Exclusive: I Can Reveal the Legal Advice on Drone Strikes, and How the Establishment Works 364

This may be the most important article I ever post, because it reveals perfectly how the Establishment works and how the Red Tories and Blue Tories contrive to give a false impression of democracy. It is information I can only give you because of my experience as an insider.

It is a definitive proof of the validity of the Chomskian propaganda model. It needs a fair bit of detail to do this, but please try and read through it because it really is very, very important. After you have finished, if you agree with me about the significance, please repost, (you are free to copy), retweet, add to news aggregators (Reddit etc) and do anything you can to get other people to pay attention.

The government based its decision to execute by drone two British men in Syria on “Legal Opinion” from the Attorney-General for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright, a politician, MP and Cabinet Minister. But Wright’s legal knowledge comes from an undistinguished first degree from Exeter and a short career as a criminal defence barrister in Birmingham. His knowledge of public international law is virtually nil.

I pause briefly to note that there is no pretence of consulting the Scottish legal system. The only legal opinion is from the Attorney General for England and Wales who is also Honorary Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

So Jeremy Wright’s role is as a cypher. He performs a charade. The government employs in the FCO a dozen of the most distinguished public international lawyers in the world. When the Attorney-General’s office needs an Opinion on public international law, they ask the FCO to provide it for him to sign.

The only known occasion when this did not happen was the Iraq War. Then the FCO Legal Advisers – unanimously – advised the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, that to invade Iraq was illegal. Jack Straw asked the Attorney General to dismiss the FCO chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood (Goldsmith refused). Blair sent Goldsmith to Washington where the Opinion was written for him to sign by George Bush’s lawyers. [I know this sounds incredible, but it is absolutely true]. Sir Michael Wood’s deputy, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, resigned in protest.

In consequence Blair and Straw decided that, again for the first time ever, the FCO’s chief legal adviser had to be appointed not from within the FCO legal advisers, who had all declared the war on Iraq to be illegal, but from outside. They had to find a distinguished public international lawyer who was prepared to argue that the war on Iraq had been legal. That was a very small field. Blair and Straw thus turned to Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite lawyer, Daniel Bethlehem.

Daniel Bethlehem had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that it was all legitimate self-defence. He had also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal. Daniel Bethlehem is an extreme Zionist militarist of the most aggressive kind, and close to Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to the UK.

Daniel Bethlehem had developed, in his work for Israel, an extremist doctrine of the right of States to use pre-emptive self-defence – a doctrine which would not be accepted by the vast majority of public international lawyers. He clinched his appointment by Blair as the FCO chief legal adviser by presenting a memorandum to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in 2004 outlining this doctrine, and thus de facto defending the attack on Iraq and the Bush/Blair doctrine.

A key sentence of Daniel Bethlehem’s memorandum is this

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack.”

There is a fundamental flaw in this argument. How can you be certain that an attack in “imminent”, if you are not certain where or what it is? Even if we can wildly imagine a scenario where the government know of an “imminent” attack, but not where or what it is, how could killing someone in Syria stop the attack in the UK? If a team were active, armed and in course of operation in the UK – which is needed for “imminent” – how would killing an individual in Syria prevent them from going through with it? It simply does not add up as a practical scenario.

Interestingly, Daniel Bethlehem does not pretend this is accepted international law, but specifically states that

“The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats”

Bethlehem is attempting to develop the concept of “imminent” beyond any natural interpretation of the word “imminent”.

Daniel Bethlehem left the FCO in 2011. But he had firmly set the British government doctrine on this issue, while all FCO legal advisers know not to follow it gets you sacked. I can guarantee you that Wright’s Legal Opinion states precisely the same argument that David Bethlehem stated in his 2004 memorandum. Knowing how these things work, I am prepared to wager every penny I own that much of the language is identical.

