Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Secret Letter Reveals Law Chief's Warning on Case for Iraq War

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Secret Letter Reveals Law Chief's Warning on Case for Iraq War

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Waugh Deputy Political Editor

THE legality of the Iraq war was thrown into fresh doubt today after a secret letter from the Attorney General laid bare his warnings over the conflict.

The letter from Lord Goldsmith, declassified and published for the first time by the Iraq inquiry, revealed there were "considerable difficulties" in taking military action in the absence of an explicit United Nations resolution.

The peer warned the then defence secretary Geoff Hoon that toppling Saddam Hussein could only be justified under international law if there was "an imminent threat" from Iraq. The confidential memo was sent in March 2002 -- a year before the invasion.

The inquiry has obtained other secret documents from Lord Goldsmith which make clear he harboured deep doubts even weeks before the war.

In the end, as military chiefs warned they could not go ahead without explicit legal advice, he changed tack and gave a legal opinion authorising action.

The letter emerged as Mr Hoon became the first of Tony Blair's Cabinet ministers to give evidence.

The Attorney General wrote it after Mr Hoon appeared on TV to declare Britain could use force against Saddam without a fresh UN mandate.

Lord Goldsmith pointed out he had not been asked at this point to advise on the legality of possible military action.

The letter stated: "I have not offered any views on the legal position. The clarity of your statement and the apparently authoritative way it was produced puts me in a difficult position."

Lord Goldsmith added: "I see considerable difficulties in being satisfied that military action would be justified on the basis of self-defence.

"In particular, I am not aware of the existence of an imminent threat from Iraq of the sort that would justify military action. …

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