The Appalling Sir Daniel Bethlehem 101

This is Sir Daniel Bethlehem, a man who is to me an embodiment of the appalling moral vacuum at the heart of the British establishment.

Sir Daniel in a public international lawyer who has specialised in Middle eastern issues, and has always found it to be his genuine and considered legal opinion that the law supports the neo-conservative agenda for the Middle east.

Bethlehem first came to the attention of the general public as the man who advised the Israeli government that it was legal to build their “security” wall slicing through the West Bank and disrupting Palestinian communications and access to fields and water resources. Bethlehem was then the counsel to the Israeli government at the resulting case before the International Court of Justice.

The International Court of Justice – along with the vast majority of reputable international lawyers – disagreed with Daniel Bethlehem, and Bethlehem and the Israeli government lost the case. The Israeli government however disregarded the court’s judgement and continued its illegal activity.

Nowhere can I find evidence that Bethlehem has condemned the Israeli government for flouting the authority of the court before which he appeared. His commitment to the institutions of public international law appears somewhat partial.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a department of Legal Advisers who are closely integrated and involved in virtually everything the FCO does; I must have consulted them at least 60 tims in my own career. They are extremely distinguished individuals and a major source of scholarly articles on all aspects of public international law. They include some of the most respected experts in international law in the world.

The FCO legal advisers – of whom there are approximately 20 – agreed unanimously that the proposed war in Iraq would constitute an illegal war of aggression. As Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw’s response was to push for the removal of the chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood (the No. 2, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, resigned in disgust). Straw then, against all precedent, recruited a chief Legal Adviser from outside the FCO corps, one of the few public international lawyers in the UK prepared to argue that the Iraq invasion was legal.

Who did Straw choose? The Israeli Government’s trusty adviser, Daniel Bethlehem. Forget that his arguments for the Wall of Terror had been dismissed by the ICJ, the important thing for Straw was that Bethlehem was On the Right Side. He was prepared to argue the Iraq War was legal; that made him better qualified than any internal candidate.

Inside the FCO Bethlehem continued to be On the Right Side. This fascinating document contains the following extract of a minute from Matthew Gould, Private Secretary to Straw and Adam Werritty and Mossad’s point man in the FCO, to Daniel Bethlehem. The intention is to bolster Bethlehem’s attempt to keep from the UK courts the details of the torture by the CIA of Binyam Mohammed, and British complicity therewith.

Discussions of 12 May 2009
[Email note of meeting by Matthew Gould, Principal Private Secretary to the Foreign
Secretary, addressed to Daniel Bethlehem dated 13 and 14 May 2009. The note of 14 May
responded to a request for clarification.]
Note of 13 May 2009
“1. On 12 May the Foreign Secretary raised the Binyam Mohamed legal case with Hillary
Clinton. Clinton was accompanied by Dan Fried (Assistant Secretary, State Department)
and Tobin Bradley (NSC); the Foreign Secretary by Nigel Sheinwald, Ian Bond and me.
2. The Foreign Secretary said that the Court had questioned the continuing non-release of
the US documents in the case given (1) the arrival of the Obama Administration, and (2) the
release of the 4 DoJ memos. The Court had said it could not see how, in the light of the
publication of these memos, anything in the US papers could be regarded as sensitive.
3. The Foreign Secretary said that the British Government would continue to make the case
that it continued to be an inviolable principle of intelligence co-operation that we did not give
away other peoples secrets, and that doing so would cause serious harm to the UK/US
intelligence relationship.
4. Clinton (who was clearly well aware of the case and the associated issues) said that the
US position had not changed, and that the protection of intelligence went beyond party or
politics. The US remained opposed to the UK releasing these papers. If it did so it would
– 4 –
affect intelligence sharing. This would cause damage to the national security of both the US
and UK.
5. Bradley said that this was also the position of the White House. They appreciated that this
left the British Government in a difficult position…

It is worth noting that yet again Bethlehem advised that the law supported the perpetrators of the most vile abuses of human rights, and yet again the most senior courts were to disagree with him.

It comes therefore as no great surprise that, having now left the FCO, Bethlehem is currently Legal Adviser to the vicious despotism of Bahrain. Sir Daniel Bethlehem – pillar of the British Establishment and a serial servant of evil. Sir Daniel Bethlehem advises that the invasion of Iraq was legal, the cover-up of complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohammed was legal, the Israeli Wall was legal, and the repression in Bahrain is legal.

Young lawyers take note; if you want to have a sword rested on your shoulder by an odd horsey woman, make sure your view of legal right never supports the oppressed, never defends the victim. There is a fat living in evil.

101 thoughts on “The Appalling Sir Daniel Bethlehem

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  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella)

    @ Craig :

    Craig, there’s something about your introductory post that puzzles me.

    It is a fact that Daniel Bethlehem took over as Principal Legal Adviser at the FCO in 2006, ie, well after the (2nd) Iraq war.

    Your post however gives the strong impression that Jack Straw replaced the Principal Legal Adviser JUST BEFORE the war started (because legal opinion in the FCO was that the war would be illegal) and appointed Bethlehem because he could be counted on to affirm the legality of that war.

    Was that just slightly careless drafting?

  • craig Post author


    It is not intended to give that impression and indeed it does not say that. Starw’s attempt to remove Michael Wood came out at the Chilcott inquiry and was detailed on this sie (I expect you can find it in the search box). Bethlehem was appointed by Straw because he supported the Iraq War while all the internal candidates thought it illegal. Those are the salient facts. The precise relationship to the start date of the war is not relevant to them.

  • craig Post author

    Julian kavanagh

    It is scarcely original to describe Princess Anne as odd and horsey. I think that if you asked the general population to name an “odd horsey woman”, Princess Anne would be the overwhelming response.

    It is hardly a searing insult. You may be surprised to know I actually rather like her; if you read Chapter 2 of Murder in Samarkand you will find why.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella)

    All clear Craig!

    I think your lead-in post as well as your response to mine would have benefited from the judicious use of the pluperfect (eg, …was appointed because he HAD supported the Iraq war whereas the internal candidates HAD not…).

    Were Straw’s attempts to remove Michael Wood contemporaneous with the build-up to the war (I assume this was the case, but it’s not entirely clear textually)?

  • Clark

    Habbabkuk, 15 Feb, 8:50 pm:

    “During this period he plead for the UK at the International Court of Justice and the International Law of the Sea Tribunal. He also plead for Malaysia, Belgium and Israel at the International Court of Justice, for Turkey at the International Court for Human Rights and for the USA at the Iran-USA Claims Tribunal.”

    “Plead for” seems a bit odd. Would this be better translated to “he represented [parties xyz]”, or “he advocated on behalf of [xyz]”, or something else?

  • nevermind

    ‘Stood up for’ would be my direct translation, Clark, but the first part of the sentence referred to ‘Heimatland’ a term without suitable translation, the nearest being Fatherland’ or ‘Vaterland’ respectively, but I won’t quibble with the overall rough translation of Habbakuk.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!)

    @ Nevermind :

    Well, I don’t think my translation is all that rough actually. 3stood up for” might well be the direct translation, but it’s not the expression one would use for court proceedings (“he stood up for the UK at the ICJ”? – absurd!)

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