Blair's case for Iraq invasion was self-serving, lawyers tell Chilcot inquiry
The Blair government undermined the UN, bowed to US political pressure and relied on self-serving arguments to justify its decision to invade Iraq, according to evidence to the Chilcot inquiry by international lawyers.
A key theme of the evidence, yet to be published, is that the government weakened the UN, damaging the country's reputation in the process – arguments made by Ed Miliband in his inaugural speech to the Labour conference.
Ralph Zacklin, the British-born UN assistant secretary general for legal affairs at the time, has told the inquiry that the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, failed to strike a proper balance "between the underlying political concerns of the government and respect for the rule of law" in adopting the view that a fresh UN security council resolution was not needed. Goldsmith's interpretation of previous UN resolutions was "self-serving".
"The damage to the UK and credibility of the security council was very significant", he told the Guardian today. "It was pretty clear [Goldsmith] was under a lot of pressure".
Zacklin said the way Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, dismissed the advice of his own lawyers was particularly shocking. Chilcot has heard that Sir Michael Wood, warned Straw that "to use force without security council authority would amount to a crime of aggression".
In a separate submission, a group of 23 lawyers describe the government's argument that it could rely on previous UN resolutions to invade as untenable. "The decision to use force against a sovereign state is so monumental ... it can only be taken by the security council.''
The submission, drawn up by Dapo Akande, lecturer in public international law at Oxford University and more than 20 others, points to the British government's argument that the last pre-invasion UN resolution – number 1441 – was enough to trigger military force because otherwise the US would not have agreed to it.
That argument is "logically flawed", they say. "By relying so heavily on the views of the US negotiators … Lord Goldsmith shifted his perspective from the UK … argument to the US one." They describe the government's view as an "untenable interpretation of the UN charter which would have destabilising effects for the UN collective security system".
Philippe Sands QC, a barrister at Matrix chambers and professor of international law at University College London, refers to Goldsmith's final decision to back an invasion – wrongly described by Blair as a formal legal "opinion", Sands says – as "an advocacy piece written by committee". He told the inquiry: "Parliament, the cabinet, and the public were misled. It seems the law (or legal advice) was fixed around the policy as determined by the prime minister without taking account of legal advice."
The inquiry has received more than 30 responses to its request for submissions from international lawyers, although it is not clear when they will be published and in what form.
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