Leading article: Curiouser and curiouser


The Government has precious little credibility on matters of national security, official secrecy and the conduct of the occupation of Iraq. Little wonder, then, that so few are willing to give Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, the benefit of the doubt in his decision to prosecute two people under the Official Secrets Act or in his warning to newspapers not to publish further material. Little wonder either that so many assume the worst about Tony Blair's conversation with George Bush in the White House in April last year in which President Bush apparently wanted to bomb the Arab TV station al-Jazeera. As we report today, there is much speculation that the Prime Minister may have sought to restrain the behaviour of US troops in the battle of Fallujah that was then raging.

Other sensitive documents have been published that have been more embarrassing to the Prime Minister without disciplinary action being taken. The so-called Downing Street Memo of July 2002, which reported that in the United States "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" of regime change in Iraq, was leaked earlier this year. It reinforced the perception that Mr Blair had committed this country to military action eight months before the invasion, and knew that the Americans were fixing the intelligence to support the policy. Presumably, the mole-hunt turned up insufficient evidence to bring charges. It remains curious, however, that the Attorney General should try so hard to suppress information that, so far, does not reflect badly on the Prime Minister.

The White House has restricted itself to describing the bombing claim as "outlandish". It is possible either that Mr Bush did not know where al-Jazeera was based (Qatar), or that he meant its offices in Baghdad, which had been hit by a US missile during the 2003 invasion. And the idea is not so outlandish if we recall the bombing of the Serbian state television building in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict, which killed 17 civilians. Yesterday, Mr Blair and the Attorney General used the fact of a case to be heard at Bow Street magistrates' court this week as an excuse for refusing to comment.

There is, though, an important principle at stake. It is self-evident, even to a newspaper committed to freedom of information, that leaders must be able to speak privately with reasonable confidence that their words will not be reported at least until they have left office. If that is all that there is to it, how could it possibly be prejudicial to court proceedings for ministers to make this general argument as vigorously as they can?

There may indeed be other good grounds for seeking to prevent the publication of the full note of the conversation between Mr Blair and Mr Bush, although national security does not appear to be at issue. It is to be hoped that, when the case opens in court this week, the Government makes a better argument for secrecy than it usually does in such cases. In the most recent Official Secrets trial, that of Katharine Gun, the GCHQ worker who leaked a US request for help in spying on other members of the UN Security Council, the prosecution case collapsed days before it was due to reach court.

Meanwhile, the present episode highlights once again the confusion between ministerial and judicial roles in the office of the Attorney General. When Lord Goldsmith, with his record of lawyerly agility on the legality of the war, said yesterday that in gagging the press he was "acting in my independent role to protect the administration of justice", are we invited to forget that he is also a Government minister? And in saying that the Official Secrets Act "is not being used to save the embarrassment of a politician - that is completely not the case at all" - he should not be surprised if we express scepticism.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Learning Support Assistants-Nantwich area

£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Primary Teachers-Northwich area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...

Year 2 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: An extract from the latest...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London