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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  • Abe Rene

    On the subject of Blair, here’s an article with a critical assessment by Jimmy Carter:


    I believe that Tony Blair was seduced by the wish to gain kudos with the Americans. Seduction by the glamour and power of the White House is understandable enough for Americans, but a British PM should have the UK’s national interest uppermost in his mind. Harold Wilson was smart enough to make sympathetic noises to the Americans, but stay out of Viet Nam.

  • mike cobley

    Anyone read ‘Snakes In Suits’? – an interesting commentary on the aspects of the psychopath personality and its prevalence in corporate hierarchies. The writers – Babiak and Hare – estimated that just 1% of the general population satisfy the clinical definition of psychopathy, whereas in the upper echelons of corporate entities that rises to 3.5%. They had no available data on the percentage among politicians, but when you look at Blair … you have to wonder.

  • mike cobley

    Heads up, folks, Eddie is back in the groove! Let’s see what wacky monkeyshines he gets up to tonight!

  • Larry from St. Louis

    “Craig, ah’s a graduate of one of th’ bess law skoos in th’ States, mah legal studies” etc. etc.

    this from someone who self-identifies as a merkin

  • Larry from St. Louis

    @Ruth: “The blog must not only be very influential but feared.”


    Once again, folks – Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq


    Blair, a man damned by his own failings – with the mothers of dead soldiers soon to be looking into his eyes, with the souls of dead Iraqi children looking at him from the floor as they lay when the ‘fire came’ I will record every word, every syllable, every mutter. You Blair fought hard for a ‘closed’ ‘secret’ inquiry in July 2009 – but we won – now face the people, face the world, face your own demons.

  • glenn

    Writerman: Excellent points. Do you recall that even before “Shock & Awe” we (the UK/US) were sending smart bombs to destroy this house, or that restaurant, on the grounds that “intelligence” told us Saddam was dining there. He wasn’t, of course, but that elicited no more than “Ah, shucks… we’ll try somewhere else.” It was the “cut the head off the snake” strategy, apparently. A cute euphemism for every criminal act.

    What would we usually call someone who lobs a bomb into a crowded restaurant, in the hope that someone they consider a Bad Guy would be killed? And this is standard procedure now, with killer drones operated from a far away country. Back in the day, a fictional character by the name of James Bond was particularly special, because he had a licence to kill. And that was unnerving, back in those more innocent times. Now, people do their day’s work, never knowing who they might have killed (or what “collateral damage” occurred) from offices in Langley or Houston. “Intelligence” has it that this house or that vehicle is to be destroyed, so off they go. Did they get a special licence to kill from the government, or has that just eased its way into their standard working practices?

    Then we might watch some foreign looking people on TV protesting these killer drones, and give a collective shrug of our shoulders. Gad, those people are always mad about something, aren’t they?

    It’s not just about Blair and Bush. It’s not even just about the leaders and their stooges. What about all the Rentouls, Cohens and so on and so on who cheered on this war and congratulated themselves for it ever since, the press that just passed along statements without troubling to ask serious questions. And a public far more interested in “Britain’s got talent” and soap operas and other petty concerns than the fact we are destroying another country, populated with individuals who have every bit as much right to live and determine their own lives as we do ourselves.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    “The disclosure came as it emerged Mr Blair had told President George Bush he was “solidly with the president” after being told that 1,500 bombing targets had been chosen in Iraq and “the start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March.”

    “The comments were made during a meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Bush on 31 Jan, 2003, and recorded in a leaked memo by Sir David Manning, Mr Blair’s foreign policy adviser, just three days before Mr Blair told the House of Commons: “Even now I hope that conflict with Iraq can be avoided.”

    “The memo also talks of a US plan to “fly a U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover” in order to draw Iraqi fire and prompt a breach of UN resolutions.

    Downing Street failed to deny the rumours of Mr Blair’s intervention over the Iraq inquiry, saying: “We have always been clear that we consulted a number of people before announcing the commencement of the inquiry, including former government figures. We are not going to get into the nature of those discussions.”

    Daily Telegraph 22nd June 2009

  • Chris Dooley


    I sometimes try to understand the thinking behind firing missiles at crowds of civilians which contain a ‘suspected terrorist’.

    I’m still trying to work it out morally.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq


    “fly a U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours(DELIBERATE DISGUISE) over Iraq with fighter cover”

    Yeehaa – ‘Gulf of Tonkin II, and George W Bush’s (and friends) idea; but Saddam didn’t take the bait did he?

    Perhaps Blair might tell us the plane was to be flown remotely and stuffed with H.E.?

    Another ‘truther’ fact eh Larry, perhaps one to be put back under the looky glass?

  • Chris Dooley


    My god, Claire Short is brilliant in those clips.

    It’s shamefull that the benches were nearly empty while she spoke and her time to speak was so limited.

  • Jaded.


    ‘Ruth. That is one of the funniest things I’ve read on here. Well done.’

    You are a vile, disgusting, little weasel. Get a life. MI5/MI6 are completely corporate now. They have no interest in ‘Defence Of The Realm’. Any agents that think otherwise are grossly deluded. They just represent psychopathic crooks. Do you really not see that or are you accepting of it? Or are you even gladly one of them? Which is it you pile of stinking trash???

