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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  • YouKnowMyName

    from somewhere else on the Web today

    “Il est défendu de tuer; tout meurtrier est puni, à moins qu’il n’ait tué en grande compagnie, et au son des trompettes; c’est la règle.”

    It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in a big gang and to the sound of trumpets; it is the rule. (François-Marie Arouet a.k.a. Voltaire)

  • writeon

    This piece requires a bit of effort. It’s an attempt to reveal the philosophical and intellectual basis of American and western fascism, in the modern version, not the overtly militaristic forms linked to Mussolini and Hitler, but liberal fascists in business suits.

    It’s interesting that it deals with the same ideas as Bethlehem uses to justify the war on Iraq, that is, the concept of ‘natural rights’ or just ‘right’, the ‘right’ of the powerful to do what the fuck they want to get what they want, up to and including genocide. So ‘right’ is the idea linking Bethlehem and Leo Strauss, the guru who educated many of the leading US neo-cons, or, as some people call them, neo-nazis.


  • Mary

    ‘Following his meeting at Number 10, Mr Netanyahu met members of the parliamentary Friends of Israel groups.

    [..]Around 120 MPs, from all parties, and members of the House of Lords attended the meeting.’

    What? Only 120? Where were all the others?

    David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu announce package worth millions to boost UK-Israel trade
    Marcus Dysch, September 10, 2015

  • John Goss

    Thanks for sharing the Cage report on prosecuting torturers Giyane. I know that the UK secret services have made it very difficult through the banks for Cage to operate. All this was implemented at a time when Moazzam Begg was arrested and wrongfully imprisoned again, his own bank accounts frozen. Moazzam Begg does not support Assad. Like the west he would like to see him overthrown. As to torture our mutual one-sided special relationship with the US does not give Cameron the right to have Shaker Aamer released from Guantanamo. He said last year he was doing everything to organise Shaker’s release. What a lying toad the murderer is!

    As to Cameron’s murders Reprieve is questioning whether there was any legal basis. This is a charity that really can be supported while knowing that your contribution will be put to the best use.


  • Suhayl Saadi

    Now the UK establishment is arguing that ISIS has manufactured and used chemical weapons, yet just a couple of years ago, they and their propagandists in the media (so-called ‘experts’) were arguing that it was ‘impossible’ for the so-called ‘rebels’ to have used chemical weapons and that it had to have been the Syrian regime whom, again fro propaganda purposes, they have continued to personify as, ‘Assad’ (as in the constant use of ‘Saddam’ wrt Hussein of Iraq).

    As I mentioned before, in 2013 I was verbally attacked when I questioned their narrative. There are some very loud and ‘well-respected’ people – possibly agents of influence – who have been bellowing for some years for an attack on Syria by NATO. They often appear on programmes like the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’.

    I suspect they will use this now to destroy the remaining infrastructure of Syria and take out the Syrian Government and the Syrian Army under the pretext of attacking ISIS.

    There is a reason why most of the internal refugees in Syria have taken shelter in Government-controlled areas (even the BBC admits this). It would tend to suggest something counter to the entire propaganda narrative that has been spun in the West over the past four years.

    All sides have committed atrocities, and possibly all sides have committed chemical weapons atrocities. But if the reports of chemical weapons use are accurate and if the so-called ‘rebels’ have been responsible, why is no-one publicly questioning the earlier assumption?

    Furthermore, the propaganda that this has been primarily a sectarian conflict is inaccurate in the sense that both the Syrian Army and the Baath Party are peopled mainly by Sunnis. The sectarianism largely has come from one side.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    “MPs that voted for war, never mind the various media stooges that agitated for the same, had a particular duty to know they were entirely correct in doing so. “We were misled! We got it wrong! We trusted the ‘intelligence’!” – not to mention “I was just following orders!” – that is not a legitimate defence.

    _We_ knew Iraq was no threat. We knew that for sure, yet we were called dupes, cowards, liars, Saddam-lovers, terrorist lovers, Britain-haters, traitors, the lot. The brave Yanks who opposed the war over in the US got it even worse.” Glenn, 1:27am today.

    Absolutely. Yet now I’ve read several books in which the voices of the millions – and those inside the establishment – who knew the whole thing was deliberately bogus and more importantly, said so – are forgotten and it is suggested that there were ‘just whispers’ against an attack. This is a pernicious and strategic revisionism.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    R4’s Today this morning was suddenly concerned about chemical weapons in Syria. IS have been using vesicants – possibly mustard – and there have been frequent, if lightly-substantiated, allegations that Assad has been using chlorine, allegedly in ‘chlorine barrel bombs’. It will be remembered by Propaganda 01 students that (improvised) barrel bombs are bad because they explode and kill people, wholly unlike any weapon manufactured in industrial quantities by major nations and sold to their democracy-loving friends in the Gulf. And chlorine barrel bombs, assuming they exist, would be illegal, wholly unlike targeted assassinations on someone else’s territory.

    So it looks like we’ll be attacking Assad after all. What it doesn’t look like is that anyone has a coherent plan, assuming this, and the elimination of IS, are in any way successful, for reconstructing the smouldering remains of Syria under a government that is even slightly less morally reprehensible than either Assad or IS.

    As For Argyll remarks, once bitten…


  • John Goss

    Thanks Mary for the other Reprieve report. The government does not know what its justification for the drone strikes that killed two UK citizens is. The UN is useless as an organ for delivering international justice and Cameron should be taken before a court and tried for murder. As I have said many times before, we elect governments, we elect MPs, but the recent trend since and including Tony Blair’s War on Iraq, is to strike first and attempt to justify the legality afterwards. Well, not in my name. I believe in democracy (in the old sense of the word), not dictatorship.

  • Anon1

    “I’ve just discovered it is Bashar al Assad’s 50th birthday today. So all together . . .”

    Hey, hey, Bashar A,
    How many kids did you kill today?

  • fred

    “If one excuse doesn’t work for extra-judicial murders, then try another;”

    As I said at the start of the thread, two killings have to be justified in two different legal systems, international law and domestic UK law, the laws are different so the justifications are different, both worked.

  • Macky

    Anon1; “How many kids did you kill today?”

    Where was your stomach churning hypocritic concern for kids during the Israeli bloodbaths in Gaza ? Oh yes I remember, you were busy trying to justify the mass murder of children.

    You are a discredited vile racist & disgusting hypocrite, yet have the chutzpah to post here & expect people to take your comments seriously.

  • Macky

    Fred; “the laws are different so the justifications are different, both worked.”

    Back in the real world, shifting from one dubious legal justification to another, tends to confirm illegality, but Fred knows better than the lawyers that work at various Human Rights groups.

    Did you spot this Fred; “Last September, MPs approved British participation in air strikes against IS targets in Iraq only.” ?

  • Anon1

    Calm down Macky. If you remember during the last Gaza incursion I said that Israel had gone too far on that occasion.

    Now where are you on Bashar Assad’s mass-murder of children?

  • Jon

    Glenn – are positions on this are closer than you think. An open court ought to discover all of the prior knowledge that you and Suhayl describe. A good prosecution would demonstrate that warmongers perhaps cannot hide behind “following orders” and “we were lied to” defences, and would use legal mechanisms to do so.

    My purpose is to provide some counterbalance to one of the themes below the line on this site, namely that politicians deemed to have engaged in criminal activity can just be summarily jailed, or expelled from the ruling party, or whatever. I am sure there is precedent for those actions in times of lawlessness and revolution, and perhaps they have their place when overthrowing fascism for example, but otherwise I think due process should be afforded to even the most egregious offences.

    Our main point of disagreement is on capital punishment. I do not support that under any circumstances. I criticised the US puppet administration in Iraq when they hanged Saddam Hussein, and I’d similarly not support the execution of our own war criminals, even after due process. The state is powerful enough – as we are too well aware on this site – without granting it the right to kill an unarmed and handcuffed person.

  • fedup

    Anon1; “How many kids did you kill today?”

