25 March 2005

How to not support the troops

Leaving British troops open to war crimes prosecutions is perhaps not a brilliant way to support the troops, but that may be what the Blair government has gone. According to the Independnet:

Tony Blair is under mounting pressure to publish the Attorney General's advice on the legality of the Iraq war after the revelation that Lord Goldsmith changed his mind to back the invasion shortly before it began.

Mr Blair faced an angry backlash at Westminster as Labour MPs warned the Prime Minister his leadership was now threatening to damage the party's vote in the forthcoming general election. One Labour MP said some middle-class voters would not vote Labour again until Mr Blair stood down, because of anger over Iraq. The row over the Attorney General's advice now threatens to overshadow the election campaign.

The Independent has also learned the fresh revelations about the Attorney General's doubts over the legality of the Iraq war are being viewed with concern and consternation by senior military figures.

The controversy has been re-ignited after it was revealed the Government blanked out a damning paragraph from a resignation letter by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned in protest at the war from her post as the deputy legal adviser at Foreign Office. The redacted two sentences, first revealed by Channel 4, said Lord Goldsmith had supported the view of her legal team that the war would be illegal without a second UN resolution, but changed his opinion 13 days before the attack.

The Guardian gives the text of the letter (suppressed paragraph in boldface):
Official version
1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second security council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it... I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the office or to the public or parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

2. I therefore need to leave the office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a deputy legal adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the international criminal court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year.

I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement.

In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.

3. I joined the office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.

What they cut out

My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of SCR [UN security council resolution] 1441, and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March.

(The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line.)

Australia has signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC, so are troops are in the same boat. The Australian government has published its legal advice which is just about identical with the British legal opinion. I wonder if anyone in the Blair government made the Howard government aware their legal opinion was bogus? And I wonder if anyone in either government considered the legal limbo into which they were sending their troops?

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