A Politician Should Not Rule on the Legality of War 150

Tomorrow morning, Sir Michael Wood, former Foreign and Commonwealth Office Legal Adviser, gives evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry. To my mind, this is the most important evidence to be given so far. Michael’s then deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned over the war of aggression, will give evidence in the afternoon, I believe speaking in public for the first time since her resignation.

The Legal Adviser at the Foreign Office is a very grand person indeed. You should understand it is a full time position. The FCO has a big department, named Legal Advisers. It is staffed by the cream of public international lawyers. There are assistant and deputy legal advisers,serving in the FCO in London and sometimes being posted to large Embassies abroad. Then there is THE Legal Adviser, who is a very grand personage indeed, with a palatial office overlooking St James’ Park.

I have no doubt at all that both Wood and Wilmshurst will rebuke Starw’s appalling lie that UNSCR 1441 was considered sufficient to justify an invasion, at the time that it was adopted. Wilmshurst’s resignation letter made it perfectly plain that was not true.


But the question is, whether the Committee will manage to hide that truth by leading the lawyers away from it in their questioning. I have previously described their method as obscuring all the key points in a comfortable fog of chuminess. Expect every possible use of the lateral tangent, the chairman’s intervention and the friendly assumption.

I am very sorry that until now Sir Michael Wood has perhaps been best known to a wider public as the man that the FCO wheeled in to tell me that it was perfectly legal to obtain intelligence from torture, as long as somebody else did the torture.


As I explain in Murder in Samarkand I was shocked by this because I knew Michael and he is a nice man. Even though he made a point in the meeting of indicating moral disapproval of a policy of using torture, it seems to me there should be a limit to which a lawyer is prepared to advise what the government can get away with.

I am hoping that Michael will redeem himself in the eyes of decent people tomorrow, and I believe that he will.

One of the most important structural questions that the Chilcott Inquiry must ask, is this:

Why does the Attorney General have the power to overrule the Legal Adviser on a point of international law?

The answer is not that the Attorney General has a democratic mandate. Nobody has ever voted for Lord Goldsmith. His only qualification was that he was a buddy of Tony and Cherie Blair.

Here is a select list of some of Sir Michael Wood’s internationally accepted publications on international law:

“The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents”, 23 International and Comparative Law Quarterly (1974)

“The European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism”, 1 Yearbook of European Law (1981)

“The Legal Status of Berlin” (1987, with I. D. Hendry)

“Participation of Former Yugoslav States in the United Nations and in Multilateral Treaties”, 1 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (1997)

“The Interpretation of Security Council Resolutions”, 2 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (1998)

“International Seabed Authority: the First Four Years”, 3 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (1999)

“Northern and Western European Maritime Boundaries”, in: Colson/Smith, International Maritime Boundaries, Vol. V (2005)

“Towards New Circumstances in which the Use of Force may be Authorized? The Cases of Humanitarian Intervention, Counter-terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction”, in: The Security Council and the Use of Force: Theory and Reality – A Need for Change? (eds. N. Blokker/N. Schrijver, 2005)

“The United Kingdom’s Acceptance of the Compulsory Jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice”, in: Festskrift til Carl August Fleischer (eds. O Fauchald/H Jakhelln/A Syse, 2006)

“N?cessit? et l?gitime d?fense dans la lutte contre le terrorisme: quelle est la pertinence de l’affaire de la Caroline aujourd’hui?”, in: La n?cessit? en droit international Soci?t? fran?aise pour le droit international, Colloque de Grenoble, 2006

“The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and General International Law”, 22 International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law (2007)

“The Selection of Candidates for International Judicial Office: Recent Practice”, in: Law of the Sea, Environmental Law and Settlement of Disputes: Liber Amicorum Judge Thomas A. Mensah (eds. T M Ndiaye/R Wolfrum, 2007)

Three lectures on “The UN Security Council and International Law” (2006), available on the website of the Lauterpacht Centre for Intenrational Law, University of Cambridge. An expanded version of these lectures will be published in due course by Cambridge University Press as a book within the Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lectures series

