Thursday, July 22, 2010

How governments defy the rule of law

Reported by chief political correspondent Nicholas Watt in the website, Wednesday 21 July 2010:
Sir Gus O'Donnell, the cabinet secretary, wrote to Sir John Chilcot on 25 June to allow the inquiry to publish more documents relating to the legal advice. The most significant of these documents was a note on 30 January 2003 by the then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, to Tony Blair.

In the note Goldsmith wrote: "I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of [UN security council] resolution 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council."

Goldsmith famously changed his mind on the legality of the war in March 2003 after Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the former chief of the defence staff, demanded a clear undertaking that military action would be lawful. Boyce feared that British forces could face legal action unless the invasion had legal cover.

This is, of course, very similar to the US Justice Department memos written to give cover for torture of War on Terror prisoners. Successor governments in both countries, even when of opposite parties, are loath to acknowledge that illegal acts were commited under cover of dishonest opinions issued by politically motivated government lawyers for fear that it would facilitate bringing well justified war crime prosecutions in legal forums with international jurisdiction. Citing traditions dating from the Magna Charta, "Anglosphere" countries have laid claim to being exemplars of the rule of law but, in fact, politics trumps law when it really matters.

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