As reported in The Guardian:
Chilcot inquiry still talking to Whitehall over document declassification; Chilcot, who said last month he will not complete his inquiry until after the general election, to give evidence to MPs on Wednesday
The Iraq inquiry is continuing to negotiate with Whitehall over the declassification of sensitive documents, it has been confirmed, as inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot prepares to give evidence to MPs.
As the former shadow home secretary David Davis said that Britain’s intelligence agencies were guilty of presiding over a “disastrous episode” in the Iraq war, the inquiry confirmed that negotiations are likely to continue on the declassification of some documents until the report is finalised.
Chilcot will give evidence to MPs on the foreign affairs select committee on Wednesday after his announcement last month that he will not complete his inquiry, which was launched in July 2009, until after the general election.
In a letter to David Cameron, Chilcot said he had reached agreement with Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, over the publication of correspondence between Tony Blair and George Bush.
It is understood that agreement was reached last May after Chilcot, whose team was allowed access to classified material, warned that he could not publish a credible report unless the inquiry was allowed to publish a substantial amount of the correspondence.
But Chris Ames, who edits the Iraq Inquiry Digest, reported on Tuesday night that negotiations are continuing over the declassification of other material.
Ames quoted the inquiry’s spokeswoman as saying: “Other declassification activity continues and is likely to do so until the inquiry’s report is finalised.”
Heywood told MPs on the Commons public administration select committee last September that the Cabinet Office has had to process “tens of thousands of requests for declassification of very complicated and sensitive documents”.
Speaking four months after his agreement with Chilcot on the Blair/Bush documents, Heywood told the committee: “The controversy around this continues today. It is very important that the whole story is told.”
MP Davis, who secured a Commons debate last week highlighting the delay in the publication of the Chilcot report, indicated that the intelligence agencies may face criticism.
He told the Guardian: “It [the Iraq war] was a disastrous episode for the agencies. That word is not too strong. The dodgy dossier will live on in memory.
“The system failed from top to bottom. The agencies shouldn’t have agreed with it, they shouldn’t have agreed to amendment of [the September 2002 Downing Street Iraqi arms dossier], the [parliamentary intelligence and security committee] ISC should have found it out.”
Davis said he hoped MPs on the foreign affairs select committee, chaired by his Tory colleague Sir Richard Ottaway, would challenge Chilcot to:
· Explain the delay in the publication of the report. “The committee should ask Sir John what delayed you? You predicted it would be concluded in a year. Why has it taken so long? Has it been Whitehall, has it been the Americans?”
· Say whether he is happy that the evidence he can put in the public domain will help him explain his conclusions. “The central question of the report really is: why did the war happen? In order to answer that, if the reason was discussions between or promises from Blair to Bush – or not – you need to be able to put that information in the public domain.”
· Give assurances that witnesses, who are allowed to challenge the report’s findings as part of the so called “Maxwellisation” process, would not be able to drag out the process. “Witnesses are allowed to make a submission as to an error of fact. But that is about all they are able to do. So can you [Chilcot] give us a timetable and if not, why not? It is important that this thing isn’t snuck out in the middle of the summer recess or held up for a year or more.”
Davis said of Chilcot: “This is the last great thing he is going to do. This will be his reputation maker or breaker. He will want to come out of that committee having been straightforward with them, having made it plain he has been trying very hard to get the right answer to this.
“He said from the very beginning this is about learning lessons and by implication not about recrimination. He will want to make clear that is the case, he will want to make plain why he has been delayed so long.”
But Davis said a potentially high price has been paid by the delay.
“In the interim [since the start of the inquiry] we have had Libya, Syria – all actions or putative actions that would have gained from the knowledge that Chilcot will presumably provide at some point.
“So already we are in a position where life and death decisions are being made without the information. So there is a very strong argument it shouldn’t be [delayed] much longer.”