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Goldsmith 'scraped the legal barrel' over Iraq war
Clare Dyer, legal correspondent Wednesday October 15, 2003 The Guardian
A leading legal peer accused the attorney general last night of "scraping the bottom of the legal barrel" to give legitimacy to the war on Iraq.
Lord Alexander of Weedon QC, chairman of the all-party law reform group, Justice, said it was "risible" for the government to rely on a UN resolution passed in 1990 as the basis for an invasion of Iraq in 2003 - which ministers knew the security council would not authorise.
Lord Alexander, a former chairman of the bar and ex-chairman of NatWest, called on the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to disclose all of his advice to the government that a unilateral strike would be justified under international law so its context could be properly understood.
If the courts were to rule on the legitimacy of the Iraq war, he said they would come to "the firm conclusion that, except in self-defence against actual or imminent attack, we can only use force to invade another country under the authority of a current UN resolution passed to cover the specific situation. And that would seem to mean an end to Suez or Iraqi adventures".
In March the US and its allies suddenly withdrew their proposed resolution seeking approval for the use of force, said Lord Alexander, because they knew it would be rejected.
"They had to find some other way of justifying their action in international law," he said. "So they fell back on the 12-year-old resolution 678 of 1990 passed for the purpose of authorising the expulsion of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and the restoration of peace in the Middle East.
"An old resolution passed for a different and more limited purpose was ingeniously used as a cloak for the very action which the United Nations would not currently countenance."
The government was "driven to scrape the bottom of the legal barrel" because other possible justifications for war under international law, such as self-defence or humanitarian intervention, did not apply.
The great majority of the public international lawyers who had expressed a view did not agree with the attorney general's advice, he said.
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