It was New Labour, the Red Tories, who appointed Daniel Bethlehem, and they appointed him precisely in order to establish this doctrine. It is therefore a stunning illustration of how the system works, that the only response of the official “opposition” to these extrajudicial executions is to demand to see the Legal Opinion, when it comes from the man they themselves appointed. The Red Tories appointed him precisely because they knew what Legal Opinion would be given on this specific subject. They can read it in Hansard.

So it is all a charade.

Jeremy Wright pretends to give a Legal Opinion, actually from FCO legal advisers based on the “Bethlehem Doctrine”. The Labour Party pretends, very unconvincingly, to be an opposition. The Guardian, apparently the leading “opposition” intellectual paper, publishes articles by its staff neo-con propagandists Joshua Rozenberg (married to Melanie Phillips) and Rafael Behr strongly supporting the government’s new powers of extrajudicial execution. In summer 2012 Joshua Rozenberg presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Secret courts, drones and international law” which consisted mostly of a fawning interview with … Daniel Bethlehem. The BBC and Sky News give us wall to wall justification of the killings.

So the state, with its neo-con “opposition” and media closely in step with its neo-con government, seamlessly adopts a new power to kill its own subjects based on secret intelligence and secret legal advice, and a very weird definition of “imminent” that even its author admits to be outside current legal understanding.

That is how the state works. I do hope you find that helpful.

This article has been updated to reflect the fact the Daniel Bethlehem is now retired from the FCO.

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364 thoughts on “Exclusive: I Can Reveal the Legal Advice on Drone Strikes, and How the Establishment Works

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  • lucythediclonius

    Gadaffi was told off for doing this sort of thing back in the day I’ll see if I can dig up the clip .

  • MerkinOnparis

    I think you are right on the money as usual, Mr Murray.
    The proof will be in the extreme efforts of certain individuals to derail the discussion.

  • Magnus

    Why are you telling us here? Surely the ‘National’ would be interested either as an article or letter!


    Perhaps two or more comments were posted at the same time.

    Very fishy business this – and it deserves to be very widely disseminated.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Tempting to rope the Guardian in, I suppose, but it also publishes this:


    Columbia Law School digs deeper into the question of legality, and highlights official opacity as a means of blurring the legal issues:


    Michael Kearney, who is, unlike Wright, an expert weighs in for Vice. The definition of ‘imminent’ is certainly the weak point.


    And here’s Bethlehem obfuscating like a good ‘un. At the never-to-be released Chilcot enquiry:


  • Mary

    Via the network of course. He would have had a fee for the opinion obviously. Sole director. Calder and Co are accountants.

    Could have even given it for free for old time’s sake. 🙂

    ‘In parallel with his Bar practice, Daniel is also actively engaged in the foreign policy advisory field, as Director of Legal Policy International Ltd. (LPI). He is a member of the Advisory Council of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the Advisory Committee of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, and a Counsellor of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law. He has previously been a member of the Council of the British Branch of the International Law Association and of the Advisory Council the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. He has a long-standing affiliation with Columbia Law School in New York where he is a regular Visiting Professor of Law.

    Daniel is a Consulting Senior Fellow for Law and Strategy at The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).’

  • John Spencer-Davis

    Craig Murray
    09/09/2015 2:17pm

    I think this is a terrific post. Glad I am able to say that as I feel I have been something of a misery about your posts of late. I don’t hesitate to disagree with you but I feel much better when I can enthusiastically applaud.

    If you are presenting this post as a “definitive proof of the validity of the Chomskian propaganda model” I think it would have benefited from a short exposition of the model and then an explanation of how the posting ties to the model. Also, I wonder if an isolated case can perform such a stunning function because the model relies heavily on cumulative effect.

    Kind regards,


  • Mary

    The Bethlehem Doctrine! It should have its own Wikipedia page.

    Nothing to do with the place, the birthplace of Christ, now walled in.

    ‘Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall. So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.’

  • Republicofscotland

    The SNP have demanded sight of the intelligence that prompted the British government to carry out a extra-judicial killing, without trial, of a Scottish resident in Syria.