    You are a discredited vile racist & disgusting hypocrite, yet have the chutzpah to post here & expect people to take your comments seriously

    Macky it has no shame so we believe! Alas the fact is this digesting vile specimen shows its utter contempt for the rest of us and the blog by supposing; we have the memory of a gold fish and will not remember it’s past “efforts” to whitewash the mass murder of Palestinians and theft of their lands.

    It’s kind keep spamming the net about; “Palestinian parents push their children under the tank tracks and in the path of bullets to make the zionist parasites look bad”!

  • fedup

    Jon you seem to portray the tenure in Parliament to be the right of those involved in voting for Iraq war. Fact is now everyone but the blind dog in the fish quay know that Iraq war was based an absolute lie and a huge waste of resources as well as the cause of deaths of millions of Iraqis and even more millions of Iraqi refugees, not forgetting our own dead soldiers, maimed soldiers and others returned with PTDS.

    Based on this patent fact, those “members of the said parliament” whom voted for the war have a proven track record of being woefully inadequate in making the correct decisions, and risk assess any potentially risky situation.

    won’t you agree that based on the above these “members of parliament” should not be sitting there in the parliament and ought to make way for others who are capable of making the correct decisions? Or do you think this proposition too is an infringement on the said proven failures’ rights and ultimately unlawful?


    (I am taking a leaf out of JSD comments) 🙂

  • N_

    Many thanks @Fedup and @Node for info about the cube – I will look up some more about it.

    That’s a different kind of weapon from white noise. Reminds me a bit of the US use of an audio weapon against the Vatican embassy in Panama. (Noriega was captured but Zionist crook Mike Harari escaped.)

  • N_

    From the British government’s press release on Cameron’s meeting with Netanyahu:

    They agreed that cyber security was a vital issue, and that it had to be considered both in terms of threats and opportunities. They agreed to collaborate further, with a new package of co-operation covering training and joint exercises to prepare against cyber attacks. The UK will send a cyber business delegation to Israel in December to further strengthen this co-operation.

    What kind of security is it to hand a country’s cyber defence over to a foreign power with which there is not even a formal military alliance?

    Hey, do we think any MP is going to catch the eye of John Bercow and ask that question? Maybe the Right Honourable Flying Pig, of his party’s No Friends of Israel group might ask, eh? You know, put Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon on the spot?

    Either that, or the Hill Palace of Westminster is owned by the Lobby.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    TY, N_. Also in that:

    On the Middle East, both leaders reiterated their commitment to a 2 state resolution as the only way to secure lasting peace in the Middle East, and the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of improving daily life for the people of Gaza, for example through better power and water supplies and facilitating travel in and out of Gaza.

    To which Bibi responded, “Sure, sure. What you said. Maybe. When hell should cool down a bit, perhaps. But you better fix Syria first, bitch.”

  • Jon

    Fedup, I should be happy for any MPs proven to have engaged in a crime to be disqualified from office and jailed if appropriate. My original point was that we should first look at unelected individuals in the deep state – who created the lies in the first place. Blair belongs in jail, and is very culpable indeed, but even he is a patsy.

    I am not attempting to exonerate politicians – just pointing out that sometimes you attribute to them too much power. I too would like to see an example made of people who knowingly carried out these crimes – but in accordance with the law.

  • Charles McGregor

    Since as part of the acquis, the death penalty is strictly prohibited for EU member states, where does that leave the UK?

    Whether it is considered ‘self defence’ justified assassination or extra judicial execution, Can the UK remain a member state of the EU if it is killing EU citizens in a deliberate and premeditated manner ?

  • Ba'al Zevul

    Blair belongs in jail, and is very culpable indeed, but even he is a patsy.

    Indeed. Increasingly, his movements suggest that he is HMG’s Deniable Envoy to Shitty Regimes. Not that I think for a moment that he is an unwilling one, since he scores from every contact. His presence at the Chinese WW2 celebrations, which our PM, along with other Western leaders for whom the contact would have been a bad PR move, ostentatiously did not attend, appears to have been the latest. ‘An Apology’ thread refers.

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