Former UK AG warned Cabinet Iraq invasion may have been illegal

[JURIST] The UK Iraq Inquiry [official website] released a 2002 letter [text, PDF] on Tuesday from former UK attorney general Peter Goldsmith [professional profile] to former secretary of defense Geoffrey Hoon [personal profile] in which Goldsmith warned the Cabinet that the Iraq invasion was not supported by international law. The letter stated that Goldsmith was having "considerable difficulty" supporting a legal foundation for the Iraq invasion:


As you are aware, the Law Officers' opinion has not been sought on the legality of possible action and I have not therefore offered any views on the legal position. The clarity of your statement and the apparently authoritative way it was produced puts me however in a difficult position. I see considerable difficulties in being satisfied that military action would be justified on the basis of self defence. In particular I am not aware of the existence of material indicating the existence of an imminent threat from Iraq of the sort which would justify military action without support of a Security Council ... authorisation.

In response, Hoon wrote in a letter [text, PDF] to Goldsmith that Hoon's statements were being misconstrued, and clarified by stating that military action would be warranted "in principle" if weapons of mass destruction were found in Saddam Hussein's possession. Hoon stated in the letter, "I do not think that my statements curtail your ability to offer an opinion on the legal position in due course. As you say, we will need to satisfy ourselves that this threat exists should we want to justify legal action on the basis of self-defence." Hoon will be questioned by the Iraq Inquiry on Tuesday concerning his role in the invasion. He will be the first former minister to appear before the inquiry, following a string of military leaders, advisers and officials.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair [official profile; JURIST news archive] is also facing criticism after the Inquiry released a letter from Goldsmith written to Blair in July 2002, warning [JURIST report] Blair that the planned invasion of Iraq could be illegal. The letter laid out the reasons that Goldsmith believed the Iraq invasion might be illegal, including that an invasion could not be based on "regime change" alone. The existence of this letter will increase the difficulty for Blair to use a good-faith defense against charges that he knowingly led the country into an illegal invasion. Blair is scheduled to testify before the Inquiry next week.


 

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