The Blair Era

One of the more deliciously ironic passages in Lord Peter Goldsmith’s formerly “secret” findings on the “Possible legal bases for the use of force” (March 7, 2003) occurs right off the bat, in paragraphs 2 and 3:

2. As I have previously advised, there are generally three possible bases for the use of force:

(a) self-defence (which may include collective self-defence);
(b) exceptionally, to avert overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe; and
(c) authorisation by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

“Force may be used in self-defence if there is an actual or imminent threat of an armed attack,” the British Attorney General’s assessment continued; “the use of force must be necessary, ie the only means of averting an attack; and the force used must be a proportionate response. It is now widely accepted that an imminent armed attack will justify the use of force if the other conditions are met. The concept of what is imminent may depend on the circumstances. Different considerations may apply, for example, where the risk is of attack from terrorists sponsored or harboured by a particular State, or where there is a threat of an attack by nuclear weapons. However, in my opinion there must be some degree of imminence.” (Par. 3.)

True enough: Irony isn’t the best word to describe the actual place this passage occupies in the modern world. But I am not sure what word would be better. Because here we have a case in which the British Government had for an extended period of time been pre-positioning its military alongside the American military in an unambiguous threat of force against the Government of Iraq, with the reasonable expectation in every corner of the world that, sooner rather than later, these two states were going to launch a war over Iraqi territory; and yet, in assessing the “legal bases for the use of force” against Iraq, at least two of the three legal criteria that the British Attorney General cited and ultimately rejected for their failure to withstand scrutiny in the case at hand would have withstood scrutiny, had the question turned on the possible legal bases for the Iraqi Government’s use of force against the British and American states then threatening it. Especially (a).

Think about it. No one possibly could have argued that, as of March 7, 2003, the official date of Lord Goldsmith’s findings, an actual or imminent threat of an armed attack against Iraq did not exist. (On the contrary, no one—short of lying outright, that is—did argue at the time that Iraq posed an actual or imminent threat to any state. Much less to “international peace and security.”)

Nor could anyone have argued that Iraq’s use of force against the U.S. and U.K. was anything but the only means of averting an attack that Iraq had at its command. (Against this, many would argue that it always was within Iraq’s command to avert an attack simply by complying with the requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (Nov. 8, 2002). But the American and British forces in question were not barracked back in the States and Britain, their high-tech weaponry collecting dust in the depot, awaiting call-up. Rather, they already had been deployed so as to encircle Iraqi national territory, some of them for the previous 12 years. This is the textbook definition of an threat of an imminent armed attack. If ever there were one.)

Last, no one could honestly argue that a conventional Iraqi strike against American and British forces—all that the Iraqis in fact were capable of executing, let us not forget, Iraq possessing zero non-conventional capabilities—would not have been proportionate. How could it have been otherwise? Indeed. As of March 7, 2003, when Lord Goldsmith raised serious doubts about the legality of his Government’s participation in a war over Iraq, unless it secured an additional Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force (Pars. 27-31), the only arguable questions around the rest of the world should have been whether the Iraqis were justified in striking targets within U.S. and U.K. territories? (And if so, which targets?) How many other states and non-state actors would have been justified in participating in a coalition to defend Iraq against the then-imminent U.S.-U.K. attack? (Russia? China? France? Japan? Germany? India? Brazil? Venezuela? Cuba? Iran? Syria? Zimbabwe? The Non-Aligned States collectively?) And whether this defense of Iraq merited authorization by the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations?

(Quick aside. As Chapter VII, Article 51, states: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Of course, when not just one, but two of the Permanent Five, veto-wielding members of the Security Council are the states threatening to disrupt international peace and security, the Security Council becomes the last place on earth to which the defenders of international peace and security can turn. Under such circumstances,….)

Given the three possible bases for the use of force that Lord Goldsmith’s March 7, 2003 document examined, it is worth noting that if these reasons do indeed possess the weight in international law that he attributed to them, they would have provided a legal basis for Iraq’s (as well as for Iraq’s coalition partners’) use of force against the British and the Americans. But not for the use of force by the British and the Americans against the Iraqis. Just as Lord Goldsmith himself concluded at the time. And even if the Americans had a rather different view: That whether a war over Iraq was legally justified would follow from whether the Americans in fact launched a war. If the Americans launched one, it was legally justified.

Of my favorite commentaries on the Tony Blair era to have appeared in the British press (including a lot of great stuff by John Pilger), one happened to turn up in last Tuesday’s Guardian—”The Prime Minister Is a War Criminal” (April 26).

Tony Blair is a “God-fuelled appeaser,” Richard Gott wrote, “the unseemly ally of an unbridled country that presents a global threat similar to Germany in the 1930s.”

Gott continued:

Instead of seeking a grand alliance to confront this new danger – “a coalition of the unwilling” that would include the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese – Blair has sided with the evil empire. He has taken up a role as its principal cheerleader, obliging Britain to become a participant in its wars of aggression. Today’s Labour party has been a supine collaborator in this policy of appeasement, just like the Tory party in the 1930s. Blair’s war party must be defeated at the polls.

Meanwhile, I see that Ahmed Chalabi has been named the Deputy Prime Minister of the New Iraq, as well as its Acting Oil Minister. Not sure whether this constitutes irony—and if it does, what kind: The kind in Samuel Beckett’s work? Or American Power’s? (And its British Poodle’s.)

