UK documents show legal advisor warned PM Iraq invasion was illegal

[JURIST] The UK Iraq Inquiry [official website] released declassified documents [materials] on Wednesday showing that former prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] was warned by former attorney general Peter Goldsmith [professional profile] that the Iraq invasion was illegal without UN support. The documents illustrate how Goldsmith repeatedly warned Blair that UN Security Council resolution 1441 [text, PDF], which offered Iraq under Saddam Hussein "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations," did not authorize military force. In a letter [text, PDF] to the former PM dated January 30, 2003, Goldsmith stated:

In view of your meeting with President Bush on Friday, I thought you might wish to know where I stand on the question of whether a further decision of the [UN] security council is legally required in order to authorise the use of force against Iraq. I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of resolution 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of force without a further determination by the security council. My view remains that a further [UN] decision is required.
Blair illustrated his frustration with Goldsmith's legal advice by scribbling "I just don't understand this" in the margins. The release of the documents will make it difficult for Blair to use a good-faith defense against charges that he knowingly led the country into an illegal invasion.

The Iraq Inquiry, led by Sir John Chilcot, was created by former prime minister Gordon Brown [official profile] in 2009 to identify lessons that can be learned [JURIST report] from the Iraq invasion. In January, the inquiry released a 2002 letter [JURIST report] from Goldsmith to former secretary of defense Geoff Hoon [BBC profile] in which Goldsmith warned the Cabinet that the Iraq invasion was not supported by international law. Former chief legal adviser to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) [official website] Sir Michael Wood [UN profile, PDF] told the Iraq Inquiry in January that he had advised the Foreign Ministry that the invasion was illegal [JURIST report]. During a public hearing in February, former UK international development secretary Clare Short told the inquiry Blair was "misleading" and "deceitful" [JURIST report] with the Cabinet and parliament regarding the Iraq invasion. Additionally in February, former UK Foreign Ministry secretary Jack Straw [Guardian profile] testified [JURIST report] that he did not ignore legal advice that the invasion of Iraq lacked basis in international law. Brown also testified before the inquiry [JURIST report] in March stating that he remains convinced that the decision to participate in the 2003 Iraq invasion was the appropriate course of action.

 

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