  • angrysoba

    Mark Golding: “I thought I was pompous!”

    You thought right!

    “your language here and your obsession with character assassination”

    There’s not much need to character assassinate round here. Characters are committing suicide left, right and centre.

    Ruth: “MI5/MI6 agents are taught to smear, denigrate, belittle, abuse, destroy. But then it can be quite positive knowing that there are so many of them festering around the blog. The blog must not only be very influential but feared.”

    See what I mean?

  • Chris Dooley


    your views on Craig’s comments ?

    your views on Claire Short’s speech (via george’s links)

  • Richard Robinson

    “There’s not much need to character assassinate round here. Characters are committing suicide left, right and centre.”

    Pay heed to the great researcher, he knows these things.

  • technicolour

    Was all this just a lead up to some ad-hominem abuse, angrysoba? Because Mark was addressing Larry.

    Suddenly attacking Ruth also seems like a strange thing to do. Have you any evidence to the contrary?

  • glenn

    So “chemical Ali” bites it today. I imagine they would have wanted to do the same to others who enjoyed gassing Kurds, such as Winston Churchill.


    Oh, I can hear it now. Ag-ag-ag-againstboming.org! snark/splutter/snicker/fart/snort… Don’t you know they’ve got [fill in the blank] on their website? Whoopie! Loons! Conspiracy-loons! Ho ho, you must believe in ghosts/snake-people/UFOs! Look everyone, point and laugh – it’s the middle ages again – cackle away all you peasants! “We’ve-found-something-to-associate-you-with” (chant along, now!)

    As ever, the fact stands. Churchill thoroughly approved the expediency of gassing unruly Arabs, and the euphemism “collateral damage” hadn’t even been invented at that time.

    Of course, times and standards change. Saddam was gassing Kurds in the 1980s to great Official Approval (not to mention enabling – we sold the chemical precursors, after all), but of course Saddam deserves to hang for it in the 21st century. If Churchill were by some strange circumstance still alive now, would he have to hang for the same crime?

  • angrysoba

    “Suddenly attacking Ruth also seems like a strange thing to do. Have you any evidence to the contrary?”

    Evidence to the contrary? Are you mad? Ruth was saying that MI5 and MI6 are festering around this blog. Where’s her evidence for stating that?

  • angrysoba

    “”What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite”

    Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)”

    Bertie Russell was a great philosopher and he’s quite right about the will to find out being more important than the will to believe. Yet when I come here I see an awful lot of “I wanna believe!”

    Of course, in his old age Russell did get a bit tinfoily round the edges with his 16 questions for the Warren Commission that he penned after genuine Kool-aid man Mark Lane misinformed him.

  • glenn

    soba: I believe you may have inadvertently replied here instead of the “David Kelly’s Murder” thread. Should you find the time to check there, perhaps you could clarify if everyone who disagrees with you is either a Nazi or a “loon”, as you appear to assert.

  • George Dutton

    “16 questions for the Warren Commission”

    16 words for the Chilcott Inquiry…

    “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

  • angrysoba

    “16 words for the Chilcott Inquiry…”

    Quite good!

    You see, THIS is the type of thing I’d like to see more of and a bit less of the “Tony Blair gave Mo Mowlam cancer!” sensationalism (Okay, no one here has said THAT ONE yet…but I have seen it).

  • Jaded.


    ‘Quite good!

    You see, THIS is the type of thing I’d like to see more of.’

    You conspiracy loon, you. But still, just the sort of thing i’d expect from a BNP, Nazi, Holocaust Denying, anti-semite like yourself. 😉

  • Charles Crawford


    You write:

    “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.”

    It may indeed be the case that Michael has become known to ‘a wider public’ through your book. What is more than unfortunate is that in the book and here on this website you shamlessly and repeatedly misrepresent what he actually said to you.

    In MiS (pp 160-164 in my copy) you described the events leading up to your meeting with Michael and Linda Duffield. You argued the case to them that, based on your research, it was illegal under the Convention to use or even possess material based on torture.

    Michael told you that this was not the legal position, a view he subsequenly put in writing. And, since as you say he is a masterful international lawyer, he was right. His view was later upheld by the House of Lords in a key decision you praise in the book (p. 367).

    In the book you charaterised what Michael said to you as “So there we had it. Torture by proxy for intelligence purposes was legal”. This is a trivial misreading of Michael’s minute and position, based on your complete misunderstanding of the law.

    Now you repeat this nonsense again in the posting above:

    “…it was perfectly legal to obtain intelligence from torture, as long as somebody else did the torture.”

    You time and again make great play of Michael’s minute of 13 March 2003 as if it supports your position. It doesn’t. Try reading it.

    As for your wider point, you don’t understand the way the AG’s office works, as Jane18 patiently pointed out. It is reasonable for the government to have a central pool of top legal advice rather than rely solely on the legal advice from one department of state.

  • mary

    When it has been said that they are ‘knocking spoilers’, ‘trolls’, etc why are Eddie, Angrysoba and LarryFStL being engaged with? They are successfully diverting you.

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