Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Egg on the commissioner's face

Last week I exposed as baseless another government claim on Iraq - that former attorney general Lord Goldsmith decided that the war would be legal before meeting two of Tony's cronies. In a new piece today for Index on Censorship, I suggest that information commissioner Richard Thomas also has egg on his face over for letting the government mix spin with fact.

It was Thomas who negotiated a shabby compromise with the Cabinet Office over a freedom of information request seeking to establish why Goldsmith had gone from doubting the war's legality on 7 March 2003 to unequivocally asserting that it was legal ten days later.

Instead of requiring the Cabinet Office to disclose actual documents, Thomas allowed them to construct a narrative account which would include claims that were not backed by documentary evidence. At the time, former minister Peter Kilfoyle called this a "sanitised timeline".

Faced with admitting that Goldsmith had met Sally Morgan and Lord Falconer on the same day (13 March) that he concluded that existing UN resolutions legitimised the war, the Cabinet Office merely asserted that he made up his mind mind before the meeting.

As I point out, Thomas failed not only to require the government to distinguish between fact and fantasy at the time, but to be open about the basis for the assertion when I asked him last November.

It seems the commissioner is still trying to get his head around the idea of openness.

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