The Blair Iraq conspiracy is unravelling

The Chilcot Inquiry showcases the conspirators

30 January 2010
Christopher King argues that Britain’s Iraq Inquiry “appears now to be part of a general unravelling of the Blair conspiracy” and has underlined that UK politicians cannot be trusted. He says the lesson of Iraq lies not in whatever the inquiry might report but in the necessity for British people to take on oversight of the political process themselves.
“The Iraq war is a ‘critical incident’, that is, a catastrophic failure that indicates fundamental problems and demands appropriate change to avert future failures from the same cause. The Chilcot objective of defining theoretical ‘lessons learned’ is wholly inadequate. In the case of, for example, a bridge failure, the basics of bridge design must be revisited and extended. In the case of the Iraq war only a tribunal or court ruling that the war is or is not aggressive warfare will appropriately extend law. This is entirely consistent with the development of English common law. Paper reports are binned or archived without trace. Criminal proceedings and prison sentences are meaningful and remembered.”
We have learned very little that is new from the Chicot Inquiry but it is useful to see those involved in the Iraq war accounting for their actions. We get background and can judge their credibility as well as see the sort of person one finds in these positions. Jack Straw, former UK Foreign Secretary who presented the UK case for war to the United Nations, was completely unconvincing with his evasions and careful wording on critical points but the inquiry was never going to get anything of substance from him.
The inquiry has been at its best in the last two days in pursuing the question of the war’s legality. The entire Foreign Office legal department was unanimous in ruling that it was illegal to go to war without a specific United Nations resolution. This was communicated to the office of the attorney-general, Peter Goldsmith, who was in no doubt about their view when he declared the use of force to be legal. Sir Michael Wood, who headed the Foreign Office legal team, was at one point asked to comment and sent the Foreign Office’s contrary view to the prime minister’s office which drew the angry response: “Why did you put this in writing!”

The fact was that the prime minister didn’t want to be told anything except what he wanted to hear. Elizabeth Wilmshurst, Michael Wood’s deputy, made this plain. Wilmshurst is a class act, no doubt about it — the most impressive and credible witness so far. She resigned from the Foreign Office because, she said, she would be unable to present to others, as she would be required to do, a government policy in which she did not believe. Indeed she said that it was unprecedented for an attorney-general to ignore Foreign Office legal advice. Goldsmith did not consult the Foreign Office. He consulted the Americans and Jack Straw who wanted a war. Blair avoided asking for a firm ruling on the legality of using force without a UN resolution until American and UK forces were in the Middle East on Iraq’s borders, a few days before the invasion.

Wilmshurst’s boss, Michael Wood, was asked why he had not resigned as well. He mumbled about the department being in difficulties with a lot of resignations. Now this is interesting. Although obviously very capable, he’s a typical government careerist who will do whatever he is paid to do. This is how despotic governments get away with it. By contrast, Wilmshurst has gained enormous international credibility from her independence. The next government might do well to offer her the attorney-general’s position. It’s people of her quality and integrity that we need to restore the UK government’s international and domestic credibility.

The other person of real interest is Peter Goldsmith, the attorney-general who ruled the Iraq war legal. Goldsmith had given a provisional opinion that there was only a “reasonable” case for using force, with the safest course a UN decision — until he consulted with the Americans, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and others in the cabinet. These people told him what the French and other countries really meant in approving Security Council Resolution 1441, although Goldsmith did not ask the French or other countries themselves. Following this enlightenment, he realized that a United Nations decision was unnecessary for acting on Resolution 1441 despite the clear wording within the resolution that the UN would decide what would be done. Anthony Blair himself could make the decision. Goldsmith duly asked for a decision from Blair and the conspiracy was on its way.

Goldsmith’s term, a “reasonable case” for using force without a further UN resolution was, as Wilmshurst said, reasonable in the sense that a reasoned argument could be made, but it was just plain wrong. Goldsmith made clear that his reasoning in favour of force was the sort of case that could be put to a court. He was clearly not thinking in terms of warfare, the devastation of a country and the lives of people. In considering a UN decision to be the “safest” course, he meant safe for himself and his client, Anthony Blair, that is, he explained, in defensibility if challenged in court. He did not mention safety for those who might suffer in a consequent war. That was the aspect of safety that Wilmshurst and the Foreign Office were concerned about. Following the invasion, Goldsmith immediately briefed defence counsel in preparation for a legal challenge as he knew he had given advice of challengeable legality.

Goldsmith believes that in forming his legal opinion he should take into account the circumstances in which UN resolutions had been taken from the time of Operation Desert Fox, Kuwait, in 1998 until current circumstances, UN discussions and resolutions. Nevertheless, he believes that although legal, whether or not it was right to use force was a political decision and none of his concern. Leaving aside any contrary legal argument, this is the flaw in his reasoning. If circumstances leading to his decision are relevant, then circumstances consequent on his decision are relevant. Indeed, consequences are always relevant to legality. We know this from our schooldays knowledge of Shylock’s proposition from The Merchant of Venice, the irony of which Goldsmith might contemplate.

Jeremy Greenstock, an enthusiastic promoter of war from the UN corridors, had a similar view that although legal, the war was not legitimate because it was not accepted domestically and by the UN. Surely he is aware that the word “legitimate” derives from “legal” and can be separated from it only by the most tortuous reasoning if at all.