You just can’t keep good men down.

Postscript (May 1): I see that in the very first public opinion poll to have been completed in the U.K. since last Wednesday’s release of Lord Goldsmith’s Possible Legal Bases for the Use of Force document, the British Polling Index has found that “more than half the electorate think the Prime Minister failed to tell the truth.”

And nearly one in two – 49 per cent – are prepared to go further, saying Mr Blair actually ‘lied’, deliberately misleading the country in the months before the start of the conflict two years ago. Almost half (48 per cent) believe the war was illegal under international law, with only one in three supporting Mr Blair’s decision to commit troops without the full backing of the United Nations.

Conducted on behalf of the Daily Mail-Mail on Sunday (“Blair Lied to Us Over Iraq War, Say Half of All Voters,” Jonathan Oliver, May 1), the British Polling Index also reports that with just four days remaining before the May 5 national elections, the British Labour Party “has opened up a decisive lead over the Tories,” and looks to receive 38 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for the Tories, and 22 percent for the Liberal Democrats.

Too bad. Because it appears that the same-half of the British electorate that believes (rightly) that Tony Blair lied about the reasons he ordered his state to go to war over Iraq is split between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, giving the Labour Party yet another term in Downing Street.

Possible Legal Bases for the Use of Force, Lord Goldsmith, March 7, 2003 (as posted to The Downing Street website)

Lord Goldsmith’s published advice on the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq,” March 17, 2003 (as posted to The Guardian‘s website)

UN Security Council Resolution 661, August 6, 1990
UN Security Council Resolution 678, November 29, 1990
UN Security Council Resolution 687, April 8, 1991
UN Security Council Resolution 1441, November 8, 2002

Review of Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction, Report of a Committee of Privy Counsellors, July, 2004 (a.k.a., the Butler Report)


A Case To Answer: On the potential impeachment of the Prime Minister for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the invasion of Iraq, Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch, August, 2004

A Case To Answer: On the potential impeachment of the Prime Minister for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the invasion of Iraq, Glen Rangwala and Dan Plesch (U.K.: Spokesman Books, 2004)

Draft Impeachment Resolution Against President George W. Bush,” Francis A. Boyle, CounterPunch, January 17, 2003
It’s About the Rule of Law: Impeaching George W. Bush,” Francis A. Boyle, CounterPunch, July 25, 2003
Destroying World Order: U.S. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11th, Francis A. Boyle (Clarity Press, Inc., 2004)

The Tonier-than-thou club,” John Pilger, New Statesman, March 7, 2005
John Pilger – on Blair’s forgotten victims,” John Pilger, New Statesman, April 25, 2005

Why does New Labour stand for nothing?” Josie Appleton, Spiked Online, April 29, 2005

Walking Over Corpses: The New Statesman and The Guardian On Voting Labour,” Media Lens, May 3, 2005
Burying the Legal Advice for War—Part 1,” Media Lens, May 4, 2005
Burying the Legal Advice for War–Part II,” Media Lens, May 5, 2005
Impeachment Time: ‘Facts Were Fixed’,” Greg Palast, May 5, 2005

Goldsmith told Blair ‘war could be illegal’,” Francis Elliott, The Independent, April 24, 2005
We need no more evidence that Blair is unworthy of our trust,” Correlli Barnett, The Independent, April 24, 2005 [For a copy, see below]
Proof Blair was told war could be ruled illegal,” Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday, April 24, 2005

Iraq low on list of voter concerns,” Philip Stephens, Financial Times, April 25, 2005
Blair’s evasions will catch up with him,” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 25, 2005
The truth behind Goldsmith’s equivocal answer as war machine gathered pace in drive for Iraq,” Colin Brown, The Independent, April 25, 2005
Untruthful Blair may win, but the storm of scandal is gathering,” Andreas Whittam Smith, The Independent, April 25, 2005
All the issues that matter have been deftly excluded from this lacklustre campaign,” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, April 25, 2005 [For a copy, see below]

The Prime Minister Is a War Criminal,” Richard Gott, The Guardian, April 26, 2005
New controversy over Iraq forces Blair from his chosen battlefields,” Andrew Grice, The Independent, April 26, 2005

Attorney general told Blair war could be illegal,” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 27, 2005
Was PM trying to cover up his requests to Goldsmith?” Marie Woolf, The Independent, April 27, 2005

Goldsmith warned Blair of serious reservations over legality of Iraq war,” Andrew Sparrow, Daily Telegraph, April 28, 2005
War memo comes back to haunt PM,” Jean Eaglesham, Financial Times, April 28, 2005
Goldsmith was under intense pressure amid rapid turn of events,” Jean Eaglesham, Financial Times, April 28, 2005
Revealed: the government’s secret legal advice on Iraq war,” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 28, 2005
Opposition demands Iraq answers,” Vikram Dodd and Sam Jones, The Guardian, April 28, 2005
Blix insists there was no firm weapons evidence,” Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 28, 2005
Democracy in the dark,” Editorial, The Guardian, April 28, 2005

“Why I believe Mr. Blair is a war criminal,” Correlli Barnett, Daily Mail, April 29, 2005 [For a copy, see below]
“A pliant crony lawyer and a serial liar,” Geoffrey Levy, Daily Mail, April 29, 2005 [For a copy, see below]
“Like a fish, Labour is rotting from the head down,” Rory Bremner, Daily Mail, April 29, 2005 [For a copy, see below]
Ten days that made a legal case for war,” Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 29, 2005

