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British regime routinely censors inconvenient truths about Israel

Closed hearing and a secret ruling: how the word Israel was deleted

Freedom of information law tested over Iraq papers
Censorship often hides obscure, harmless facts

The battle over the Iraq dossier draft has followed a familiar pattern of Whitehall attempts to block freedom of information requests.

When a researcher first applied to the Foreign Office for the release of the draft dossier, it turned the request down. The ministry then failed to conduct the required internal appeal against its decision.

Its next move was to try to persuade the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, that the document - including the word "Israel" - was exempt under section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act, concerning free and frank discussion.

That failed and Thomas ordered disclosure of the entire document, Israel and all. So the Foreign Office appealed to an information tribunal.

This time it claimed the word Israel breached section 27, covering international relations.

Chris Ryan, who chaired the tribunal, is a solicitor, a former partner at Norton Rose, specialising in intellectual property. In his public judgment, no reasons were given for the deletion of the word Israel. Instead, he said his ruling on section 27 itself was a secret.

Since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, there have been a number of prolonged disputes over the way in which Whitehall departments have handled requests.

One landmark case that eventually reached a tribunal last year involved the minutes of meetings at the Department of Education.

It transpired officials had initially tried to censor an innocuous extract that read: "The group discussed the latest situation on school budgets and funding." It was claimed that the public interest required this sentence to be suppressed because it dealt with "policy formation" by Whitehall.

Officials went on to argue unsuccessfully that the names of senior officials who made such remarks should also be censored, for fear they would no longer be willing to speak out.

"The basis of this approach is a fear of what will happen if a wide class of information is unprotected," according to Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

"People look at the worst-case scenarios." He says officials frequently dig their heels in on principle, even though the rules are clear that every case should be decided on its own merits. Official guidance also says that mere embarrassment is no reason to censor documents. There has to be real harm.

Yet the Foreign Office has been discovered in the past to have suppressed documents on what turned out to be tenuous claims of damage to "international relations". Last year, it refused to let the National Archives release papers about the Falklands, some dating back 80 years, on the grounds they would gravely affect relations with Argentina, and even also with Spain, which still objects to a similar British occupation of Gibraltar.

But when duplicates of some of the papers came to light by accident, it turned out that one censored memo from 1968 merely read: "Our title to the Falkland Islands rests on prescription ... The law on acquisition of title by such means is not well settled."

Another allegedly explosive statement was written for Stanley Baldwin's cabinet back in 1927. It reads: "Our rights of possession were not so incontestable as to render a renewal of the old controversy desirable from a British point of view."

Officials have also fought repeated campaigns to suppress frank handwritten comments on drafts, to try to protect the principle that only formal, sanitised minutes and memos should ever be made public.


The Guardian, "Closed hearing and a secret ruling: how the word Israel was deleted", 21 February 2008.


The Guardian, "How Labour used the law to keep criticism of Israel secret", .
    [Intelligent readers may wonder why, exactly, the British government places a higher priority in protecting Israel than on telling the truth to voters. What underlying factors cause a supposedly democratic government to deliberately mislead voters about issues that might influence their voting behaviour, subverting and manipulating the democratic process? What is it about Israel that leads elected politicians to deceive the people who pay their wages? The reader is strongly encouraged to undertake furtherr research along these lines.]
    The document reveals how the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) successfully fought to keep secret any mention of Israel contained on the first draft of the controversial, now discredited Iraq weapons dossier. At the heart of it was nervousness at the top of government about any mention of Israel's nuclear arsenal in an official paper accusing Iraq of flouting the UN's authority on weapons of mass destruction.
    The FCO never argued that the information would damage national security. The Guardian has seen the full text and a witness statement from a senior FCO official, who argued behind closed doors that any public mention of the candid reference would seriously damage UK/Israeli relations. In the statement, he reveals that in the past five years there have been 10 substantial incidents and 20 more minor ones relating to Israeli concerns about attitudes to their government within Whitehall.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 21 February 2008.

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Tags: Israel, censorship, British, Freedom of Information Act, Iraq, WMD, dossier, , conspiracy theories.

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