Monday, November 30, 2009

Lord Goldsmith told Tony Blair war to topple Saddam would be illegal.

The role of the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, in the Iraq war has always intrigued me. At first he states that the war - without a second UN resolution - would be illegal, only to dramatically change his mind at the last minute and declare the invasion legal.

Now, the Chilcot Inquiry have got hold of a letter which Goldsmith sent to Blair eight months before the invasion.

Tony Blair was told by his government's most senior legal adviser that an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein would be a serious breach of international law and the UN charter.

Lord Goldsmith, then attorney general, issued the warning in an uncompromising letter in July 2002, eight months before the invasion. It was becoming clear in government circles that Blair had had secret meetings with George Bush at which the US president was pressing Britain hard to join him in a war to change the regime in Baghdad.


Goldsmith warned Blair that "as things stand you obviously cannot do it [invade Iraq]", a source familiar with the dispute told the Guardian.

Increasingly concerned that Blair was ignoring his earlier advice that regime change was "not a legal basis for military action", on 29 July 2002 Goldsmith wrote to Blair on what the Mail on Sunday described as "a single side of A4 headed notepaper".

Blair is said to have not only ignored the letter but to have banned Goldsmith from attending cabinet meetings. The Attorney General is reported in today's Guardian to have been so angry that he threatened to resign and lost three stone in weight.

It will be interesting to see what Goldsmith says when he appears in front of the inquiry.

Personally, I would have had great respect for him had he, like Robin Cook, resigned in protest over the illegality of the war. Indeed, his deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, resigned for that very reason, stating that she did not believe that the war was legal and that Goldsmith had always led his office to believe that this was also his view.
Her letter setting out why said Lord Goldsmith "gave us to understand" he agreed with Foreign Office lawyers that the war was illegal without a new UN resolution but changed his advice twice just before the war to bring it in line with "what is now the official line".
It seems clear that Goldsmith was pressured to change his opinion and that he crumbled under the pressure.

It will be very interesting to see what he has to say when he is called upon to take us through this remarkable change of mind he appears to have had.

Click here for full article.


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