“The Law on the Use of Force: Current Challenges”, 11 Singapore Yearbook of International Law (2007)

“The Security Council and International Criminal Law”, 5 Romanian Journal of International Law/Revista Rom?na de Drept International (2007)

“The International Seabed Authority: Fifth to Twelfth Sessions (1999-2006)”, 11 Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law (2007)

“The General Assembly and the International Law Commission: What Happens to the Commission’s Work and Why?”, in: I Buffard, J Crawford, A Pellet, S Wittich (eds.), International Law Between Universalism and Fragmentation. Festschrift in Honour of Gerhard Hafner (2008)

“The Principle of Non-Intervention” (with Maziar Jamnejad), 29 Leiden Journal of International Law (2009)

“Detention during International Military Operations: Article 103 of the Charter and the Al-Jedda case”, 47 Revue de Droit Militaire et de Droit de la Guerre/The Military Law and the Law of War Review (2009)

Entries in R Wolfrum (ed.), Max Planck “Encyclopedia of Public International Law” (online edition 2008), including:

Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI) International Courts and Tribunals, Discontinuance of Cases Final Act International Seabed Authority Legal Advisers Macedonia Peace, Breach of State Practice Teachings of the Most Highly Qualified Publicists United Nations Administrative Tribunal, Applications for Review (Advisory Opinions) United Nations Charter, Enemy State Clauses United Nations Security Council Use of Force, Prohibition of Threat

Here is the complete list of all of Lord Goldsmith’s internationally accepted publications on international law


Which is why the Legal Adviser is paid more than the Attorney General.

So the government spends a very great deal of public money on employing a whole cadre of the best public international lawyers in the world, but takes its legal advice on matters of war and peace from a shifty barrister mate of Tony Blair.

The decision whether to go to war is a political question. But the legal advice should come from the most qualified source, not the source most likely to agree with the Prime Minister.

Even that commonsense observation is going to be much too radical for the stuffed Establishment shirts of the Chilcott Committee.

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150 thoughts on “A Politician Should Not Rule on the Legality of War

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  • Jaded.

    Eddie Himmler:

    ‘Craig, I know you believe passionately in free speech, but I don’t know if you read some of the abuse that passes for comment on these boards, and if you do are you happy to host it? Here are just some of the ad-hominem attacks on me in the last day from Jaded and Sam (who are probably the same person).

    “You are a vile, disgusting, little weasel.”

    “Not jumped ship yet you disgusting little weasel? Won’t be long now, won’t be long… You will undoubtedly be one of the first turncoats once the leaks become unpluggable. You aren’t worthy of licking turd from my boots. Go and crawl back in your dirty little hole you foul specimen. The forum air has a rank odour to it!”

    “Q. What do you call Tony’s stools?

    A. Eddie”

    If you want people to engage on these boards (and I assume that you do) then I suggest that you deal with this problem.’

    The troll tries to order Craig around eh? Now that’s funny. I fully stand by every word. Now get back to reading your David Irving collection you deviant, anti-semitic fiend. Truth hurts does it??? Don’t fret though. It’s all ok my son… 😉

  • technicolour

    Richard: I wonder if Charles wishes he could post the reply ” that would depend on how much legal examination it’s expected to need to stand up to”.

    Mike, either Ms Wilmshurst can ‘authorise’ force (although it seems unlikely) or her ‘only job is to give advice’. Which? Personally I was not surprised to hear that principles survive in the civil service, sorry that you are.

    Eddie: Later, if the chance comes up, and everyone’s furiously off topic anyway, I’d like to hear what your local MP is like? Is he/she Labour? If so, what kind?

  • eddie


    Thanks for your time. But that’s it for me I’m afraid. Unless someone sorts out Jaded and his cancerous friends I’m not spending any more time here. Free speech is one thing but racism and thuggery is another matter.

    My local MP is a Lib Dem. He is also a lawyer.

  • Jaded.


