Sunday, May 01, 2005

Elizabeth Wilmshurst's opinion

Blair's problem is that he always had a Foreign Office legal opinion dating from March 2002 that an attack on Iraq would be illegal under international law without another UN Security Council Resolution. All the machinations with Lord Goldsmith were an attempt to override this opinion, which stood squarely in the way of an attack. The original opinion was written by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned on the eve of the attack as a matter of principle (she had been with the Foreign Office since 1974!). Her resignation letter was released with one paragraph missing:


  1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it. [blanked out section]

    I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the Office or to the public or Parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.

  2. I therefore need to leave the Office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a Deputy Legal Adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the International Criminal Court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year. I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement. In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.

  3. I joined the Office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.



The Nuremberg Tribunal declared:

"To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."


German leaders were hung for initiating a crime of aggression, the same crime that Elizabeth Wilmshurst called the attack on Iraq. When the poodle gets out of politics, they should start measuring his neck (but Tony has at least some of the angles covered). The missing, and highly embarrassing paragraph of Elizabeth Wilmshurst's letter, which the Blair government speciously said it withheld to protect the privacy of the advice given by the Attorney General (!), stated:

"My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this Office (the foreign office legal team office) before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the Attorney General gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. (The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line.)"


In other words, Lord Goldsmith accepted the view of international law experts in the Foreign Office that the attack would be a 'war of aggression' without another UN Security Council Resolution just up to the point when it was more convenient for Blair that Goldsmith change his mind. It took two woodsheddings, the first by Bush Administration official John Bellinger III - after which Lord Goldsmith found his natural baritone voice had become a tenor - and then by Blair cronies Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan - at which point Lord Goldsmith had become a full soprano - before Blair got the opinion he was looking for. Given what we know now, Elizabeth Wilmshurst should be knighted for her integrity in service to her country. Goldsmith deserves the same treatment as Blair.

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