Anti-war groups begin court challenge,” Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 30, 2005

Revealed: Documents show Blair’s secret plans for war,” Raymond Whitaker et al., The Independent, May 1, 2005
No hiding place: Blair melts under the heat of Iraq,” Andy McSmith and Francis Elliott, The Independent, May 1, 2005
Blair saw legal caveats a year before invasion,” Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, May 1, 2005
Iraq, the secret US visit, and an angry military chief,” Antony Barnett et al., The Observer, May 1, 2005
Regime change is illegal: end of debate,” Alasdair Palmer, Sunday Telegraph, May 1, 2005
The secret Downing Street memo,” Matthew Rycroft, July 23, 2002 (as posted by the Sunday Times, May 1, 2005)
The secret Downing Street memo,” Matthew Rycroft, July 23, 2002 (as posted by the Sunday Times, May 1, 2005)
Downing Street Minutes that Lasted for Months,” Philippe Naughton, The Times Online, June 9, 2005
Ministers Were Told of Need for Gulf War ‘Excuse’,” Michael Smith, Sunday Times, June 12, 2005
The Leak That Changed Minds on Iraq,” Sunday Times, June 12, 2005

Open Letter To: The Honorable George W. Bush, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Jr., et al., May 5, 2005

After Downing Street.org (Homepage)
The Downing Street Memo.com (Homepage)

Three Headless Corpses, September 19, 2004
Impeach ‘Em All, November 13, 2004

FYA (“For your archives”): People working with this online electronic medium (you and I, for example) constantly have to contend with the problem of how to defeat the $$$$$$ barriers that those individuals and businesses taking a proprietary interest in information erect around the access to it. Many of the links that I am able to provide will take you only as far as these $$$$$$ barriers. Apologies. But in many cases—time and space permitting, that is—I’m also able to post copies of material in the body of this blog as a way of fooling the proprietary demons. The items posted below certainly fit the bill.

Independent on Sunday (London)
April 24, 2005, Sunday
SECTION: First Edition; COMMENT; Pg. 27
HEADLINE: We need no more evidence that Blair is unworthy of our trust

HIGHLIGHT: The funeral of Lance Corporal Thomas Keys of the Royal Military Police, who was killed in Iraq, and whose father Reg is standing against Tony Blair PA

Here we are, halfway through the general election campaign, and yet the one question of truly fundamental importance has so far failed to become the focus of debate. And that question is whether we can trust the judgement, or the word, of the man who is now asking us to vote him back in Downing Street for a whole third term.

The key to answering this question lies in Tony Blair’s Iraq war and its violent and still-continuing aftermath: 15,000 to 100,000 Iraqi dead; massive destruction; and an insurgency that American firepower cannot quell. Meanwhile, the dream of Blair and Bush of a stable democracy in Iraq, capable of enforcing its own internal security, remains very far from fulfilment.

The cost of Blair’s Iraq adventure to Britain herself now stands at 87 British servicemen and one woman killed, plus the lives of Dr David Kelly (his identity betrayed to the media by Blair & Co in the run-up to war) and two hapless British hostages, Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan. The military cost alone of the war and its aftermath to Britain is now approaching £4bn.

It is therefore no wonder that, according to the polls, a majority of voters now believe that it was wrong to attack Iraq. More than a quarter of Labour voters generally disappointed in the Blair government say that Iraq has made them more likely to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

Who can be astonished, then, that Iraq is the topic which at Labour Party press conferences dares not speak its name?

For the spin doctors know, and Blair knows, that if the invasion of Iraq and the consequent bloody mess were to become the major topic of debate in this election, then it could inflict crippling damage on Labour’s chances, especially in marginal constituencies. So it’s hardly surprising that when cross-examined about Iraq by Jeremy Paxman on BBC television last week, Blair resorted to angry defensive bluster ” only to repeat the performance in all its lawyer-like weaseliness in an interview the next day in The Independent.

But Blair’s evident unease is exactly why we, the electors, must freshly remember the whole sorry saga of how he entangled this country in George Bush’s calamitous Iraq adventure. And we now know the full facts, thanks to the email evidence posted on the internet by Lord Justice Hutton, to the Butler report, and to various congressional reports and interrogations.

Even before George Bush & Co came into office in January 2001, they were bent on toppling Saddam Hussein in pursuit of an ideological mission to convert the Middle East to democracy. The destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 simply provided them with a convenient cover story: an attack on Iraq would, they said, strike a major blow in the ‘war on terror’. In fact, no evidence existed of any operational link between Saddam’s regime and al-Qa’ida.

In summer 2002, Tony Blair and George Bush agreed to manipulate their public opinions in favour of armed action against Saddam Hussein. Hence the notorious ‘dodgy dossier’ of September 2002, now known beyond doubt to have been sexed up for publication thanks to pressure on John Scarlett (chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee) by Blair’s creature, Alastair Campbell, and Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff.

By November 2002, American war plans were well in preparation. At the UN, prolonged negotiation between the members of the Security Council produced the compromise Resolution 1441, warning Saddam of serious consequences if he did not come clean about his alleged WMD. This resolution did not ” repeat, not ” authorise an attack on Iraq without a further specific resolution. Otherwise, neither France, nor Germany, nor Russia would have agreed to it. By February 2003 American and British military preparations were far advanced. Hence appeared a new British ‘dodgy dossier” partly culled without acknowledgement from a 12-year-old PhD thesis on the internet, and quoted by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, to the Security Council.

In February 2003, when American and British forces were already deploying en masse to the Gulf, a protest march against war by more than a million people took place in London. Opinion polls equally demonstrated that the bulk of the British people were opposed to war. But it all meant nothing to Blair, ‘the man who knew he was right’. On 18 March, he won the backing of the House of Commons for his war of aggression by a brilliant display of meretricious oratory. He told the House of Commons that he and George Bush were now compelled to take military action without a second UN resolution because France had stated that she would veto any such resolution. In fact, France refused to back such a resolution at that particular moment ” only because Hans Blix was doing good work and needed more time. The true reason why Blair and Bush would not give Blix that extra time was that they were now shackled to a military timetable.

In a slithery coda to his speech, Blair asserted that it was unthinkable now on the eve of conflict to bring British troops home and let the Americans down.

In fact, as Blair must have calculated, it was equally far too late for the Commons to enjoy a real choice over the issue of peace or war. The key decision, from which all else followed, had been taken back in summer 2002, when Blair chose to pledge complete loyalty to George Bush over Iraq ” even to the extent of joining in a war if need be.

If in the summer of 2002, or indeed at any time before the actual deployment of troops to the Gulf, Blair had instead refused to commit Britain to possible military action, this would have done no more damage to Britain’s long-standing relationship with the United States than had Harold Wilson’s refusal in 1968 to join the USA’s fateful adventure in Vietnam.

But would Blair’s war be legal without a second specific UN resolution? The circumstances surrounding the advice given by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, are as murky as those in regard to the drafting of the ‘dodgy dossier’. According to the testimony of Mrs Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the senior legal expert in the Foreign Office, the Attorney General at first agreed with her and her colleagues that such a war would be illegal, but later changed his mind. Why?

On the basis of legal advice sketchy enough to be put on one side of a sheet of A4, and from a single lawyer who was also a cabinet minister, Blair finally took Britain to war against a country which posed no threat at all to British interests, let alone to the United Kingdom itself.

There can be no sterner test of a national leader’s soundness of judgement than when he has to decide between peace and war. And there can be no sterner test of his probity than his choice of the means of persuading his countrymen to back him. Both these tests Tony Blair has unquestionably failed. As a result, he stands convicted of being wholly unworthy of our trust. This is the central fact of this election, and we should vote accordingly.

Correlli Barnett is a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge

The Independent (London)
April 25, 2005, Monday
SECTION: First Edition; COMMENT; Pg. 37

Alastair Campbell reportedly sent a perky memo to the troops last Saturday. Although the usual warnings are there in small print to reluctant or indolent Labour voters ” the message is upbeat. They are winning the arguments; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown coming together is good for votes, millions associate Howard with nastiness. ‘This job is largely done,’ he concludes. Not quite, I hope.

Iraq ” until now, that is ” and other thorny issues have been managed out of the election by the New Labour machinery and, it has to be said, by some powerful journalists whose hot partisan breath raises the wings of their favoured government, which now soars when it should be ensnared and properly grilled.

Other media interrogators, who are unquestionably independent, are suddenly languid instead of sharp and persistent. Their interviews sag, lack vigour, and teeth. It is as if they cannot bear to pursue politicians to get at the facts. Perhaps they know that some of these truths, if confronted, would blast away British complacency about this democratic nation and its honour. Paxman with Blair last week is just one example.

The interview was mostly torpid, even when Paxman extracted startling assertions and admissions from our vainglorious PM. A school-gate mum would have been more alert and robust on the follow-ups. Having said accusingly that he resented his integrity being impugned, Blair then admitted that although he felt ‘terrible’ about it, he had disclosed David Kelly’s name because he didn’t want to conceal anything from the committee which was looking into the Gilligan affair at the time. He broke the confidentiality Kelly was entitled to and failed to protect the civil servant. This was followed by the death of the weapons expert.

After this death, Blair and Geoff Hoon repeatedly denied they had had anything to do with the leaking of the name. They lied.

Paxman let this walk on by. Blair then pronounced with absolute conviction (what else?) that he took us to war because he wanted to stop Saddam humiliating the international community ” another day, another reason. He was not called to account for the statement, which implied that our state and the UN are his personal possessions.

The media has ignored other fundamental questions, so we know virtually nothing about the limbless children wandering around Basra, or how many people have died in Iraq (we don’t count them) as a result of the weapons we have used, or the demonstration against the occupation by 300,000 Iraqis who burnt the effigies of Saddam, Bush and Blair. We have a right to know exactly when Blair really decided to go with Bush whatever the consequences. And what it took to convince Lord Goldsmith to change his mind on the legality of the war, from questioning whether it would be an unlawful enterprise to being sure that it was legitimate and within international rules.

The British public is also being denied a proper debate on what happens next with this special relationship between the UK and US. Both the main parties, and the Liberal Democrats, too, need to clarify their positions. A new ICM survey shows that 61 per cent of Britons believe the UK is too close to US foreign policies in the Middle East.

The Labour manifesto says: ‘We have worked closely with the US and other nations to combat the threat of terrorism in Afghanistan and in Iraq. The threat of the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons ” and their use by rogue states or terrorist groups ” is a pressing issue for the world today.’ I don’t know about you, but I am filled with both fear and rage when reading these sentences, which sum up the destructive bond between two powerful nations, their hubris and double standards. How unsafe they are making the world.