Two wholly unexpected related developments have occurred. Firstly, the Netherlands government has concluded its own enquiry into the Iraq war and ruled it to be illegal. Peter Goldsmith rejected that conclusion and insisted that his own opinion was right. Moreover, it appears that Anthony Blair sent the Netherlands prime minister a letter by hand which, once read, was immediately brought back to the UK. The Netherlands has recently requested a copy but the UK government has refused the request. Among many UK citizens, I would also like to see it. I would also like to know how many other such letters the prime minister wrote, to whom and of their content.

The other development relates to the inquiry by Lord Hutton into the death of the weapons inspector David Kelly in 2003-04. We will recall that David Kelly gave information on which the BBC reported that the prime minister’s office had “sexed up” the intelligence on Iraq in its dossier that made the case for war. The BBC and Kelly were hounded unmercifully by Alstair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, following which Kelly was found dead in woodland near his home. Hutton’s report gave the cause of death as suicide. A group of doctors disagreed. I have, myself, asked two doctors whether there was any possibility that Kelly’s injuries, reported as self-inflicted, would lead to his death. They replied, “Not a chance!” Now the dissenting doctors have discovered after five years, that Hutton sealed the post mortem report on Kelly for 70 years.

The latest information is that the doctors will be given access to the Kelly post mortem report so we shall learn more. It is not believable that Hutton’s action was to spare the feelings of the family as he claims. He and his report are completely discredited.

We may now look forward to Anthony Blair’s evidence to the Chilcot committee. One has the feeling that the Chicot committee might be going somewhere, although uncertainly. We need it to lead to a court or tribunal that will hear the case of the UK’s participation in the devastation of Iraq with uncounted millions of deaths, injuries and refugees, leading to its continued occupation by America.

It appears that the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court cannot hear a complaint relating to aggressive warfare because although named in international law, it has not been defined. I see no difficulty here. Since the named crime of aggressive warfare exists, we need a UK court or tribunal that will determine whether the Iraq war fits that crime. There was no law against murdering millions of Jews by industrial processes but it was fitted into existing law by a tribunal created at that time to examine the war within which crimes were committed and law was thereby extended.

War is simply criminality on a large scale, carried out by particular individuals using the apparatus of the state. That it is carried out by states is a fiction. It can be judged, broadly, by the same criteria as civil criminality. It is convenient to consider civil criminality and war crimes to be separate because state leaders like the right to make warfare when they choose and to enjoy immunity from their crimes. They should not have it and the people must deny them that right. No government will willingly implement such legislation. The people must force the UK government to do so.

The Iraq war is a “critical incident”, that is, a catastrophic failure that indicates fundamental problems and demands appropriate change to avert future failures from the same cause. The Chilcot objective of defining theoretical “lessons learned” is wholly inadequate. In the case of, for example, a bridge failure, the basics of bridge design must be revisited and extended. In the case of the Iraq war only a tribunal or court ruling that the war is or is not aggressive warfare will appropriately extend law. This is entirely consistent with the development of English common law. Paper reports are binned or archived without trace. Criminal proceedings and prison sentences are meaningful and remembered.

We should not confuse common law with statute law beloved of governments such as those of Blair and Brown. Statute law is the law of the monarch in modern form, that can be changed on the whim of the government of the day. Common law expresses the underlying values of our society. According to those values it is unlawful to kill and maim other humans and destroy their property. Peter Goldsmith can argue whatever fine points of law he wishes. His ruling led to death, injury, misery and damage on a vast scale. Contrary to his view of law as distinct from political decisions, in choosing (as he acknowledges) a less certain interpretation that would lead inevitably to deaths rather than a conservative UN decision that might avoid deaths, he made a political choice.

Jack Straw said that he considers international law to be an uncertain field because no court can enforce it. He sought to take advantage of that weakness and with Goldsmith sought precedents and legal grounds for war in order to achieve the objective of making war. Wilmshurst said that it was precisely because of that weakness that there was an obligation to take more care, not less in interpreting the law. But in any case, she said that at the late stage of war preparations when Goldsmith made his ruling, he was not going to stand in the way of the government. As the closest observer with the highest credibility, she should know.

What Goldsmith and Straw believe is that although prohibited by the Nuremberg Principles, because there is no definition of aggressive warfare no court can try them for it. They can get away with mass murder. That is not the position. The crime exists and is defined by the words themselves. No other definition is needed. Was their conscious objective warfare? Yes. Was their warfare aggressive? Yes. This is a valid prima facie case. We now need a tribunal to examine whether the facts fit the definition in terms of British common law, not the statute law that enables people like Anthony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Goldsmith to sacrifice the lives of others and claim that no law against it exists.

The Chilcot inquiry has its weaknesses but it appears now to be part of a general unravelling of the Blair conspiracy that is making the nature of that conspiracy clearer. What is absolutely clear is that our politicians cannot be trusted — neither the government nor parliament as a whole. The lesson of Iraq lies not in whatever Chilcot might report but in the necessity for the people of this country to take on oversight of the political process themselves as many are now doing. That depends on citizen action and direct intervention, not government-sponsored reports.

Forget the international courts. We should put our own house in order. Like William Joyce the traitor who collaborated with Hitler and attempted similar legal evasion, Blair, Straw and Goldsmith belong to us. We need a British Iraq tribunal to begin the cleanup of the filthy Augean Stables that is our government. We need to demand that the parties contesting the coming elections promise us one and whether they do or not, continue to demand one.

Christopher King is a retired consultant and lecturer in management and marketing. He lives in London, UK.

River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

%d bloggers like this: