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Disputed advice helped quash opposition to war

Richard Norton-Taylor
Saturday February 28, 2004
The Guardian

The attorney general Lord Goldsmith's claim that the Iraq war was legal without a fresh UN resolution was used by the government to quash opposition from within the intelligence agencies, it has emerged.

Secrets charges against Katharine Gun, the former GCHQ employee, were dropped this week after she told government lawyers she "honestly and reasonably believed that the United Kingdom shared the view that a military invasion of Iraq would be contrary to international law in the absence of a second UN resolution".

Her claim is contained in a defence document passed to the prosecution just before it abandoned the case. The Guardian has seen a copy of the document with passages said to be damaging to the government's case for war blacked out.

It says Ms Gun "had been informed by her employers", that Britain would not commit troops to Iraq without a second resolution "if to do so would be contrary to international law". The document said she believed the government would not send forces to Iraq without a new UN resolution "since it would be politically unacceptable to do so".

The Guardian understands there were heated arguments about the legality of the war in the security and intelligence agencies and among senior military advisers, as well as in parliament and the country at large.

Blacked-out passages in the defence document in the Gun case refer to the Foreign Office's legal advice, which conflicted with that of Lord Goldsmith.

But it also refers to Lord Goldsmith's own advice casting doubt on his later conclusion - reached just before the outbreak of war - that a second UN resolution was unnecessary. These passages were not blacked out in the document passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Lord Goldsmith is under increasing pressure to reveal in full his advice on the legality of the war and explain why he apparently changed his view as a military conflict became more and more likely.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has asked the solicitor general, Harriet Harman, to disclose how many occasions Lord Goldsmith gave ministers legal advice on the war.

If she declines he is expected to take the case to the independent parliamentary ombudsman.

Such a move is likely to cause the government further embarrassment on an issue it wants to go away.