the issue of secrecy surrounding an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq war. The article included extracts from a memo recording conversations between Bush and Blair on January 31, 2003. An editorial urged Prime Minister Brown towards openness, stating that it is widely believed that Blair committed the UK to a US-led war in April 2002 and that "the ensuing year of public persuasion, weapons inspection and UN diplomacy was a sham....Such a grave allegation must be definitely refuted or proven in public."

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The five page document was written by Sir David Manning. He recorded that "the start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for March 10", and that Bush had a plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UK colors over Iraq with fighter cover." Attacking the planes would have been in breach of UN resolutions.

According to Wikipedia, "the existence of the memo was first alleged by Philippe Sands in his book Lawless World. It was then obtained by American newspaper The New York Times, which confirmed the memo's authenticity." However no UK newspaper reported on this issue until the Observer article on June 21. The announcement of a secret inquiry into Iraq follows the publication of expense claims by members of Parliament. UK newspapers seem to be prepared to take more risks than previously.

The New York Times reported the memo in March 2006. Don Van Natta described the background of the UN resolutions and the start of the war "nine days after the target date set by the President on that late January day at the White House". Natta wrote that the memo mentions "palpable tension over finding a legitimate legal trigger for going to war that would be acceptable to other nations."
Philippe Sands
©2009 PBS

The Observer also published an article by Philippe Sands who raised questions about the role of Sir John Chilcot. Chilcot is to chair the new inquiry and was previously part of the Butler inquiry. Sands pointed out that the Butler inquiry had access to the Manning memo but none of the content was made public.

Comments on the website are so far supportive of Sands and also point out that Sir Martin Gilbert, another member of the inquiry panel, has previously stated that one day Bush and Blair might be seen in the same light as Roosevelt and Churchill.

The Conservative opposition in parliament have a motion scheduled for Wednesday demanding that the Iraq inquiry be opened up. Chilcot will meet on Tuesday with Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats. It seems likely that some changes will be announced but this may not be enough to stop journalists from publishing more stories about evidence that the inquiry might not consider.

So far there has been no move to prosecute Philippe Sands under the Official Secrets Act in relation to the Manning Memo. This shows a change in opinion since The Daily Mirror reported a memo allegedly stating that Bush and Blair discussed bombing the offices of Al Jazeera. The Crown Prosecution Service did consider taking legal action against Member of Parliament Peter Kilfoyle and there was a prosecution, held partly in secret, against David Keogh and Leo O'Connor who were the original sources of this memo. O'Connor was jailed for three months and Keogh for six. Mr. Justice Aikens imposed a gag order on media preventing the reporting of comments made by Keogh in open court.

Philippe Sands has argued that documents such as the memos "raise issues of national embarrassment, not national security." The Freedom of Information Act was not the mechanism through which the details of MP expense claims became public. But there is now probably less confidence in the Official Secrets Act or government claims about security as a rationale for secrecy. There may be more public discussion about how government controlled information on Iraq policies.

©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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