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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Thursday, April 28, 2005

The smoking gun?

"Tony Blair was told by the government's most senior law officer in a confidential minute less than two weeks before the war that British participation in the American-led invasion of Iraq could be declared illegal."

A startling revelation in today's Guardian and a story that should receive widespread coverage in Australia, but has not, thus far. The BBC and Independent are leading with the story and yet neither the Sydney Morning Herald nor News Limited websites mention the yarn at all. The Age features the story from Reuters. Will any paper in Australia dare print the story on their front page tomorrow, giving it equal weight to the numerous page one articles before the war channelling government propaganda on WMDs?

Let's take a look back. At the time of the Iraq invasion in early 2003, Bush, Blair and Howard all claimed that the "Coalition of the Unwilling" was engaged in lawful behaviour. John Howard said on March 14, 2003: "There is adequate legal authority in the existing [UN] resolutions for force to be used." Dissenting views were expressed but had little practical effect.

Fast forward to 2005. The British election is days away. Tony Blair is likely to win (a report in today's Australian explains this will be largely due to a "badly distorted electoral system") but the leaking of the UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith's pre-war advice reveals that serious doubts were expressed merely days before the invasion, not least because of dubious evidence of Iraq's WMD capability. Ten days later, Blair claimed his country could enter the war legally. What happened during those ten days remains a mystery though governmental pressure on the Attorney General seems likely.

In October 2003, leading Pentagon hawk Richard Perle admitted that the Iraq war was illegal. "International law ... would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone", and this would have been morally unacceptable, Perle said. This caused barely a ripple. Indeed, in 2003 the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh uncovered numerous shady dealings involving Perle and arms dealing. Today, however, with an upsurge in violence across Iraq, an ever-increasing "Coalition" death toll and no clear exit strategy, the new leaks will hopefully re-focus attention on the nature of taking a country to war.

Families of some of the British soldiers killed in Iraq are preparing legal action against Blair based on the leaked information. Furthermore, the initial concerns expressed by Lord Goldsmith were never seen by the British Cabinet, "an apparent breach of the official code covering ministerial behaviour", reports the Guardian.

Can you imagine a world where Western leaders could be brought before an international court and charged with war crimes? As John Pilger said in 2003: "To call them war criminals is not to take a cheap shot. It is to speak the truth. In 1946, the judges at the Nuremberg war crimes trials said that unprovoked aggression against another state was, and I quote, 'the supreme international war crime because it contains all the evils of other war crimes.'"

Those who argue that the Iraq issue is dead misunderstand the direction our leaders are taking us. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked George W. Bush to step up pressure on Iran's alleged nuclear weapon's facilities. Today we learn that the US is likely to sell bunker-buster bombs to Israel, weapons designed to destroy underground nuclear factories.

It has already been proven that the Iraq war was illegal. The next challenge is to bring accountability back to Western democracy and today's news brings the public one small step closer to realising how far our governments have strayed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous just got home nad is drunk right now, and just hopes this glass of Bombay Sapphire isn't cntraveneed bby any sort of internaltional loaw. WHo are these internationl courrts? Who is on the jruy? Waht, a bunch of tin-horn dictators who just want the right to fuck over their mintoryuty populations? Oooooh! Let's klet Burma, or Minmangmng, or whatever the fuck they're claling themstlng s these days, keep dickign over the Karens and repressing their people -- because, hey, it's international law that they shyuould be allowd to do what they want in their own borders, right? And if every other ass-hat in ASEAN wants to say OK, go for it, well hey who are we to satand in their way? we're just a bunch of coloniakslsts fckwiths white people dumbasses who need to say sorrysorrysorry every tiem we get up int he morning right and pay nomind.

Christ almight, Lowensteing, would you just go read the bloody memo before you scream the fuckign war was illegal? its' voer at

you'r e drawing a pretty long bow when you say tat this says the war was 'illegal'.

BUt the bigger point remainfs: WHEN you say the war is illegla, WHO CONSTITUTEES THE LAW? the moral equivalence involved i giving america/austrlaia /israel the same weght as iriaq/myanmang/tinhornistan is shocking! a law in a place like austrlaia or america or great briatin divines from a real rpoper authoruty, i.e, the peopl,e, but what is the sorce of international law? this is a really serious quesiton, which i have never seen addressed.

gonggo passout om sofa now. maybe groundforce is on lifestyle channnnel...lve that reddheahddd

Friday, April 29, 2005 12:42:00 am  
Anonymous Glenn Condell said...

