Differing views on the Iraq war, nine years on
My own newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, continues its campaign against the nine-year-old decision to join the US invasion of Iraq on its front page today. I do not agree with my colleagues about this. I think the decision was a noble one, taken democratically and constitutionally.
I did, though, in my review of the fourth volume of Alastair Campbell’s diaries, note that Campbell thought that there was a “real danger” that Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General, might resign in January 2003.
At that stage Lord Goldsmith was still unconvinced that military action would be lawful. He became convinced that it was, but his long legal advice of 7 March 2003 still dwelt at some length on the “case to be made the other way”. I do not accept that Tony Blair “misled the Cabinet”. The arguments were well known, and any ministers who wanted to ask Lord Goldsmith questions could and did do so, as he made clear in his evidence to the Chilcot inquiry (p198 onwards – Campbell summarises the evidence in his rebuttal).
What I found interesting was how reluctant Lord Goldsmith seemed to be, even at this late stage, just nine days before the start of military action, to produce an unequivocal opinion, which was, as Andrew Turnbull, the Cabinet Secretary, said, what was required by the Civil Service.
However, when he did produce the single-page, nine-point opinion, presumably on 11 March but not published until 17 March, it was a model of legal clarity.
What is important about Lord Goldsmith’s opinions of March 2003 is that they were right. Despite the fears he expressed in the longer 7 March opinion about the Government being sued, no legal action anywhere in the world has even been successfully started in nine years.
So, while others may take the contrary view, mine is that the war was lawful and no one was misled.
Update: Chris Ames also draws attention to the note of a meeting between Lord Goldsmith and Jack Straw on 13 March, which is on the Iraq Inquiry website. In it, the Attorney General accepts that, “having decided to come down on one side [namely that military action was lawful], he had also decided that in public he needed to explain his case as strongly and unambiguously as possible”. He still thought, though, that “he might need to tell the Cabinet when it met on 17 March that the legal issues were finely balanced”. Straw said, in effect, don’t be soft, Clare Short will be out in front of a camera before you can say 1441. That sounds like politics and media management to me, not a conspiracy.Tagged in: chilcot, contemporary history, iraq, iraq inquiry, iraq war
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