A previously undisclosed letter written by a top UK government official indicates that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied over the legality of the Iraq War, according to a report published Sunday by the Daily Mail.
The Iraq Inquiry, also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry, which is looking into the country’s role in the Iraq war, will interrogate Blair about the letter, which apparently warned him in blatant terms that entering the war was illegal.
The Mail on Sunday stated that Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wrote the letter to Blair in July 2002 – eight months before the US-led invasion – telling him that “deposing Saddam Hussein was a blatant breach of international law.”
According to The Mail, a spokesman for Lord Goldsmith said, “This letter is probably in the bundle that has been supplied to the inquiry by the Attorney General’s department. It is presumed they will want to discuss it with him. If so, Lord Goldsmith is content to do so. His focus is on the legality of the war, its morality is for others.”
Goldsmith’s letter aimed to get Blair to call off the invasion, but Blair ignored it. Instead, a panicking Blair “issued instructions to gag Lord Goldsmith, banned him from attending Cabinet meetings and ordered a cover-up to stop the public finding out.”
Blair even concealed the letter’s information from his own Cabinet, thinking that it would create anti-war fervor. He told only a few friends who were sworn to secrecy.
Lord Goldsmith was so angry, he threatened to resign at one point. According to The Mail, sources say he was “more or less pinned to the wall” in a showdown with two of Blair’s most loyal aides, Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan.
The revelations follow testimonies at the Chilcot Inquiry that have questioned Blair’s judgment and honesty as well as the legality of the Iraq War.
According to The Mail, the Chilcot Inquiry was given Lord Goldsmith’s explosive letter, and Blair likely will be interrogated about it in the New Year.
Lord Goldsmith told Blair before the Iraq War that he could be breaking international law.
“Today’s revelations show that Lord Goldsmith told Mr. Blair at the outset, and in writing, that military action against Iraq was totally illegal,” The Mail stated.
The disclosures help to wreck Blair’s hopes of proving he acted in good faith when he and former U.S. President George Bush declared war on Iraq. They also could lead to Blair’s being charged with war crimes.
Lord Goldsmith’s letter came about a week after a Cabinet meeting on July 23, 2002, at which ministers were secretly told that the US and UK were set on “regime change” in Iraq.
Goldsmith was horrified and on July 29, 2002 he wrote the letter to Blair.
“Friends say it was no easy thing for him to do,” The Mail stated. “He was a close friend of Blair, who gave him his peerage and Cabinet post. The typed letter was addressed by hand, ‘Dear Tony,’ and signed by hand, ‘Yours, Peter.'”
Lord Goldsmith wrote in the letter why he thought the Iraq war was illegal. He wrote the following:
– War could not be justified strictly based on “regime change.”
– Although United Nations rules permitted “military intervention on the basis of self-defense,” they did not apply here, and that’s because Britain was not threatened from Iraq.
– While the UN allowed “humanitarian intervention” in some cases, that was not relevant to Iraq.
– It would be hard to rely on earlier UN resolutions in the 1990s approving the use of force against Saddam.
The letter “caused pandemonium in Downing Street” and Blair was “furious,” The Mail stated. Blair also apparently told Lord Goldsmith that he shouldn’t have placed his views on paper and that he shouldn’t do that again unless Blair told him to do so. And that’s because if it became public, Lord Goldsmith’s letter could make it hard for Blair to fulfill his pledge to back Bush in any circumstances.
Lord Goldsmith barely attended another Cabinet meeting until the eve of the war. Then Blair kept him out to decrease the chances of his telling his views to other ministers.
When Blair is interrogated by the Chilcot Inquiry, he will be asked why he never admitted he was told from the start that the war was illegal.
Also, Lord Goldsmith is ready to defend the letter when he appears before the inquiry. According to The Mail, friends of Lord Goldsmith believe it will vindicate him.
A source close to Lord Goldsmith said of Blair and other government officials: “They liked to do things with no note-takers, and often no officials, present. That way, there was no record. Everything could be denied,” The Mail stated.
Lord Goldsmith’s letter contradicts Blair’s statements before, during and after the war on its legality.
However, Blair knew all along that Lord Goldsmith had told him the war was illegal and that when Lord Goldsmith finally gave it his cautious backing, he did so only under much pressure.
According to The Mail, Lord Goldsmith “was bullied into backing the war at the 11th hour” in a meeting with Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer and Baroness Sally Morgan, Blair’s senior labor “fixer” in Downing Street.
The Mail cites a source, who said: “Falconer and Morgan performed a pincer movement on Goldsmith. They more or less pinned him up against the wall and told him to do what Blair wanted.”
After the meeting, Lord Goldsmith issued a brief statement saying that the war was lawful.
Lord Falconer said in response to the latest revelations that the version of events is false and that it was Lord Goldsmith’s idea to have a meeting and told what his view was. Baroness Morgan also said she didn’t pressure Lord Goldsmith.
Days before the Iraq War began, the UN refused to approve military action. Blair then had to win Lord Goldsmith’s legal backing, partly because British military chiefs wouldn’t send troops into action without it.
On March 17, 2003 three days before the conflict began, Lord Goldsmith said the war was legal based on previous UN resolutions threatening action against Saddam, even though his July 2002 letter had called into question the legality of the war.