The insurgency in Iraq is only the beginning of a second wave of reaction against the British/ American axis. Our government colludes in the ongoing torment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, who have no access to justice; we work with the hyper-power and jointly outsource torture to be carried out in places such as Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and friendly Arab countries. Leo Blair’s lunchbox has enjoyed vastly greater coverage and discussion than this vital future strategy.

Europe too has gone missing, except in the miserable negative campaigning of Europhobes. All those who have allowed themselves to believe that Gordon Brown will one day save the soul of the Labour Party should be told more about his obsessive attachment to the US and his disdain for the European Union. The Tories are getting away with their slick promises without having to explain the likely impact of weakened ties to the EU on our economy, laws and collective human rights. The Liberal Democrats say little about the need for a healthy, confident, well-run Europe which could, if reformed, be an invaluable bloc to rebalance the world now in the hands of the US neocons.

Immigration may have become the most emotive issue of this election, but sound and fury and something indescribable called ‘common sense’ don’t allow space for mature consideration. To his credit, Blair’s speech in Dover was longer than a squiggled sentence on a poster. It had details, history, economic arguments and a proper rebuke to those in the Opposition who are calculatedly inflaming the electorate. But when it came to asylum policies, it was all punitive policing and ejections, not much explaining the reasons we have desperate people travelling so far to this land of growing intolerance. Nothing about their human rights and our obligations either. The population makes its mind up with barely any of the facts they need.

Other no-go areas include taxation, pensions, our arms industries, railways and roads and faith-based schools. The Liberal Democrats have tried to bring these subjects into the election conversations, but their polite discourse is getting them nowhere. And so we are here, approaching a day as important as the one in 1997 which ejected the Tories, but having to negotiate the most savagely controlled, ‘censored’ and constricted election in living memory.

It happens because we, the people, let it. The Barbican is staging a much-acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the moment. Power, megalomania, the changeable and gullible mob and corruption are laid bare, and should make us think of our own times and weaknesses.

As Cassius says to Brutus: ‘Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus: and we petty men/Walk under his huge legs, and peep about/ To find ourselves dishonourable graves./Men at some time are masters of their fates:/ The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’

April 29, 2005
SECTION: ED_1ST_04; Pg. 9

THE LEAKING to the BBC and Channel 4 of the critical section of the 13-page topsecret advice by Attorney General Goldsmith on March 7, 2003, has now forced Tony Blair to publish the entire document – an act of candour towards the British people which for two years he had stubbornly refused to countenance.

Well, we can now understand why he was so keen to keep Goldsmith’s advice under wraps. It is because the Attorney General warned that an attack on Iraq could be deemed unlawful without a further UN Security Council resolution.

In the event, there was no further UN resolution, and Blair (alongside Bush) attacked Iraq just the same.

Goldsmith’s report is, in my view, the ‘smoking gun’ which identifies Tony Blair as a man guilty of planning and launching aggressive war – in other words, a war criminal.

The report equally confirms Blair to be a serial liar who set out to win backing for his war by deceit of the public, Parliament and even members of his own Cabinet. As we now know, Goldsmith’s secret advice was never circulated to all members of the Cabinet.

Remember: Blair and that true man of straw, the Foreign Secretary, have repeatedly argued that the famous UN Security Council Resolution 1441 (of November 2002) itself provided the authority for war without the need for a second resolution.

That argument was pronounced by Goldsmith to be dubious and disputable. But Blair and Straw used it just the same.

Remember: Blair justified his war policy to the House of Commons on March 18, 2003, on the score that Saddam Hussein was ‘ unequivocally’ in breach of UN resolutions calling on him to scrap his alleged WMD.

But in fact Hans Blix, leader of the UN inspection team, was just then reporting to the Security Council that Saddam was complying. So it is no wonder that Goldsmith warned Blair: ‘You will need to consider very carefully whether the evidence of noncooperation and non-compliance by Iraq is sufficiently compelling.’ That evidence simply did not exist.

Remember also: Blair told the Commons on March 18, 2003 (and repeated yesterday) that he and George W. Bush were compelled to go to war without a second UN resolution because France had stated that she would veto it ‘in any circumstances’.

The truth was that France had actually said she would veto such a resolution at that particular moment, when Hans Blix was doing good work and needed more time. So what advice did the Attorney General give Blair on this crucial point?

HE WROTE: ‘There are no grounds for arguing that an “unreasonable veto” would entitle us to proceed on the basis of a presumed Security Council authorisation… it is likely to be difficult on the facts to categorise a French veto as “unreasonable”.’ All in all, then, Goldsmith’s advice was full of doubts and cavils – very far from a clear endorsement of war on Iraq as lawful.

We can imagine the unhappiness of the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, with 45,000 British soldiers, sailors and airmen deployed in the Gulf about to go into battle.

We can understand why he demanded a categorical assurance that the war would be legal.

And we can also imagine just how it came about that Goldsmith then reversed the whole tenor of his previous advice and on March 14 gave Boyce the assurance he wanted, repeating the gist three days later to Parliament in a 337-word statement written on a single sheet of A4.

After all, we saw a similar convenient fix under Downing Street pressure in the case of the ‘dodgy dossier’ of September 2002, when the doubts and cavils in the original Joint Intelligence Committee report became absolute certainties in the published version.

