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English Judge Says Invasion of Iraq by U.S. and U.K. Unlawful

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Lord Bingham, one of the English-speaking world’s most famous judges, just went into retirement, and used the occasion of his first public speech to lambast the Bush and Blair Administrations over their joint decision to invade Iraq. The Guardian reports:

Contradicting head-on [the advice of Lord Peter Goldsmith, Blair’s attorney general] that the invasion was lawful, Bingham stated: “It was not plain that Iraq had failed to comply in a manner justifying resort to force and there were no strong factual grounds or hard evidence to show that it had.” Adding his weight to the body of international legal opinion opposed to the invasion, Bingham said that to argue, as the British government had done, that Britain and the US could unilaterally decide that Iraq had broken UN resolutions “passes belief”.

Governments were bound by international law as much as by their domestic laws, he said. “The current ministerial code,” he added “binding on British ministers, requires them as an overarching duty to ‘comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations’.”

Bingham’s remarks reflect the emerging consensus in the international law community that the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by America and Britain was contrary to international law. At the time of the invasion, many prominent figures were prepared to accept at face value American claims of an imminent threat from Iraq based on evidence of the existence of WMDs. Almost six years later, that support has been eviscerated—not by disclosure that there were no WMDs, as by disclosures suggesting that the intelligence American and British authorities had at the time never supported their claims.

Note that this does not mean that the American presence in Iraq today is unlawful. It was authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution in June 2004, which meets the concerns that Bingham addressed. In Britain the political configuration on the war issue clashes with that in the United States: Conservatives push for a probe into the launch of the war, and the left-leaning Labour Party opposes these efforts.

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