    The SNP said if the strike was truly an act of self defence then the British government shouldn’t have problem sharing the intel with us.

    David Cameron has been assured by the Attorney-General that such attacks are legal on the grounds of self defence. To add to it all Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, indicated more drone strikes could be launched in weeks to come.

  • Republicofscotland

    Wow, excellent article Craig.

    So the word imminent, is whatever they define it as, and they can also act on it as well, whilst the Red Tories masquerading as Labour, pretend to rail and complain.

    It reminds me of the elusive British Constitution, which is whatever they want it to be when they want it.

    Scotland must get shot of the ball and chain that is Westminster.

  • craig Post author

    I have deleted the helpful comments that pointed out and discussed the mistakes, as they have been corrected (and acknowledged). Thanks for the help.

  • fred

    I still don’t see how this is relevant to the latest drone strike. As I said in the previous post if those killed were armed combatants in a designated war zone, and it appears to me they were, then it is legal under international law to kill them. Otherwise every soldier killed on every battlefield throughout history would have been killed illegally. There is an armed conflict in the region in which Britain is participating as ally of the Iraqi and Kurdish people, how can it be illegal to kill members of the opposing army?

  • craig Post author


    Not even the British government is arguing that they were combatants in a conflict zone. The British government is specifically forbidden by parliament from engaging in armed conflict in Syria.

  • fred

    “Not even the British government is arguing that they were combatants in a conflict zone. The British government is specifically forbidden by parliament from engaging in armed conflict in Syria.”

    I addressed that point in the previous article too, the vote was against engaging in armed conflict against the forces of President Assad in Syria not against ISIS. It wouldn’t have any bearing on international law regarding this drone strike in any case.

  • craig Post author

    Fred, it is territorial. Can you imagine another country blasting Sauchiehall Street because they are at war with some group or other. The vote was against combat operations in the state of Syria – all of which, in legal terms, we regard as currently under the government of President Assad. You are advocating a position even more extreme than the governments. And which could only be true if we accepted ISIL as a sovereign state, which the UK assuredly does not.

  • ------------·´`·.¸¸.¸¸.··.¸¸Node

    Very little reference to a third victim of the drone strike. No reports identify him, and where he is mentioned, all agree that he wasn’t British. The Guardian, for example, claims “A third victim killed in the attack was also a member of Isis but was not British.” I don’t give much credence to a report which claims to know the background of someone it can’t identify. Maybe he was a taxi driver.

    Never mind the fine legal detail of whether the two Brits were an imminent threat to the UK. It is up to the British government to demonstrate that the third person was also an imminent threat to the UK or it is guilty of murder.

  • Ken

    “There is an armed conflict in the region in which Britain is participating as ally of the Iraqi and Kurdish people, how can it be illegal to kill members of the opposing army?”

    At a rough guess, I’d say because the UK Parliament voted against UK military action in Syria, Cameron ignored the vote and went ahead anyway.

  • Pan

    Mr Murray, I am sure everyone appreciates (or should appreciate) the hard evidence you have provided here, in support of what surely everyone here already understood in an instinctive or visceral way — i.e. how the tail (government) wags the dog (the law, security ‘services’ etc.) these days.

    David Bethlehem’s statement “The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats” is absolutely breathtaking — not because it comes as any surprise that that’s the way it’s all done, but that he should feel so secure whilst actually putting it in writing! No-one could write such a thing ‘officially’ without being 100% sure of the fact that they enjoy complete immunity from the ‘law’ themselves.

    All I can say is that this is precisely what my gut told me when I read that Theresa “Blooms wither at her passing” May had announced her proposed legal concept of “non-violent extremism” — that ‘they’ will find a way to make it so that just about ANYTHING anyone says or does (or is even accused of, without a shred of evidence) can be made by them to fit inside a definition of ‘extremism’ which is totally divorced from, and light years away from any reasonable or previously-imagined-possible definition of the word.

  • fred

    “Fred, it is territorial. Can you imagine another country blasting Sauchiehall Street because they are at war with some group or other. The vote was against combat operations in the state of Syria – all of which, in legal terms, we regard as currently under the government of President Assad. You are advocating a position even more extreme than the governments. And which could only be true if we accepted ISIL as a sovereign state, which the UK assuredly does not.”

    But that isn’t what the resolution said.


    It doesn’t look to me like the British government has any doubts at all as to the legality in international law and that they are only concerned with justifying it to Parliament and public opinion.

  • Tony_0pmoc


    Thanks very much for this, but have you any ideas re who if anyone can do anything to return our country to the rule of law?

    Everything we and the USA had since the Magna Carta and 1066 and all that has been blown away since 9/11. The US Patriot Act was obviously written before the event. All this had been planned in great detail.

    No one has had the influence, power and knowledge to even attempt to roll our civilisation back to a state of law.

    Nearly 1,000 years of law has been binned in less than 15 years by extremely evil powerful global forces.

    We are all just sat here bewildered – thinking are there any solutions before it gets considerably worse – because all the indications are that it will get much worse for our Children and Grandchildren.

    And as for “Can you imagine another country blasting Sauchiehall Street because they are at war with some group or other.”

    Absolutely – give it a few years. What about that “Terrorist” in the “no go” area of Oldham?? Why bother with a “suicide” or even a sniper – they will use the latest drone and do it from home at 3:00 am when on-call, and then go back to bed.

    Another One Bites The Dust.


  • Ishmael

    Sounds deep. Wouldn’t like to speculate on it’s significance. But it all feels like that final scene in Minority Report.

    So it’s the same doctrine/mechanism Cameron is using carried forward for Iraq. I’ll have to read though, stand back etc. But well done. I get the feeling exposing these mechanics is important.

    Has genuinely got me focused.

    ….Thing is, until someone does harm you don’t know do you? And, Can I preemptively target the state for execution based on the existence of a mechanism’s to kill me on suspicion. I think I have a better case that these killing machines exist and that is there job. Whereas i’m not acutely making cude explosives from easy to obtain over the counter products….They can come and look if they like.

  • Juteman

    I can’t believe Fred is actually trying to defend the UK on this.
    Actually i can believe it.
    UKOK, sieg hiel.

  • eddie-g

    One issue that slightly bothers me about this whole debate is the focus on drones. To me, it’s a diversion, a helpful one only for people wanting to avoid the critical legal and ethical questions. Because drones are the means of killing, and debating the use of drones doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

    Which is that the government has decided to carry out an extra-judicial execution. An assassination, by any sensible definition of the term.

    That’s what the legal and ethical debate is here. Not whether the government may use drones, but whether it may target British subjects (or foreigners) for killing. I find it pretty troubling that there might even be a debate about such a matter, but we should still encourage the pro-assassination clique to present their case.

  • TonyB

    Previous creative law making

    “Get some new lawyers.” (1999: Then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook on his assertion that the bombing of Balkan States was illegal under international law.*)

    also at http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/

    Posted by Keith-264 [Email User] on September 9, 2015, 5:31 pm


    Reich Justice Minister Franz Gürtner, a conservative who had been Bavarian Justice Minister in the years of the Weimar Republic, demonstrated his loyalty to the new regime by drafting the statute, which added a legal veneer to the purge.[j] Signed into law by Hitler, Gürtner, and Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, the “Law Regarding Measures of State Self-Defence” retroactively legalised the murders committed during the purge.[50] Germany’s legal establishment further capitulated to the regime when the country’s leading legal scholar, Carl Schmitt, wrote an article defending Hitler’s July 13 speech. It was named “The Führer Upholds the Law”.[51]

  • KingofWelshNoir

    The Bethlehem Doctrine explained:

    ‘When I use the word imminent,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ‘

  • eddie-g

    @Vronsky – probably some realise this, but the vast majority cheering them on surely do not. It’s the old authoritarian paradox, that they love the jackboot until it starts kicking them.

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