Thursday, February 01, 2007

Legal advice at any price

Is Tony Blair planning to go out with a bang in the shape of an unprovoked Anglo-America air attack on Iran? If he is, one thing is certain - he can count on the support of Lord Goldsmith, his Attorney-General. Goldsmith does what he is told by No.10 and will the provide legal cover required to justify attacking Iran. Before the invasion of Iraq, Goldsmith ignored international law and gave Blair the green light.

That, you will remember, led to the resignation of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office. Her letter of resignation did not mince words: "I cannot in conscience go along with advice ... which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression." Goldsmith was at it again before Christmas, this time over the planned prosecution for corruption of British executives in the bribes-to-Saudi affair. By all accounts, Blair leant on Goldsmith to declare that a prosecution would not succeed and the case was abandoned, much to the annoyance of the Serious Fraud Office.

The chances of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities are building by the day. In Washington, Blair’s White House co-conspirators have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Teheran over its alleged involvement in Iraq (a bit rich that, coming from a country with 160,000 troops in illegal occupation). Scott Ritter, the former UN inspector who proved before the 2003 invasion that Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction”, has joined the chorus of opposition to a an attack on Iran. Ritter laments the pathetic stance of the Democrats, who allowed Bush to invade Iraq and applauded Bush when he put Iran in the frame during his recent State of the Union address. Ritter warns: “As things currently stand, the Bush administration, emboldened with a vision of the unitary executive unprecedented in our nation's history, believes it has all of the legal authority it requires when it comes to engaging Iran militarily. The silence of Congress following the President's decision to dispatch a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf has been deafening.

The fact that a third carrier battle group (the USS Ronald Reagan) will probably join these two in the near future has also gone unnoticed by most, if not all, in Congress." Ritter says that just as Iraq has severely damaged the Republican Party, Iran would break the Democratic Party if it sat back and allowed Bush to proceed.

Not only that, such an attack would fatally undermine the substance of the American constitution which has separation of powers between the three branches of government at its heart. In Britain, parliamentary democracy has gone the way of the Dodo; in the United States, Congressional paralysis has created a White House that rules unchallenged and by decree. The case for transforming the existing political system in favour of an alternative, truly democratic set-up is irresistible on both sides of the Atlantic.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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