'the moral equivalence involved i giving america/austrlaia /israel the same weght as iriaq/myanmang/tinhornistan is shocking!'

You are a racist.

'a law in a place like austrlaia or america or great briatin divines from a real rpoper authoruty, i.e, the peopl,e, but what is the sorce of international law?'

You don't see the UN as a legitimate source of int'l authority.. that is a view that, while I don't hold it, can be supported, but your attitude derives more from the opinions of people you read or listen to rather than any independent analysis. You're one of millions who have obediently swallowed the US spin on the UN (as well as Iraq and everything else)

And this 'proper authority' business - this is partly how people like you feel able to ignore basic decency in our foreign policy, because the push for utter self-interest now comes from traditional sources of authority, once trusted without demur by most of us, but now regarded with fear and horror and outrage by those of us with eyes to see, or at least the courage to open those eyes.

The world no longer divides on a right/left axis. There are those of us who will eat shit (and even help to dish it up) and those of us who won't.

You're in the former category.

Have another drink.

Friday, April 29, 2005 8:38:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glenn, how do you know I'm a racist (I'm not) or where my opinions derive from? I spent years getting a degree in just these subjects from one of the best unis in the world on these matters -- no, not Sydney Orr -- and I can tell you that there are states with real constitutions where power is granted to the government by the people and where the state is legitimate, and those where it is not. Pre-invasion Iraq was one of those places, but you seem to be so willing to give your support to any murderuos thug/strongman type who does what it takes so long as they're anti-American (which is probably why you have a nice collection of Che t-shirts and a picture of Mao up on your wall, both people who've killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille).

Friday, April 29, 2005 9:05:00 am  
Anonymous piginzen said...


Just to clarify a bit here mate. Are you suggesting that international law, created by, agreed by, and signed and ratified by such nations as australia, great britain, and the US, should be dropped by said countries whenever they feel like it? Do you believe that international law should apply to all countries, or should it apply just to a few when the situation is advantageous to your world / policy view?

Friday, April 29, 2005 9:26:00 am  
Blogger ajbarnes said...

I have just finished reading all 13 pages of Goldsmith's opinion from 7th March 2003.

If you can be bothered reading the primary document (as opposed to The Guardian commentary), you will find that each of the possible objections outlined by Goldsmith is countered and that, in his opinion, there was no need for a further UN resolution. A legal opinion must acknowledge and deal with opposing arguments. Like many, you make the mistake of focusing on the acknowledgements while totally ignoring the counter-arguments. In the process, you totally distort the conclusion.

Yes, the March 7th opinion was more equivocal to the one presented to Parliament on the 17th. But you also overlook the fact that the March 7th opinion was in response to queries about the possible legality of military action in Iraq; while the March 17th opinion was a response to a query about the basis of his earlier conclusion.

For someone who (rightly) demands a higher standard of accuracy from the MSM, you sadly seem to have fallen into the same trap – namely, your hysterical opposition to the war has blinded you to reality.

Saturday, April 30, 2005 10:45:00 pm  
Anonymous Bruce M Warrington said...

Your summary of the Attorney-General's opinion is misleading. Yes, he claims that a "reasonable case" can be made for proceeding without a new resolution, but he is clearly of the view that the better (and more legally valid) approach is to have a new resolution that at least declares Iraq in "further material breach" of Resolution 1441.

A "reasonable case" is not a strong case, nor is it even a case with a 50/50 chance of success. It is merely a case which is not obviously implausible. And the "reasonable case" here relies on accepting the US premise that individual members, and not the Security Council, can assess whether Iraq is in breach of its obligations; a position that no-one else has taken.

You also ignore the final paragraph, where the Attorney-General warns that the use of force must be proportionate to Iraq's breach, and that "regime change" per se is not legitimate.

Finally, you accuse Antony of being "hysterical" in opposing the war. How opposing a war that is, according to most independent legal opinion, illegal (thus a crime against peace under the Nuremburg Charter), that is immoral and that has cost up to 100,000 Iraqi lives can be classed as "hysterical" is beyond me. The only hysteria I've seen has been from Bush, Blair, Howard and other war supporters trying to defend the indefensible; repeating, with self-righteous certainty, their lies and ad hominem attacks on opponents.

Monday, May 02, 2005 2:08:00 pm  

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