The smoking gun?

“Tony Blair was told by the government’s most senior law officer in a confidential minute less than two weeks before the war that British participation in the American-led invasion of Iraq could be declared illegal.”

A startling revelation in today’s Guardian and a story that should receive widespread coverage in Australia, but has not, thus far. The BBC and Independent are leading with the story and yet neither the Sydney Morning Herald nor News Limited websites mention the yarn at all. The Age features the story from Reuters. Will any paper in Australia dare print the story on their front page tomorrow, giving it equal weight to the numerous page one articles before the war channelling government propaganda on WMDs?

Let’s take a look back. At the time of the Iraq invasion in early 2003, Bush, Blair and Howard all claimed that the “Coalition of the Unwilling” was engaged in lawful behaviour. John Howard said on March 14, 2003: “There is adequate legal authority in the existing [UN] resolutions for force to be used.” Dissenting views were expressed but had little practical effect.

Fast forward to 2005. The British election is days away. Tony Blair is likely to win (a report in today’s Australian explains this will be largely due to a “badly distorted electoral system”) but the leaking of the UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith’s pre-war advice reveals that serious doubts were expressed merely days before the invasion, not least because of dubious evidence of Iraq’s WMD capability. Ten days later, Blair claimed his country could enter the war legally. What happened during those ten days remains a mystery though governmental pressure on the Attorney General seems likely.

In October 2003, leading Pentagon hawk Richard Perle admitted that the Iraq war was illegal. “International law … would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone”, and this would have been morally unacceptable, Perle said. This caused barely a ripple. Indeed, in 2003 the New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh uncovered numerous shady dealings involving Perle and arms dealing. Today, however, with an upsurge in violence across Iraq, an ever-increasing “Coalition” death toll and no clear exit strategy, the new leaks will hopefully re-focus attention on the nature of taking a country to war.

Families of some of the British soldiers killed in Iraq are preparing legal action against Blair based on the leaked information. Furthermore, the initial concerns expressed by Lord Goldsmith were never seen by the British Cabinet, “an apparent breach of the official code covering ministerial behaviour”, reports the Guardian.

Can you imagine a world where Western leaders could be brought before an international court and charged with war crimes? As John Pilger said in 2003: “To call them war criminals is not to take a cheap shot. It is to speak the truth. In 1946, the judges at the Nuremberg war crimes trials said that unprovoked aggression against another state was, and I quote, ‘the supreme international war crime because it contains all the evils of other war crimes.'”

Those who argue that the Iraq issue is dead misunderstand the direction our leaders are taking us. Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked George W. Bush to step up pressure on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapon’s facilities. Today we learn that the US is likely to sell bunker-buster bombs to Israel, weapons designed to destroy underground nuclear factories.

It has already been proven that the Iraq war was illegal. The next challenge is to bring accountability back to Western democracy and today’s news brings the public one small step closer to realising how far our governments have strayed.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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