UK Attorney General releases details on Iraq war legal advice process after order

[JURIST] Following an order from the British Information Commissioner, UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith [official profile] on Thursday made public additional details [disclosure statement text] concerning the process surrounding the release of his March 7, 2003 memorandum [text] expressing some reservations about the legality of the pending war against Iraq and events leading up to his March 17, 2003 statement to Parliament that he believed the invasion was legal [statement].The British government came under fire last year for reportedly manipulating Goldsmith's legal justifications for the Iraq war [JURIST report]. The government had previously released [JURIST report] the March 7 memo but Information Commissioner Richard Thomas [official website] ordered the disclosure of the additional details under the UK Freedom of Information Act [text; fact sheet, PDF; BBC Q&A].

Thomas ordered the disclosure [enforcement notice, PDF; press release] because:

the balance of the competing public interest tests calls for disclosure of the recorded information which led to, or supported, the concluded views which were made public by the Attorney General in his 17 March Statement. As the government chose to outline an unequivocal legal position, on such a critical issue at such a critical time, the balance of the public interest calls for disclosure of the recorded information which lay behind those views. By this means the public can better understand the background and rationale behind that published Statement and the extent to which reliance upon those final conclusions was in fact justified.

But I have also concluded that the arguments for maintaining the exemptions are sufficiently powerful that the balance of the competing public interests does not require the disclosure of those parts of the requested information which were of a preliminary, provisional or tentative nature or which may reveal legal risks, reservations or possible counter-argument. Nor is disclosure needed where it would prejudice the UK's relations with other countries.
The Guardian has more.

Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle, the former Minister of Defense, said Thursday that the newly published details indicate that the US officials had "decisive input" on the legal advice because Goldsmith said he backed the use of force in Iraq "after further reflection, having particular regard to...discussions with...representatives of the US Administration" after preparing the March 7 memo. BBC News has more.

 

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