Former senior law lord condemns 'serious violation of international law'
• Richard Norton-Taylor
• guardian.co.uk, Tuesday November 18 2008 00.01 GMT
• The Guardian, Tuesday November 18 2008
One of Britain's most authoritative judicial figures last night delivered a blistering attack on the invasion of Iraq, describing it as a serious violation of international law, and accusing Britain and the US of acting like a "world vigilante".
Lord Bingham, in his first major speech since retiring as the senior law lord, rejected the then attorney general's defence of the 2003 invasion as fundamentally flawed.
Contradicting head-on Lord Goldsmith's advice that the invasion was lawful, Bingham stated: "It was not plain that
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'."
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continue to press for an independent inquiry into the circumstances around the invasion. The government says an inquiry would be harmful while British troops are in
Addressing the British Institute of International and Comparative Law last night, Bingham said: "If I am right that the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK, and some other states was unauthorised by the security council there was, of course, a serious violation of international law and the rule of law.
"For the effect of acting unilaterally was to undermine the foundation on which the post-1945 consensus had been constructed: the prohibition of force (save in self-defence, or perhaps, to avert an impending humanitarian catastrophe) unless formally authorised by the nations of the world empowered to make collective decisions in the security council ..."
The moment a state treated the rules of international law as binding on others but not on itself, the compact on which the law rested was broken, Bingham argued. Quoting a comment made by a leading academic lawyer, he added: "It is, as has been said, 'the difference between the role of world policeman and world vigilante'."
Bingham said he had very recently provided an advance copy of his speech to Goldsmith and to Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time of the invasion of
Both men emphasised that point last night by intervening to defend their views as consistent with those held at the time of the invasion. Goldsmith said in a statement: "I stand by my advice of March 2003 that it was legal for
Straw said last night that he shared Goldsmith's view. He continued: "However controversial the view that military action was justified in international law it was our attorney general's view that it was lawful and that view was widely shared across the world."
Bingham also criticised the post-invasion record of
Such breaches of the law, however, were not the result of deliberate government policy and the rights of victims had been recognised, Bingham observed.
He contrasted that with the "unilateral decisions of the
After referring to mistreatment of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Bingham added: "Particularly disturbing to proponents of the rule of law is the cynical lack of concern for international legality among some top officials in the Bush administration."
This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday November 18 2008 on p1 of the Top stories section. It was last updated at 10.37 on November 18 2008.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs