19 January, 2011

Iraq - Chilcot Inquiry continues

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In December 2010 the Chilcot Inquiry set out a list of witnesses to be heard in the early part of 2011 - see Watching the Law "Chilcot to take further evidence in early 2011."  The list included former Prime Minister Blair.  Lord Goldsmith QC - who was Attorney-General at the relevant time was asked to provide further written evidence and it may be read on the website of The Guardian 17th January - Goldmith statement in full.

Goldsmith admits to being "uncomfortable" about the stance Blair was taking having received Goldsmith's initial advice that UN SCR 1441 (November 2002) would not, in itself, justify military action.  Despite this advice, Blair informed the House of Commons that there were "circumstances"  in which a second resolution was not necessary. Three weeks later, Blair told BBC Newsnight that he would consider action if a UN SC member "unresaonably" vetoed a further resolution.  As far as one can tell, this idea of the "unreasonable veto" has no basis in the UN Charter or elsewhere in international law.  Eventually, Goldsmith changed his view about the legality of the military action.  Goldsmith now claims that he was not sufficiently involved in the meetings and discussions about Resolution 1441 and the policy behind it that were taking place at ministerial level.

Who has said what to the Chilcot Inquiry?

24 November 2009 - Inquiry opens and Chilcot states it will not shy away from criticism when justified

25 November 2009 - Sir William Ehrman said that UK had received information that Saddam Hussein had dismantled his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before the military action commenced in 2003

26 November 2009 - Sir Christopher Meyer testified that the Blair government never considered opting out of, or opposing, the Bush Presidency plan to invade Iraq

12 January 2010 - Alastair Campbell defended the dossier on Iraq's weapons programme.  He also said that Blair had assured Bush that Britain would be there if the US attacked Iraq.

21 January 2010 - Jack Straw said that he had convinced himself "very reluctantly" that backing military action was the correct decision.  [Note: Elizabeth Wilmshurst - Foreign Office Legal Adviser resigned having considered that an invasion would not be lawful].

29 January 2010 - Tony Blair confirmed to Chilcot that he had pledged military support at a meeting with President Bush in April 2002.  Blair asserted that he had no regrets about the decision to go to war.

5 March 2010 - Gordon Brown (Chancellor of Exchequer in 2003) defended defence funding.    Brown later admitted that defence funding had actually fallen in "real terms" in the 2 years Britain was at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

30 July 2010 - John Prescott (former Deputy PM) told Chilcot that at the time he felt that the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments contained conclusions based too much on too little evidence.

A further development relates to communications between Blair and Bush in the cruicial period leading up to the war.  Citing national security, Sir Gus O' Donnell (Cabinet Secretary) has refused permission for the contents of these communications to be published - see Sir John Chilcot's opening remarks at the Inquiry session on 18th January 2011.   It may be that this will have the eventual result of devaluing the final report of the inquiry.  See also the CharonQC blog. 

The Stain of Complicity in Torture:

Writing in The Guardian 18th January, Afua Hirsch (Legal Correspondent) looked at "The Stain of complicity in torture."   The Equality and Human Rights Commission is seeking judicial review of certain "guidance" issued by the British government.  In September 2010 the EHRC stated  that the guidance might be unlawful.