    ‘Thanks for your time. But that’s it for me I’m afraid. Unless someone sorts out Jaded and his cancerous friends I’m not spending any more time here. Free speech is one thing but racism and thuggery is another matter.

    My local MP is a Lib Dem. He is also a lawyer.’

    Ah, the victim spiel. Cute, but feeble. ***Very ironic too considering some of the vile accusations you yourself have levelled at others.*** Complete lies, you are going nowhere. If you don’t post under ‘eddie’ you will post under another guise, as you probably already do. You are just sore at being identified for the nasty cancer that you are. Aww, diddums. Throw your toys out of your pram did you? Don’t like being amongst those much smarter than yourself? Tough i’m afraid. Live with it. No one believe this deceitful man. They are incredibly devious his sort. Now, if he really ‘was’ going to crawl back down his hole that would be something beneficial. It’s a shame that he isn’t…

    P.S. As I said, get back to your Irving collection before I get cross with you little boy.

  • technicolour

    Hey eddie, just don’t take it personally. And bless that poor poster, because it must be awful having all that going on inside you.

  • Jon

    @eddie – just ignore it. I don’t know Jaded and I agree that the abuse is unnecessary, although we’ve come to disagree on this before. I maintain that anyone who posts “Fuck off” as the considered total of a response to Craig must accept a bit of flak.

    Anyway, feel free to come back to my substantive and civil points, and just ignore any abuse – it will go away in the end. But in turn (and I mean this nicely) you will have to stop ranting at people – even the 9/11 conspiracy theorists – if you want to be treated politely :o)

  • Jaded.

    Jon, you need to ask yourself who started the abuse and why. All I have done is reflect it back to where it came from. I respect your posts, but if you think eddie is here to debate you are sorely mistaken and being very naive. He is here with an agenda. You don’t get anywhere debating people with a cynical agenda. You need to expose them for the cretins they are. Once everyone sees them in the light they have failed in their objectives, despite invariably continuing to fester for a while. I have a lot of online experience dealing with these sorts and know what i’m talking about. Think about it. 😉

  • Jon

    @Mike: I don’t know the detail of her actions in 1998, but see her 2003 resignation on a point of principle as honourable. She was under no obligation to agree with the AG – she could have either privately disagreed and stayed on, or disagreed publicly and resigned (clearly she did the latter). In fact she behaved with restrained decorum throughout – were it me, I would have been talking to the press immediately in case it halted the march to war. But she gave her first interview regarding her decision recently, in 2010.

    Why do her actions make you feel ashamed to be British? I am not given to nationalism, and patriotism is a surely a refuge for scoundrels, but I would have thought sticking up for the underdog, and bravely speaking out when it is the right thing to do, are inately British.

    If you have more substantive detail about her 1998 actions, btw, do please share it. More light on an interesting figure is always useful.

  • Jon

    @Jaded, I accept that it is possible that Eddie is a shill paid to disrupt the board, but Craig has said he is welcome, and Eddie is occasionally able to post without being abusive. But it is not proven that he has an agenda, and I think on a number of points – in particular the psychological drivers to excusing political violence of ones own kind – we have had some interesting exchanges. You should not worry that I waste time I can ill afford, and I enjoy the discussion. I just let the abuse bounce off, or gently remind eddie/whoever that they are not doing themselves any favours.

    There are a couple of contributers here who I think are timewasters, and I will rarely respond to them. But I feel no great need to mention this to them, since I cannot prove it anyway.

    That all said, I am unimpressed with the “he started it” argument. I would offer the same advice to you: if you are abusive, the casual reader will just assume you lost the argument. Since you are opposed to the war, it doesn’t do the antiwar movement substantial favours to have you abusing people for that side. Personally I think there are a great deal of points that have gone against Eddie, and the weight of opinion here is against him – so you have even less reason to be rude. Debate should be won exclusively on the strength of your argument.

    Anyway, if you are certain Eddie is here to waste people’s time, then don’t respond to him. Easy as that :o)

  • Jaded.