It also seems likely that Goldsmith was swayed by persuasion from Washington. Today we have Goldsmith absurdly standing by his March 17, 2003, public endorsement of war as legal, even though this blatantly contradicts his secret advice ten days earlier. Well, he would stand by it, wouldn’t he?

We have Jack Straw on television just as absurdly arguing that Goldsmith’s A4 sheet of public advice was a true summary of his 13-page secret advice.

We have a desperately rattled Blair waffling away with his faux sincerity in his press conference yesterday with those same stale old fibs of his about Saddam’s failure to disarm and the French veto on a further UN resolution.

He also claimed that a war he sold to Parliament as vital in order to disarm Saddam Hussein of WMD can now be justified as spreading democracy in the Middle East.

But nowhere in the UN Charter and international law can be found any sanction for spreading democracy by force. So there can be no doubt that if Blair’s true purpose was indeed to aid George W. Bush in doing so, he again stands convicted of planning and launching a war of aggression.

Blair and his anxious defenders will argue that, no matter what the opinions of lawyers, to go to war was a political decision which he as Prime Minister had to take – a decision that he endlessly yammers on was ‘right’.

BUT IF a leader can take his country to war without any legal justification simply because he himself believes it is politically ‘the right thing to do’, then Adolf Hitler’s decisions to invade Poland in 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1941 were equally ‘right’.

However, the dispute over Goldsmith’s shifting legal opinion conceals a deeper reality: by March 2003, Blair – and Britain – were inescapably committed to joining in George W.

Bush’s war to bring about ‘regime change’ in Iraq.

The American military timetable demanded that the war should start before the end of March, so that the conquest of Iraq could be completed before the onset of the summer heat.

Now, it is true that the flexibility of modern armed forces would have made it operationally possible to bring back the British forces, or at least withhold them from the campaign.

But politically it was by now impossible to leave the Americans to it.

More than that, it was personally unimaginable for Tony Blair to let down his dear chum George, after all those joint press conferences in which Blair had assured Bush that Britain was with him all the way, even (in Blair’s ghastly words) ‘to paying the blood price’. Just think of the loss of personal prestige!

This was why the Attorney General’s secret advice must have caused a tremendous panic in Downing Street – as must have Admiral Boyce’s consequent (and courageous) demand for an unambiguous ruling on the legality of the coming conflict.

This was why the Cabinet as a whole never saw, never debated, the Attorney General’s report. Just think of the political meltdown if the Cabinet, the Labour Party or the House of Commons had known that Britain was ineluctably committed to launching a probably illegal war before the end of the month, and that any debate was therefore now utterly futile!

To persuade Goldsmith to change his mind was clearly a matter of desperate urgency. After all, the political survival of Tony Blair was at stake.

Armed with the Attorney General’s conveniently revamped advice, Blair could face the House of Commons on March 18. And adrenaline-fuelled by the knowledge of how dicey his case for war truly was – and how much was at stake for him personally – he could make an impassioned, mendacious and successful plea for the House’s backing.

But even deeper questions still remain. Why, back in the spring and summer of 2002, did Blair unreservedly commit himself and his country to the grandiose global ambitions of George W. Bush and Co?

We must remember that Bush has stated the fundamental inspiration for his expansionist foreign policy: ‘It is not America which wants to free the peoples of the world. It is Jesus Christ who wants to free them.’ Did Blair, a committed Christian and crypto-Roman Catholic, share this dangerously ideological view of international relations, the mirror image of the convictions of militant Islam?

OR WAS Blair’s pledge of loyalty to Bush really the product of his swollen and well-documented vanity? We can all remember a shirt-sleeved Blair at Camp David imitating the President’s armsoutward swagger.

We can all remember Blair’s too evident gratification at sharing a rostrum in the White House with The Most Important Man In The World.

Today the euphoria has worn off.

During this election we have heard little mention from Blair of his once-dear chum George. Their joint enterprise in Iraq has gone horribly wrong.

Instead of a quick war ushering in a happy democratic Iraq, we have had a quick war ushering in two years of savage violence that not even American firepower can quell.

Indeed, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, has admitted the Iraqi insurgency is as strong today as a year ago.

We have a new Iraqi police force and army which are neither well enough trained, motivated, nor equipped to defeat the insurgents. We have a new Iraqi government which faces the colossal problem of uniting all the racial and religious groups behind an effective parliamentary regime.

So the chances are remote indeed that by the end of 2005 Britain will be able to withdraw all, or most, of her 7,500 servicemen at present stuck in Iraq.

It can hardly surprise us that Blair looks so beleaguered, with his famous grin now a mechanical grimace, his tired eyes sunk into their bags, his forehead beslimed by a mixture of sweat and pancake makeup, and his glib answers wilder and wilder in his attempt at self-exculpation.

For he now stands exposed as the man who unscrupulously manipulated his country into a disastrous war and a protracted entanglement in Iraq that has so far cost the lives of 87 British servicemen and two British hostages, to say nothing of Pounds 4 billion in military expenditure alone.

How Clem Attlee, Prime Minister during Labour’s golden age after World War II, and a man of iron integrity and few words, would have despised Tony Blair for his vain, glib, self-loving, self-serving, self-deceiving sanctimony.

CORRELLI BARNETT is author of The Great War (BBC World Books, Pounds 12.99) END

April 29, 2005
HEADLINE: A pliant crony lawyer and a serial liar

FOUNTAIN Court Chambers in London is described as ‘the elite’s elite’ by this month’s lawyers’ magazine Legal Business.

