Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A lack of informed advice?


New admission over legal advice on Iraq invasion

Government fails to provide proof that the former attorney general was not pressured to change his initial opinion that 2003 invasion could be illegal

Chris Ames guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 13 January 2009 09.33 GMT

Fresh questions over the legality of the Iraq war were raised today after the government admitted it could not substantiate its claim that Lord Goldsmith had changed his mind over the legal basis for the invasion before a highly controversial meeting with two of Tony Blair's closest allies.

The admission has revived allegations that the former attorney general was pressured to revise his opinion that an invasion could be illegal without an explicit UN resolution.

Opposition MPs have renewed calls for a full Iraq inquiry in light of the new information.

The revelation comes ahead of a ruling on whether the government should publish minutes of two prewar cabinet meetings at which Goldsmith's advice was discussed.

Two weeks before the invasion, in March 2003, Goldsmith gave Blair a detailed legal opinion that doubted its legality.

Six days later, on 13 March, Goldsmith met Lord Falconer, then a junior minister, and Sally (now Lady) Morgan from Blair's office.

On 17 March, he published a single-page parliamentary answer, asserting that the war would be legal on the basis of existing UN resolutions.

In 2006 Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, ordered the government to disclose details of the process by which Goldsmith had come to his revised conclusion.

However, rather than requiring the publication of actual documents, Thomas allowed the government to publish a narrative account and include material that was not based on documentary evidence.

The Cabinet Office then issued a "disclosure statement" which claimed Goldsmith had informed his legal secretary of his new opinion before he met Morgan and Falconer.

But in response to a new freedom of information request, it has admitted it has "no information" to support this sequence of events.

The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Ed Davey, told the Guardian: "This latest revelation shows there is no evidence to back up government claims that Lord Goldsmith was not leant on by Blair's inner circle before deciding the war would be legal.

"We may never know the full truth but, as the official version slowly unravels, the credibility of Goldsmith's changed legal position is further called into question. A full inquiry is our only hope that we can force the full truth out."

The Tory shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, said: "It is surprising that the Cabinet Office is unable to supply further information on this matter.

"This adds yet further weight to the case for a proper privy council inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war."

Last November, Lord Bingham, a former senior law lord, said Goldsmith's view was "flawed" and called the invasion "a serious violation of international law and of the rule of law".

Critics of the war have alleged that Goldsmith had been pressured by Blair's allies to change his mind, which he has repeatedly denied.

The information tribunal is due to rule shortly on the government's appeal against Thomas's decision that it must publish the minutes of two cabinet meetings, on 13 and 17 March 2003.

It emerged during the tribunal hearing in November that the minutes could prove there was insufficient cabinet discussion of the legality of the war.

The attorney general missed the first cabinet meeting, on the day that he reached his new conclusion, but attended the second, at which the cabinet was presented with his single-page view.

Most ministers were not shown Goldsmith's original advice or told that he had expressed doubts on the issue.

The former minister Clare Short has claimed that she was prevented from asking Goldsmith why he had taken so long to provide an opinion and whether he had any doubts.

The Cabinet Office declined to comment further on the disclosure.



Blogger benzaloy said...

What is the process by which the British Cabinet Office could be compelled to release the crucial minutes that helped Tony Blair and his Communication Chief, Alistair Campbell, to mislead the British Parliament and the Public in declaring war on Iraq in cahoot with George Bush and Dick Cheney ?

If they wanted to go to war to be rid of a cruel despot they could have chosen Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who is directly connected to Britain in many ways including murdering many British descendants who were Commercial Farmers who owned their lands legally.
Robert Mugabe as president sent away the High Court and Supreme Court Judges who ruled against Mugabe's Government.
Alright, if they went to war on Iraq on the resolutions of UN then why lie about '45 minutes' of WMD. And have a good and honest individual killed to prop up their lies.
We must push for a full inquiry not excluding why Lord Hutton too lied in his report.

6:57 PM  
Blogger Andrew Simon said...

Hello Ben

It's highly unlikely that such minutes ever existed in the first place. Tony Blair adopted an informal 'sofa' style of conducting many cabinet meetings, and this means that much that was discussed was not properly recorded. What took place between Blair and Campbell alone was even less likely to have been preserved in paper form.

On your second point, it was Bush who saw it as his legacy to remove Saddam from power. He did this because his own father had failed to accomplish this in 1991. Blair followed Bush in order to appear strong. If you Google for "Tony Blair" "Miranda" "Clarissa Dickson Wright" as a single search you may uncover an allegation which others have suggested could be a potential lever for blackmail.

There will be a new 'Iraq' inquiry in the not-to-distant future. What it will uncover remains to be seen.

11:24 PM  
Blogger benzaloy said...

Thank you for the tip ... May I please say this ... it is after
reading you I got a clearer picture of the Dr Kelly incident.
Your writing is lucid and places relevant points in their logical spots with no ambiguity and repetitions.
Wish I could write like that.
Please keep me posted of new developments
Thank you,
Cheers, ben

9:14 AM  
Blogger benzaloy said...

Thank you ... Clarissa is interesting read ... but Miranda is insufficient ... Not juicy ... would like something on Campbell.
We'll see.
Cheers, ben

2:01 PM  

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