In March 2003 the Gazette published a letter from me condemning the Blair government’s decision to invade Iraq, a course that any critically minded lawyer could see was illegal.
As millions of people around the world predicted, the invasion proved disastrous for Iraqis and for the British servicemen and women who fought in that conflict. Sir John Chilcot’s report in July, 13 years on, delivered the damning verdict Blair deserved. But Blair is unlikely to face a war crimes tribunal.
Of course he was not alone. Lawyer Jack Straw, Blair’s then foreign secretary, signed up for invasion, having half-heartedly objected that a conflict might prove costly and protracted. In 2009, then justice secretary, Straw vetoed the publication of minutes of key cabinet meetings held in the run-up to the Iraq war discussing its legality. Releasing the papers would do ‘serious damage to cabinet government’ and this outweighed public interest needs (the Information Tribunal has recently ruled they should be published).
Is anyone surprised that Straw should now be found to have emailed Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, remarking that the ‘silver lining’ of the Brexit vote was that it would divert people’s attention away from Chilcot, a remark reminiscent of the infamous ‘good day to bury bad news’? Straw is unlikely to face a war crimes tribunal.
Despite the precedent of Iraq, in 2011 David Cameron led a headlong rush of MPs keen to be seen to ‘do something’ into war against Gaddafi’s government in Libya, a wholly counter-productive and illegal venture that, like Iraq, has left Libyans in far worse straits than they faced under Gaddafi. Indeed, the effects of that misadventure reverberate throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Libya is now a haven for IS, parcelled out between warlords and rife with people smugglers preying on those desperate to get into Europe. Cameron has now been criticised by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report. This mirrors Chilcot’s criticisms of inaccurate intelligence, erroneous assumptions, incomplete understanding and failure to plan for the post-war period. As its chairman Crispin Blunt remarks: ‘The UK’s actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out.’ Cameron is unlikely to face a war crimes tribunal.
In the meantime, the Al-Sweady inquiry report by Sir Thayne Forbes found that many allegations against the British military by Iraqis (represented by two English law firms) were baseless, the product of deliberate and calculated lies; that other false allegations were the result of inappropriate and reckless speculation (chapter 3, paragraph 5.198), whose evidence was both unprincipled in the extreme and wholly without regard for the truth (5.199), and resulting also from ‘ingrained hostility’ (5.201).
Many of Forbes’ remarks might be levelled against our own government ministers’ justification for their foreign military adventures. Instead of any proper comeuppance for Blair, Straw and Cameron, they will go off to lucrative directorships, consultancies and lecture circuits. Meanwhile, there is pleasure expressed by current government ministers in the closure of one law firm concerned with the representation of Iraqis, because its legal aid contract has been terminated by another minister in the same government, a point pithily made by Roger Smith (Gazette, 12 September).
You could not make it up.
Myles Hickey, solicitor, Dowse & Co, London E8