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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
US 'swayed Iraq war law advice'
Lord Goldsmith
The attorney general stands by his view that the war was lawful
The attorney general was swayed by the Americans when he decided the Iraq war was legal, a former minister has said after new details were published.

Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle claimed the new papers showed the US had "decisive input" on Lord Goldsmith's advice.

Lord Goldsmith published his full legal advice last year amid speculation he was leaned on by Tony Blair to state the invasion was legal.

The latest documents were released under the freedom of information act.

They show how the top law officer arrived at his controversial advice that the war was legal, suggesting he paid particular attention to views of US officials.

Lord Goldsmith's opinion on the legality of the war was published last year following a series of leaks.

Law officers' advice is normally kept secret but Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who polices freedom of information laws, said it was an exceptional case.

He told Lord Goldsmith to give more details of how he reached his opinion.

Lord Goldsmith responded by publishing a new statement earlier on Thursday setting out how he decided the legality of the war, and whether a new UN Security Council resolution was needed.

Downing Street said there was nothing very new in the statement.

Military's fears

Critics of the war say Lord Goldsmith changed his mind between giving private advice to Tony Blair on 7 March 2003 and publicly stating the war was legal 10 days later.

On 11 March, the chief of the defence staff demanded a "black-and-white" statement saying troops would be acting legally.

The new statement says Lord Goldsmith took account of information from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Foreign Office lawyers, British ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock and the US government about negotiations at the UN.

it seems to be confirmed that Britain was taken to war on the basis of decision-making that was largely informal and oral
Philippe Sands QC
Author, Lawless World

Mr Straw, Sir Jeremy and US officials told him a further decision from the UN Security Council was not needed, says the statement.

But it does not mention whether the Foreign Office lawyers agreed. Deputy legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned over the issue.

The statement also suggests arguments from the White House may have swayed Lord Goldsmith.

It says Lord Goldsmith concluded force could be used without a second UN resolution "after further reflection" following his 7 March advice.

He said he had particularly considered his talks with American officials and Sir Jeremy Greenstock.


Ex-Defence Minister Mr Kilfoyle said the statement suggested Lord Goldsmith had changed his advice.

"It appears to be at the behest of the Americans," he told the BBC News website.

"I'm sorry but I think he should have consulted international experts, not those who had a stake in this.

"I think it illustrates that the Americans had a decisive input in the final advice sent by the attorney general."

The information commissioner told Lord Goldsmith he could simply give a statement containing the new information, rather than publishing the original documents.

And he said "provisional information" or "counter-argument" did not have to be released.

Mr Kilfoyle complained that the result was a "sanitised timeline".

The papers also show how Lord Goldsmith asked Tony Blair for confirmation that he thought Iraq had again broken UN resolutions.

Conservative shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said: "Once again, this reinforces the view that the attorney general was misled by the prime minister."

'Political pressure'

The government has always rejected claims that the attorney general came under political pressure to say the war was legal.

But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: "There is nothing here to indicate that there were any new facts or intelligence on Iraqi WMD, or any new legal arguments, to justify the attorney-general's change of mind.

"The irresistible implication is that the change of mind was the result of political pressure."

Leading barrister Philippe Sands QC, author of the book Lawless World, said the limited amount of new information raised more questions than it answered.

"On this account it seems to be confirmed that Britain was taken to war on the basis of decision-making that was largely informal and oral, without records being kept," he argued.

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