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Context of 'February 26, 2008: British Official Orders Transcripts of Cabinet Discussions on Legality of Iraq Invasion Published'

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According to British Foreign Minister Robin Cook, Home Secretary David Blunkett asks where Britain had obtained the “legal authority” to invade Iraq. [Sunday Times (London), 10/5/2003; Independent, 10/6/2003; Cook, 8/2/2004]

Entity Tags: David Blunkett

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith and Solicitor-General Harriet Harman warn British Prime Minister Tony Blair that a preemptive war against Iraq, without UN backing, would violate international law and could potentially result in Britain being hauled before the International Criminal Court. [Financial Times, 10/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Peter Henry Goldsmith, Harriet Harman, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

British Attorney General Lord Goldsmith issues a statement that the use of force against Iraq would be legal, citing three UN resolutions. But a month earlier, Goldsmith warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair that an invasion could be illegal without a second UN resolution, and that resolution never passed. [Associated Press, 2/28/2004; BBC, 2/29/2004; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 2/29/2004; Independent, 2/29/2004] It is later revealed that his change in opinion was a result of pressure from top British officials after senior British military officers had warned Downing Street that they would not participate in the war unless they were certain that neither they nor their men could eventually be tried for war crimes. [Observer, 2/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Peter Henry Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

During a joint press conference with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a Reuters reporter asks both leaders whether comments made by Sir Richard Dearlove, recorded in the minutes of a July 23 British cabinet meeting (see July 23, 2002), were accurate. According to the minutes, Dearlove said that the “intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy [of regime change].” Responding to the question, Blair insists that the facts were not fixed “in any shape or form at all.” Bush’s response, however, does not answer the question. Instead, he addresses another issue that was raised by the Downing Street minutes. The minutes, along with several other recently published Downing Street documents, called into question the Bush administration’s claim that the decision to use military force against Iraq did not take place until shortly before the invasion began. In his response to the reporter’s question, Bush chooses to discuss this issue instead. “And somebody said, ‘Well, you know, we had made up our mind to go to use military force to deal with Saddam.’ There’s nothing farther from the truth… [Saddam Hussein] made the decision.” Significantly, neither Bush nor Blair, in their responses, attempt to challenge the authenticity of the memo. [New York Times, 6/8/2005; US President, 6/13/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]

Entity Tags: Blair administration, Cabinet Office (Britain), Claire Short, Peter Henry Goldsmith, Tony Blair, Richard Thomas

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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