It is where Liverpool-raised Peter Goldsmith, later created Baron Goldsmith by Tony Blair and then appointed Attorney General, flowered as a Pounds 1-million-a-year QC specialising in the most lucrative areas of commerce and banking.

His mentor was Charles Falconer, who famously once shared a flat with another, lesser lawyer, Tony Blair, who repaid his loyal friendship with a peerage.

Falconer was kindness itself to the new arrival at Fountain Court, always available with a word of guidance. Both ambitious, they lunched at their desks but dined together whenever possible, forming a close, enduring friendship.

They even shared the same clerk.

To this day, the suave Goldsmith, though said to be ‘miles brighter’ than the matey Falconer, recalls with ‘gratitude and immense fondness’ the help Charlie gave him, according to a close observer.

But on March 13, 2003 – two years into his term as Attorney General – Lord Goldsmith was locked in a three-way discussion of deathly importance.

The other two in the room were Baroness Morgan, long-time Labour server and now Blair’s fixer at No 10, and Lord Falconer, then the Minister of State for Criminal Justice (he was promoted to Lord Chancellor three months later).

All three are Tony crony appointees, never having offered themselves to the electorate for approval. Yet they were discussing, and perhaps shaping, the grimmest possible destiny for any country – whether Britain could legally go to war against Iraq.

SIX DAYS earlier, Lord Goldsmith, a Rolls-Royce legal brain with a double first from Cambridge, had warned the Prime Minister that military action could be illegal under international law without a fresh resolution from the UN.

Precisely what the other two said to the Attorney General we may never be told, but he denies he was being leaned on to change his advice so that Blair’s push for an invasion of Iraq could be legally justified.

Intriguingly, however, this was the very day he decided to obtain the legal opinion of Christopher Greenwood QC, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics.

His fee cost the taxpayer Pounds 54,000.

Yet everyone in the legal world already knew what he would say, because he was one of the very few who believed that because of existing UN resolutions involving Iraq, military action would not breach international law.

Presumably that is why he needed so little time to file his opinion.

Four days later, on March 17, Lord Goldsmith provided a 337-word parliamentary statement justifying force on the grounds of (surprise, surprise) existing UN resolutions.

The following day, Foreign Office legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned as a protest against the war.

Yesterday, Professor Greenwood declined to discuss how he came so suddenly to be asked for his opinion by the Attorney General.

‘I cannot comment on my relationship with a client,’ he said.

Lord Goldsmith continues to insist he made his own final judgment, but it is not difficult to imagine the immense pressure he was under from a Prime Minister anxious to hear the ‘right’ answer.

A fellow lawyer who has known Goldsmith for many years believes the stress on him ‘must have been well nigh intolerable’.

He said yesterday: ‘Peter likes the detail of the law and relies on his own incredible recall and sound judgment, but his field has always been commerce and banking.

‘He would have struggled with the Iraqi brief because, frankly, he knows next to nothing about international law. He’s literally been learning on the job.’ Colleagues describe a relaxed figure playing a spirited game of tennis (occasionally with Blair and that other Tony crony peer, Lord Levy) and entertaining friends playing moody jazz on his piano at his Pounds 4 million house in Queen Anne’s Gate near St James’s Park.

He and his wife Jan, who have four children, lived in St John’s Wood, North-West London, for 20 years.

They bought the Queen Anne’s Gate house, at the social and political centre of London, soon after he was appointed Attorney General.

But these same colleagues do not accept rumours that he regrets accepting the job. ‘Peter may appear to be a smooth, mandarinlike figure with a lofty approach to life, but he’s just a boy from Liverpool, remember, and he adores the cachet of being at the heart of government in London,’ says a friend.

‘I reckon he wakes up every day looking forward to work – at least, he did until recently. He always hated losing a case, so I imagine he can’t be too happy right now.’ Friends always suspected he was hoping for the political limelight: he quietly joined the Labour Party; privately donated considerable sums into its needy coffers; became secretary of its Hyde Park ward; met Tony Blair; and then accepted a peerage in 1999 – a very smooth progression indeed.

ALIVERPOOL solicitor’s son, whatever Merseyside traces that were still in him – he went to Quarry Bank High, the same school as John Lennon – no longer exist.

His voice is mellifluous, his manner lofty, though he has charm and is liked in the Lords, where he is only the second Attorney General to sit in 300 years.

Until this crisis, he had been tipped to take over as head of the judiciary when Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf retires later this year.

‘Peter will see no reason why he should not do the job, whatever happens,’ says a former colleague.

‘He is that confident of himself.’ Of course, if there was any integrity left in public life, this pliant lawyer, who has prostituted his office for political ends, would do the honourable thing and resign.

But shed no tears for this tarnished Attorney General.

Unlike most failures, he has his Pounds 1 million a year advocacy at the Bar waiting for him.

Where lawyers are concerned, there is always an escape hatch.

April 29, 2005
SECTION: ED_1ST_04; Pg. 14
HEADLINE: Like a fish, Labour is rotting from the head down. For the sake of David Kelly and Tom Keys it’s time for a decapitation

WHEN Tony Blair first arrived in Downing Street, he set out the standard by which he wanted his government to be judged.

