Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Blair's Attorney General warned war was illegal

Ever since the leadup to the Iraq war in 2003 there have been persistent rumors the UK Attorney General first advised Tony Blair such a war would be illegal under international law. While a 'summary' of AG Lord Goldsmith's legal opinion was made public and appeared to give the war a green light, the Blair government have consistently refused to release the full 13-page document given to Cabinet ministers on the 7th of March. It is now clear why.

According to the Mail on Sunday, Goldsmith's original advice included six grounds in which the proposed war with Iraq could be challenged under international law. These caveats were excised from the summary when it was published 10 days later.
  • In law, there was a strong argument that it was the job of the United Nations - not Mr Blair - to rule whether Iraq had defied the UN's order to disarm;
  • Goldsmith stated UN resolution 1441 ("serious consequences") might not be enough to justify war because it did not include the phrase "all necessary", the UN's usual wording for war;
  • It would be much 'safer' and desirable to go to war armed with a second specific UN resolution.
  • He warned Mr Blair it could be difficult to revive UN Resolution 678 to justify war, as this resolution focused on removing Saddam from Kuwait and did not permit an invasion of Iraq itself.
  • Goldsmith drew attention to the continuing work of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and his team. On the same day the advice was written Blix said Iraq was being more helpful generally and no weapons of mass destruction had been found.
  • The Attorney General explained that US President George Bush faced fewer legal constraints, as Congress had voted Bush special war-making powers. The US government's opinion on the legality of the war did not apply to Britain.
When Blair claimed that the advice was identical to the 'summary' which declared the war legal it is now clear he was not telling the truth. The AG changed his views, a suggestion given further credence by the uncensored resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurt, who resigned her post as deputy chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office over the Iraq war. US National Security Council legal chief John Bellinger even went as far as to boast "We had a problem with your Attorney General who was telling us it was legally doubtful under international law. We straightened him out."

Demonstrating the folly of attempting to keep such potentially explosive advice under wraps, serving only fuel speculation of its contents, it has now come out a mere 11 days before a general election. Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is right when he says the issue will "not go away" until Lord Goldsmith's legal advice is published in full. At the very least, this would allow an accurate assessment of Goldsmith's concerns over legality in their proper context of the entire 13-page opinion.

In response, Tony Blair is warning that attempts to "send me a message" at the ballot box may cause Labour to lose marginal constituencies and lead to a Tory Government by the back door. Perhaps Blair should have thought of that before he adopted a Thatcherite economic policy, involved Britain in a war of dubious legality, and then told porkies to cover his tracks. While I regard the Liberal Democrats as a right wing party with some left wing policies (such as on education), their presence in a balance of power type arrangement could be a positive influence on Labour in the next term.

PS: I attempted to post this yesterday, only to have blogger clear the post before I could upload it :(

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