So will the Chilcot Inquiry into the illegal invasion of Iraq actually do anything when it finally reaches its conclusions? It seems unlikely. Over the last two months, we have had some fascinating moments: on November 26, for example, when Sir Christopher Meyer, Britain’s ambassador to the US, delivered testimony which, as I explained at the time, “demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, how ‘regime change’ in Iraq was agreed between George W. Bush and Tony Blair in April 2002, and how the rush to war by the US meant that furious attempts to justify the plan were doomed to fail, ‘because there was no smoking gun.’”
Last week, we had the disturbing testimony of Sir Michael Wood, the Foreign Office’s Legal Adviser, and his deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst. Wood was revelatory about how Jack Straw, who has, at times, portrayed himself as the highest profile dissenter in the Cabinet, had, in an unprecedented manner, turned down his legal adviser’s recommendations. On January 24, 2003, Wood wrote to Straw telling him the UK “cannot lawfully use force in Iraq in ensuring compliance” on the basis of existing UN resolutions, including resolution 1441, which, in November 2002, gave Saddam Hussein a “final opportunity” to comply. He added, “To use force without Security Council authority would amount to the crime of aggression.” In his reply, Straw wrote that he “noted” Sir Michael’s advice but did “not accept it.”
In a contemporary statement, dated January 15, 2020, and issued as part of the proceedings (PDF), Wood had not changed his opinions, and wrote unequivocally, “I considered that the use of force against Iraq in March 2003 was contrary to international law. In my opinion, that use of force had not been authorised by the Security Council, and had no other legal basis in international law.”
Wilmshurst, who, unlike Wood, resigned because of her opposition to the illegality of the war, was also devastatingly critical, explaining, in a powerfully understated manner, that the entire process was “lamentable” and lacking in transparency. Also released as part of the proceedings was Wilmshurst’s resignation letter, dated March 18, 2003, which makes for fascinating reading (PDF included with a batch of other correspondence). Wilmshurst wrote:
1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it. My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. (The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line). I cannot in conscience go along with advice — within the Office or to the public or Parliament — which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.
2. I therefore need to leave the Office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a Deputy Legal Adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the International Criminal Court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year. I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement. In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.
3. I joined the Office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.
In contrast, yesterday’s performance by Tony Blair reminded many of us why we were so glad to see the back of him, and why the former PM’s absolute certainties — which always appeared to become more pronounced, the more opposition he encountered — provide absolutely no reason for him to get away with his key role in a criminal invasion that has led to the loss of so many lives. After a nervous start, his one-dimensional Manichean certainty about the world resurfaced, to the extent that he refused to apologize for anything, and, instead, encouraged the Inquiry to imagine how terrible the world would be if Saddam Hussein were still in power, and even began sabre-rattling with regard to Iran.
In an editorial today, the Guardian has captured much of Blair’s madness, even if the editors refused to use that particular term:
There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot Inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgments turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same. On this strange planet, the invasion of Iraq was not a disaster, but a necessary and even heroic act. Other witnesses to Chilcot have admitted error. Mr Blair simply said he would invade Iraq all over again.
His appearance yesterday at the Iraq inquiry was fascinating not so much for any facts it revealed as for the disturbing insight it gave into his mentality. This came out most strongly in a potent final few minutes. Invited to express regret, in front of relatives of soldiers who had died in the conflict, Mr Blair admitted only to responsibility. He even suggested the military should feel “a sense of pride and achievement.” This chilling way of thinking, much more than any reading of international law or mistaken intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, is why Britain went to war with America in Iraq. It is a stark Manichean view. To Mr Blair, there are nice guys and bad ones, good values and evil, and it matters very much which side you are on. His target was Iraq, now it is Iran, as he freely and repeatedly said yesterday.
Should the Chilcot Inquiry have given Tony Blair a harder time? I certainly think so, but while the protestors who, exhausted by six hours of evasion, finally shouted out that Blair was a liar and a murderer, I remain grimly fascinated by Blair’s certainty. Does he really have no doubts? Is there no corner of his being that shudders at all the death he unleashed? To this extent, my feelings about the Inquiry reflect comments made to Channel 4’s Iraq Inquiry Blogger by an unidentified witness to the Inquiry, who explained:
The run-up to the war was an ancient Greek tragedy where the principal actor was brought down by his strengths as much as his weaknesses. For example, his convictions and interpersonal skills enabled him single-handedly to succeed in persuading Bush away from unilateral action (he would have overthrown Saddam whatever happened), to persuade a sceptical Security Council to issue the UNSCR 1441 ultimatum and to persuade almost all of his Cabinet to stick with him on the venture. Yet, the result destroyed his premiership and his reputation. How then did the fates conspire to produce this result? Each step seemed the right thing in his eyes at the time yet the result was tragedy. That is what I felt the inquiry needed to work through.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
[DS added the video]
Blair unbowed during Iraq evidence
January 29, 2010
Tony Blair has answered questions at an Iraq inquiry in London as to why he took his country to war on flawed evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
The former British prime minister’s decision to send 45,000 British troops to Iraq in 2003 was the most controversial move of his 10-year leadership.
Alan Fisher reports from London.
(Jan 29, 2010)