Extracts of Philippe Sands new book, Lawless World,published in today’s Guardian, show that Britain’s attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned days prior to the Attack on Iraq that the invations could be ruled illegal. Yet, in violation of British law, his legal opinion was not shared with the cabinet who were instead told that the invasion was legitimate.
Lord Goldsmith warned Tony Blair in a document on March 7 2003 that the use of force against Iraq could be illegal. It would be safer to have a second UN resolution explicitly sanctioning military action.
“So concerned was the government about the possibility of such a case that it took steps to put together a legal team to prepare for possible international litigation,” writes Mr Sands.
The government has refused to publish the March 7 document. It was circulated to only a very few senior ministers. All Lord Goldsmith gave the cabinet was a later oral presentation of a parliamentary answer issued under his name on March 17.
This appears contrary to the official ministerial code, which states that the complete text of opinions by the government’s law officers should be seen by the full cabinet.
Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary and leader of the Commons, yesterday described the Guardian’s disclosure as alarming. “It dramatically reveals the extent to which the legal opinion on the war was the product of a political process.” he said.
The case for seeing the attorney general’s original advice was now overwhelming, Mr Cook added. “What was served up to parliament as the view of the attorney general turned out to be the view of two of the closest aides of the prime minister,” he said.