Monday, March 10, 2008

Sparing Saudi blushes?

The British government seems unprepared to criticise Saudi Arabia's regime: in reality it is making the situation a lot worse

By Chris Ames
The Guardian

"It's all very familiar. For the last week, the information tribunal has been hearing an appeal over the release of secret documents that might damage Britain's "international relations". There have been secret evidence and closed sessions and claims that foreign governments would be upset if the British public knew the truth. Along the way, some of the information has come into the public domain anyway and the sky hasn't fallen in. And again, in the process of covering something up, the government has perhaps made it worse.......

What is astonishing about the legal cases is the lengths to which the UK government will go, supposedly to spare the blushes of the Saudi regime. In both, they have resorted to revealing that the Saudis threatened to end intelligence cooperation, which would apparently leave us more vulnerable to terrorist attack. With a high court judge saying that Britain "rolled over" in response to this blackmail, you have to ask how damaging losing these cases might be if the government is prepared to inflict this level of damage on its international relations.
We can only hope that these cases backfire on the government as badly as its attempts to suppress the reference to Israel's "brazen" defiance of the UN and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in the first draft of the Iraq dossier. In that case, the government sent a secret witness, Neil Wigan of the Foreign Office, to give evidence in closed session to say how badly relations with Israel would be damaged if the reference were revealed. The tribunal was evidently impressed by these claims and agreed to the suppression, but Wigan's evidence found its way to the Guardian......
Of course, the sky didn't fall in when it emerged that Britain had noticed Israel's weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, Israel will have noticed - as if it didn't know already - that Britain will go to great lengths not to upset it.
Similarly the Saudi regime must know that our government will tie itself in knots to avoid revealing how corrupt it is. But again the damage done will be compounded by the knowledge of what happened to cover it up. In this case, the government has to keep revealing that the Saudis threatened us with "another 7/7".
Surely the main conclusion that the Saudi regime will draw from all this is that if you want to cover up corruption, then democratic accountability is a very bad idea. The main conclusion that people in Britain should draw is that our version of democratic accountability has to be tailored to suit the sensibilities of people who "just do not grasp it"."

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