    ‘Debate should be won exclusively on the strength of your argument.’

    Some fair points. I maintain that you can’t debate with those that aren’t here to debate though. We can just agree to disagree then, as we are debating. 😉 I know what he is.

  • technciolour

    I’d really hope that the weight of opinion here is not against Eddie, who has consistently engaged and also been open about his background, whatever you may think about his challenges to this board. Me, I can’t see how his ‘rudeness’ is much worse than Craig’s. I agree his constant refusal to take facts on board is baffling and sometimes feels like a waste of time, and his criticisms are often misdirected and baseless. But to suggest his posts are really comparable to the stream of anti-semitic bile, scatological personal abuse, and deliberate misdirection which make up the posts of the jaded/steelback/apostate persona (currently trying to invent itself as an anti-Nazi) is really stretching it.

  • technicolour

    But I’m sure Eddie is big enough to fight his own battles. Anyway, am still waiting for the person who ‘can’ rule on the legality of war, or rather, the invasion. Does it matter? Whatever, I think I’m going to commit a left-wing heresy here, and say I don’t want to see Mr Blair hung as a war criminal. The fact that ‘Chemical Ali’ has just been hung, and we helped that happen, and seem to approve of it, is a shame to the UK, in my view. We abolished capital punishment.

  • Jaded.

    ‘But to suggest his posts are really comparable to the stream of anti-semitic bile, scatological personal abuse, and deliberate misdirection which make up the posts of the jaded persona (currently trying to invent itself as an anti-Nazi) is really stretching it.’

    Good to see not one quote backing up your accusations, as usual… 😉 And I am sure you are the same user as eddie. You are like an elephant in a china shop. Sorry my son. Don’t fret though. It’s all ok. 😉

    P.S. I told you I might get cross. You wnat to be sent to bed with no supper?

  • Richard Robinson

    jaded – “I maintain that you can’t debate with those that aren’t here to debate though”

    That looks like a good argument for leaving them alone as a waste of time. After all, screaming abuse at people doesn’t bear much resemblance to a willingness to debate, either.

  • Jaded.

    Fair point Richard, but when I ‘know’ what he is I see it as bad that casual readers might think he is a genuine guy. As for abuse I haven’t sworn at him at all. You need to look at all the vile, baseless accusations that he has cynically levelled at others before you come to me questioning why I throw it back.

  • Jon

    > technicolour: Jon, have you read Eddie’s exchange with

    > Rob Lewis?

    No, and I should be grateful if you would point me to it. Rob Lewis’ posts are often some of the most interesting and well-written comments on this blog.

    > technicolour: Whatever, I think I’m going to commit a left-wing

    > heresy here, and say I don’t want to see Mr Blair hung as a war

    > criminal. The fact that ‘Chemical Ali’ has just been hung, and

    > we helped that happen, and seem to approve of it, is a shame

    > to the UK, in my view. We abolished capital punishment.

    I couldn’t agree more; well said.

  • Richard Robinson

    “You need to look at all the vile, baseless accusations that he has cynically levelled at others before you come to me questioning why I throw it back.”

    It’s very easy to understand. People get abused, they lose their tempers. But when they give way and reflect the same back, that increases the noise level, increases the likelihood that sother people will lose theirs, and it shed no light – because, indeed, there’s nothing to be gained from debating with people who aren’t here to debate.

    This is Craig’s site. If Craig wished to be making decisions about what’s acceptable, or not, he has the power to enforce them, but he has several times made it clear that he doesn’t wish to open that can of worms. (Those last few words are my own comment, btw, not an ascription).

    The rest of us, all of us commenters, we don’t have The permissions, and can enforce no decisions on anyone else. We come here as equals, and have no other way to deal with each other. We have no way of controlling anyone else’s behaviour, only our own.

    In other words, sticking your fingers in your ears and going “La la la can’t see you” is a good move, if it keeps your fingers away from the keyboard for that fatal first moment when you see someone say something so infuriating that it makes you want to shout at them.

    Don’t Feed The Trolls.

    It’s a temptation. I know it is. But it doesn’t make the world a better place.

  • Jaded.

    ‘People get abused, they lose their tempers.’

    I NEVER lose my temper. Neither does eddie, unless it’s me he is dealing with of course. 😉 You need to understand how cynical he is. I’m sorry if you don’t see that friend.

  • Richard Robinson

    “I’m sorry if you don’t see that friend.”

    You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

  • anno

    Charles Crawford

    You patronising, Victorian git. Is it ‘febrile’, Dictionary definition: feverish, to mind about the collective torture, terrorising and termination of a stable, civilised society, the Iraqi people, by porn-crazed persecutors specially released from US prisons, followed by purposeful igniting of Civil War, by US false flag operations?

    I wish I could bulldoze you backward looking brainwashed British upyerasses ignoramuses into one of chemical ‘Ali’s death mounds. I’d be quite happy to hang for it, if it saw an end to the paralysing paraquatting posturing arrogance and pomposity of the British ruling classes.

  • Apostate


    Your “bollocks” comment re-tungsten’s references to B’nai B’rith show a deep ignorance of history.

    May I suggest you start by doing some of your own research re-the history of the Lobby.Had you been more aware of the extent of its reach and influence I dare say you might still be in Samarkand or even the Lords today!

    The generally vaccuous and ahistorical comments on your message board seem to be a reflection of a generalized knee-jerk phobia re-what elites progamme you to think of as “conspiracy theory”.

    Unfortunately it seems you share this willed blindness to facts and reality.

    Christopher Bollyn clearly shows the decisive influence of the Lobby and B’nai B’rith on US foreign policy here:


    If you don’t agree with the analysis at least allow the more open-minded and serious of your contributors the chance to make up their own minds.

  • tungsten

    Sounds like Craig has in mind to do the gamers’ bidding.

    Like Sunstein,Obama’s Information Czar, he wants to stamp out all unofficial “conspiracy theory”.

    Out goes 9/11 or any reference to the malign influence of the Israeli Lobby in world affairs.

    With angri and the “gamers” given free rein the prospects for this site resemble that of most left-gatekeepers-Oblivion beckons…..

    Unbeknown to the gatekeepers and the “gamers” running around like the little Dutch boy trying to plug the dykes the net is now awash with anti-Zionist blogs and thinktanks.All eyes are on the hand of the international synarchy’s role in the NWO agenda.

    angri,Larry and co. may have won a pyrrhic victory on this blog but the game is up for them and their sponsors on the internet as a whole.

    For those still keen to do their own independent research using the internet as a resource there is now a plethora of available alternatives.

    Avail yourself of the expertise and resources now available or spend the rest of your life listening to the mind-numbingly tedious off-topic ramblings of imbeciles like angri and the “gamers”.

    While it’s still available-the choice is yours.

  • Steelback

    Gilad Atzmon’s piece in response to Peter Oborne’s programme on the British Israeli Lobby is here:


    Craig deleted it from my last contribution to this thread.Presumably he shares David Aaronovitch’s antipathy for Atzmon.Atzmon after all has written extensively on the Lobby from what angri and the disinformationists would call a “self-hating” Jew’s point of view.

    A rather disingenuous,not to say warped,perspective on legitimate Jewish criticism of the malign worldwide machinations of the Lobby.Perhaps Craig has been convinced by the “gamers” that Jewish commentators critical of Israel and its elite Jewish sponsors belong to some pariah sect unworthy of inclusion in debate.

    Had Craig read more widely he would have discovered that there is an extensive body of equally legitimate Zionist criticism of Israel and the Lobby coming from critics like Barry Chamish.


    Barry’s is a site the gamers certainly won’t want you to visit!

    Do it anyway!

  • Richard Robinson

    “If you don’t agree with the analysis at least allow the more open-minded and serious of your contributors the chance to make up their own minds.”

    I have. Craig’s right, it’s bollocks.

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