Ombudsman criticises Defence Ministry for delay in supplying documents

Journalist waited nearly two years for access to information about Iraq and still came away empty handed

It took the Defence Ministry a year and seven months to consider a journalist’s request for documents relating to the abuse of detainees in Iraq. And, once the ministry finally decided to let the journalist see the paperwork, the commission that examines Denmark’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan denied the request.

Parliamentary ombudsman Jørgen Steen Sørensen said that the situation was “totally unacceptable”.

“Over a year and a half is obviously too long to wait for a response when asking for access,” he told the tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “The distressing thing about this case is that the long wait may have resulted in the journalist never getting his documents.”

The Defence Ministry wrote to the reporter, whose name was not revealed in the Ombudsman’s report, that it was prepared to release the documents, but the commission’s overruled that decision.

Not deliberate
The journalist complained to Sørensen that he believed the Defence Ministry had delayed taking action in order to prevent him from seeing the documents, but Sørensen said his investigation found no evidence of deliberate wrongdoing.

“It is very unfortunate that the Ministry of Defence, because of its long processing time, has created a situation in which it looks guilty of deliberately delaying this request.”

The ministry said the incident had let to a revision of internal instructions for processing freedom of information requests.

Fact file | A drawn out time line

– 9 December, 2011: A reporter asks the Defence Ministry for access to documents pertaining reports of abuse of detainees in Iraq
– Shortly after the ministry received the request, the government proposed establishing a commission to examine Denmark’s war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The draft terms defining the commission are released in April, 2012
– 9 October, 2012: The journalist complains to the ombudsman that his request has still not been answered
– 7 November, 2012: War commission formally established
– 8 May, 2013: Defence Ministry grants provisional access, but says it would have to get permission from the war commission, which then denies the request
– 3 July, 2013: Defence Ministry finally denies the initial request for documents