Azara Blog: Iraq war legal advice finally published

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Date published: 2005/04/28

The BBC says:

Tony Blair has denied he lied over the case for the Iraq war, calling evidence the attorney general changed his mind about its legality a "damp squib".

In advice now published on the Downing Street website, Lord Goldsmith told Mr Blair on 7 March 2003 a second UN resolution was the safest legal course.

Ten days later his advice raised no such concerns about legality.

The charge has always been that Blair distorted both the intelligence data and the legal opinion over the legality of war, through acts of omission, in order that he could bounce the country, and in particular, Parliament, into war. The legal opinion of the attorney general released today certainly shows that there were grave acts of omission. What is most astonishing is that Blair hid most of the gray legal opinion even from most of the Cabinet and only gave them the claim that the war might be deemed legal. Of course it would be a poor lawyer who could not make some kind of argument that the war might be legal.

The attorney general says:

There are generally three possible bases for the use of force:

before he goes on to completely dismiss the first two possibilities. (And Blair, after the so-called WMD were not found, started to pretend that the second reason was why he really went to war, although backed up by the third reason.) Goldsmith then spends most of the memo discussing the third reason. He mentions that many people thought that UN resolution 1441 did not authorise the use of force without a further resolution. Indeed that was the obvious opinion at the time of France and Russia and most other countries of the world (those that the US did not managed to blackball into submission).

The Goldsmith memo says:

I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force. I have already advised that I do not believe that such a resolution need be explicit in its terms. The key point is that it should establish that the Council has concluded that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity offered by resolution 1441, as in the draft which has already been tabled.

Of course Iraq had given up its WMD and had largely satisfied the conditions of resolution 1441 (and earlier resolutions) and said so day after day loud and clear on British television in the run-up to the war, but their claims were loudly dismissed by the Blair camp and the pro-war pundits.

The memo concludes:

That is not to say that action may not be taken to remove Saddam Hussein from power if it can be demonstrated that such action is a necessary and proportionate measure to secure the disarmament of Iraq. But regime change cannot be the objective of military action. This should be borne in mind in considering the list of military targets and in making public statements about any campaign.

As even Blair admits now, the action was not necessary to secure the disarmament of Iraq (it had disarmed). And it's hard to see how the war (described as "shock and awe" at the time by the US propaganda machine) could in any way be deemed proportionate.

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