By Daphne Liddle
THE CHILCOT inquiry has become a circus of politicians, lawyers and senior civil servants trying to exonerate themselves for their parts in what was arguably western imperialism’s biggest ever mistake by shifting the blame on to others.
This week we have seen the evidence on the legal arguments in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Very few emerge with any integrity from the mutual mudslinging — Foreign Office senior legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst who resigned after Foreign Secretary Jack Straw ignored her advice — and the late Robin Cook, who resigned as Foreign Secretary before Straw took the post.
All the rest were cajoled or bribed into going along with the Blair-Bush axis and it’s no use now for them to plead their reluctance; they allowed themselves to be pressured into abandoning international law in favour of imperialism’s overarching law of the protection of the giant oil companies’ profits. The situation in late 2002 was that President Bush and Tony Blair had decided they were going to invade Iraq early the next year, come what may. Evidence to the Chilcot inquiry earlier this month revealed the existence of secret letters between Bush and Blair agreeing this.
But in 2002, with US and British troops gradually amassing in the Gulf region, their intentions were a very open secret.
But they wanted to put a veneer of respectability on it; hence their demonisation of Saddam and wild claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
They pressured the United Nations passing a resolution that if Iraq refused to disarm then a military intervention would be justified. But the UN required evidence of the failure to disarm before agreeing to launch a war against Iraq. So the weapons inspectors were sent in.
Iraq had already disarmed and Bush and Blair knew this with sanctions in place the country was never capable of rearming after the first Gulf War.
The inspectors had failed to find any WMD and Saddam was in the impossible position of having to prove he was getting rid of what he did not have.
The process of inspection was interrupted by Iraq refusing to accept US military spies among the inspectors .
Bush and Blair tried to get a second UN resolution, saying this refusal was enough to justify an invasion.
But non-American UN inspectors like Hans Blix were still in Iraq, and searching for weapons that don’t exist is a long process. The UN rejected the second resolution.
The legal question being debated at the Chilcot inquiry concerned whether the invasion could be legal without the second UN resolution.
The two senior Foreign Office legal advisers, Elizabeth Wilmshurst and Sir Michael Wood, both advised Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the invasion would, in their view, be illegal.
Wood, the department’s legal chief, said the invasion was “contrary to international law” and that he has considered resigning when it went ahead, as his deputy, Wilmshurst, had done.
Declassified documents show that he repeatedly warned Straw that the action was unlawful but Straw ignored him. At the time the Blair spin machine claimed that Wilmshurst was the only legal adviser who thought the war illegal.
But last week Wilmshurst received a standing ovation at the inquiry when she said that the lawyers of the Foreign Office were “entirely of one view” - that the invasion would need UN authorisation to be lawful.
The next day former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith who was Blair’s chief legal adviser, tried to explain why he had consistently. Given the same advice as Wood and Wilmshurst until just a few days before the invasion, when he reversed his opinion.
Goldsmith admitted giving the “green light” for war based on the US view of the first United Nations resolution.
Those are not the only documents being kept secret. Last week the Government ordered that the medical papers relating to the death of Dr David Kelly — the Government weapons expert who had leaked to the press that intelligence advice about Iraqi alleged WMD had been exaggerated for the benefit of the House of Commons. Kelly died soon after, apparently committing suicide.
The Government decision to keep the details secret can only add to widespread speculation that there is much to be hidden.
Saddam promised the invaders would face “the Mother of all Battles” and his words have come true though not in the way Bush and Blair could have imagined .