‘It will be a government,’ he declared, ‘ which restores people’s trust in politics in this country.’ However, his unwillingness to trust his own Cabinet with the full legal background during the key period of debate about the legality of war in Iraq reveals the most serious abuse of power by a British Prime Minister in recent memory.

Had he taken his Cabinet colleagues into his confidence, it is possible he might have lost the argument, and with it the debate which finally sealed Britain’s participation in the invasion – an undertaking he had unilaterally promised President Bush many months before.

We now know, as we suspected before, that Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s advice changed from originally setting out his serious concerns about the legal case for war on March 7 to overcoming them so heroically ten days later.

Blair and Jack Straw would probably claim this shows Goldsmith’s brilliance.

Normally, if you want two different opinions, you have to ask two different lawyers. Not with Lord Goldsmith. He’ll give you his own considered legal advice on Friday and the one you want a week on Monday.

His opinion apparently changed for two reasons. First, because Tony Blair assured him that Saddam was still not cooperating with the UN. But the truth is (as Goldsmith himself indicated) that this wasn’t Blair’s call but that of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, who had just reported that Saddam’s co-operation was accelerating.

And second, because the extra UN resolution which Goldsmith said was needed was unlikely to be passed. At which point, hey presto, it was decided we didn’t need it after all.

Yet Blair continues to maintain that the legal advice was clear, and Straw continues to say it was thoroughly discussed in Cabinet.

We should no longer be expected to swallow this guff. On the evidence, it is not surprising that Michael Howard and others have accused Blair of lying.

The problem is this doesn’t really get us very far, because Blair has demonstrated time and again that he is technically incapable of telling a lie, for the simple reason that he absolutely believes in the truth of whatever he happens to be saying at any particular time.

What is more serious is the abuse of power.

From the moment Blair gave his commitment to Bush, the die was cast and everything else had to be made to fit. From 2002, this country was governed by a Prime Minister for whom the facts had to be assembled to fit the policy, not the other way round.

In her resignation speech, international development secretary Clare Short attacked ‘the centralisation of power in the hands of a Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion’.

Lord Butler’s report also reprimanded Blair for limiting discussion and reducing the Cabinet’s ability to prepare adequately by not circulating key papers in advance. It is to the shame of some sections of the British Press that the Government has been repeatedly allowed to spin the report as having cleared it of any wrongdoing.

The same applies to the earlier Hutton Report, which set out the frantic internal emails during the cobbling together of the Iraq dossier.

Let’s be clear. The Government – or rather Blair and his close circle of associates – played fast and loose with the intelligence in compiling their dossiers and then played fast and loose with the legal advice in the week before war.

It is simply not good enough for the Prime Minister to throw up his hands and say: ‘What was I to do, with troops on the border and a decision to be made?’ The truth is that he had made the decision long before, and nothing – not the intelligence, not the UN, not Hans Blix and certainly not the Cabinet – was going to stand in his way.

The key questions are now: does this matter? And what can we do about it?

Blair says what matters is that Saddam has gone. Pause for universal approval. But the way he went about his removal means that for this Prime Minister, international law doesn’t matter, the UN doesn’t matter, the Cabinet doesn’t matter, weapons expert David Kelly doesn’t matter, and Parliament doesn’t matter.

All that matters is what he had promised the U.S.

President in secret. (An impeachable offence, incidentally.) If these things really don’t matter to us, we have no right to live in a democracy.

The fact that Labour is apparently ahead in all the polls doesn’t mean people aren’t bothered about all this. It means they don’t really like the opposition parties, either. There is clearly no great appetite for a Conservative government, and the Lib Dems are not yet felt to be a strong enough challenge.

Yet there is another challenge to Tony Blair. His name is Reg Keys. His soldier son, Tom, paid the ultimate price for the war in Iraq – he was killed in action.

Keys is now standing against Blair in Sedgefield.

If people still feel comfortable enough to vote Labour, but do not want Tony Blair, the voters of Sedgefield hold the key. If all Conservative, Lib Dem and disillusioned Labour voters in Sedgefield vote for Keys, it could be enough to overturn Blair’s 17,000 majority. It’s possible.

Incidentally, the same strategy could apply to voters in Blackburn, who could rid themselves of the egregious Jack Straw by voting for Craig Murray, the former diplomat who exposed the government of Uzbekistan for boiling dissidents alive.

Like a fish, New Labour is rotting from the head down. The decapitation strategy could be the best way to deal with a leadership that has more in common with the conglomerates and corporations that are fleecing our public services with their lucrative PFI contracts than with the hardworking teachers, doctors and nurses who provide photogenic human shields for ministers at election time.

Just imagine. If Reg Keys were to win, we could end up with a Labour Government (as polls suggest we will), but no Blair.

Since Labour has fought the election overwhelmingly on the economy, and Blair has been fulsome in his praise for the Chancellor as the architect of Britain’s relative success, it’s only fair that the man responsible for that economic record should run the Government.

Opinion polls suggest that is what the voters want. It’s not what Blair wants: he wants a third term so he can redeem his own political reputation.

But that’s not what the office of Prime Minister should be about.

And after all, didn’t he assure Gordon Brown that he would step down before this election anyway? Or was that just another throwaway line that he absolutely, sincerely meant at the time, but has since forgotten?

So do it, Sedgefield. Do it for Tom Keys. Do it for David Kelly.

Do it, as the man said, for a government that will restore trust in politics in this country.

Bremner, Bird And Fortune: A Bunch Of Counts is on Channel 4 on Election Night.

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