27 February 2004

Spy case casts fresh doubt on war legality

Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a former deputy head of the legal team at the FO, has confirmed publicly for the first time that she resigned last year because she was unhappy with the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith's legal advice to the government on the legality of the Iraq war.

He argued that the series of consecutive UN resolutions provided a legal basis for the military action. But Ms Wilmshurst told the Guardian: 'Some agreed with the legal advice of the attorney general. I did not.' She refused to discuss the details of the advice.

She left on the eve of the war after 30 years on the FO's legal team, and deputy legal adviser since 1997. She is now at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, specialising in the legality of military intervention.

Yesterday James Welch, a solicitor for the civil rights group Liberty and Ms Gun's lawyer, said the final decision to abandon the case was taken after they had warned the prosecution that they would demand the disclosure of the attorney general's advice on the legality of the war.

'Our case was that any advice the government received on the legality of war was relevant to Katharine's case and we were prepared to go before a judge and argue for it to be disclosed,' he said.

Why cannot the legal advice be published? the Blair government tells us the war was legal. Publishing an attorney-general's opinion that confirms the war was legal cannot possibly hurt Blair. There cannot now be any security problems with the opinion. It is, after all, not as though something in Lord Goldsmith's opinion will tip off the Saddam tyranny about the coalition's military operations.

The only logical explanation is that there is something in the opinion embarrassing to Blair. A rough guess is that the opinion turns on the 45 minute question which is now known to be inaccurate.

While compassionate social democrats are meditating on releasing the report, they might consider releasing also when Blair claims he knew the 45 minutes related only to battlefield CBW and not to WMDs capable of being used outside Iraq.

What we need is the opnion and when Blair knew the 45 minute claim was wrong. What we'll get is passionate speeches with lots of flashing eyes and zero substance.

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