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Sunday, June 10, 2007 

More evidence the British military feared that invading Iraq was illegal

The Independent reveals that the head of the British Navy in 2003 sought private legal advice about whether it would be a crime under international law to take part in invading Iraq.

Admiral Sir Alan West, the First Sea Lord, approached lawyers to ask whether Navy and Royal Marines personnel might end up facing war crimes charges in relation to their duties in Iraq. The extraordinary steps taken by Sir Alan - which The Independent can reveal today - shows the high level of concern felt by service chiefs in the approach to war - concern that was not eased by the Attorney General's provision of a legal licence for the attack on Iraq.

The apprehension felt by the military commanders was highlighted at one meeting where General Sir Michael Jackson, the head of the Army, is reported to have said: "I spent a good deal of time recently in the Balkans making sure [the former Serb leader Slobodan] Milosevic was put behind bars. I have no intention of ending up in the cell next to him in The Hague."


You may recall that in the year before the invasion the British Attorney General, Lord Peter Goldsmith, had warned repeatedly that there was no legal basis under international law for invading Iraq (as at the Downing Street Memo meeting of July 23, 2002). Even if Blair shrugged these warnings off, the British military became increasingly alarmed that they might be ordered to commit a crime of war. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Michael Boyce, finally demanded that Goldsmith give a clear ruling on the question of legality.

The man who led the Armed Forces into Iraq expected that the Prime Minister and the Attorney General would have joined him in the dock if he had been prosecuted for war crimes, it emerged yesterday.

Lord Boyce, who as Adml Sir Michael Boyce was the Chief of the Defence Staff in 2003, apparently feared that he might be convicted by the recently-established International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"If my soldiers went to jail and I did, some other people would go with me," he told The Observer yesterday.

Pressed on whether he was referring to Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith, Lord Boyce replied: "Too bloody right."...

Interviewed by the Sunday newspaper, Lord Boyce said: "I wanted to make sure that we had this anchor which has been signed by the Government law officer. . . It may not stop us from being charged but, by God, it would make sure other people were brought into the frame as well."


Goldsmith finally caved in to pressure from Blair and Dick Cheney, and delivered an opinion on the very eve of war that unsaid every warning he had previously given.

The reluctance with which that opinion was delivered was obvious to all, however, and military personnel were sufficiently worried that Admiral Alan West sought private legal advice. From the Guardian:

...a senior military source said: "The defence chiefs were aware of a rising degree of worry in all three services. Some of this has been passed to them through the padres. What was noticeable was the difference in attitude among the men and women compared to the Afghan war. There was genuine unease and it was the duty of the chiefs of staff, as the head of the services, to get clarification about whether they would be in breach of international law. There was also a degree of worry about the independence or otherwise of the government legal advice.

"Admiral West approached lawyers ... on whether the impending action over Iraq was justified. It was a personal decision on his part and he felt this was necessary because of his duty of care towards people serving under him...

In the event, the advice Admiral West got from the lawyers was that the invasion could just about be justified due to Saddam Hussein's flouting of United Nations resolutions, although the question of how much time Iraq should be given to comply would have to be considered carefully.


I wonder whether that private legal advice given to Admiral West had anything at all to say about what he might need to do if George Bush should order UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq before their jobs were done?

crossposted from Unbossed

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 posted by : smintheus ::  # 9:19 PM  
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