Thursday, February 02, 2006

Yet More Memogate?

Professor Phillipe Sands QC, a professor of international law with intimate connections to Britain's Foreign Office's legal eagles, has a new edition of his book "Lawless World" out. In it, he alleges that he has seen a secret British Government memo of a two-hour meeting between Bush and Blair at the White House on January 31 2003 - nearly two months before the invasion - which:

reveals that Mr Bush made it clear the US intended to invade whether or not there was a second resolution and even if UN inspectors found no evidence of a banned Iraqi weapons programme.
The Guardian reports that the memo reveals:
· Mr Bush told the Mr Blair that the US was so worried about the failure to find hard evidence against Saddam that it thought of "flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft planes with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours". Mr Bush added: "If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach [of UN resolutions]".

· Mr Bush even expressed the hope that a defector would be extracted from Iraq and give a "public presentation about Saddam's WMD". He is also said to have referred Mr Blair to a "small possibility" that Saddam would be "assassinated".

· Mr Blair told the US president that a second UN resolution would be an "insurance policy", providing "international cover, including with the Arabs" if anything went wrong with the military campaign, or if Saddam increased the stakes by burning oil wells, killing children, or fomenting internal divisions within Iraq.

· Mr Bush told the prime minister that he "thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups". Mr Blair did not demur, according to the book.
Note that the bit about flying US spyplanes in UN colors and inviting retaliation is a serious allegation all on it's own. It would be the act of a rogue state, a breach of international law so serious as to invite censure and sanctions by the UN or Bush's appearance at the World Court (if he had ever signed the US up for it) were it proven.

Now, Prof Sands is not given to wild accusations nor is he some guy out in the cold. He talks to top Foreign Office lawyers and last year he exposed the doubts shared by those lawyers about the legality of the invasion in disclosures which eventually forced the prime minister to publish the full legal advice given to him by the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

However, as yet, there is no extant copy of the alleged memo. In such circumstances the story must be regarded as hearsay for now. Questions will no doubt be asked in the House and a copy of the memo will certainly gain any given reporter at a British newspaper a huge reward from his editor. Time will, I hope, tell.

Update Channel Four News in the UK says it's seen the memo. It aired a special report on it tonight on primetime in the UK.
Channel 4 News tonight reveals extraordinary details of George Bush and Tony Blair's pre-war meeting in January 2003 at which they discussed plans to begin military action on March 10th 2003, irrespective of whether the United Nations had passed a new resolution authorising the use of force.

Channel 4 News has seen minutes from that meeting, which took place in the White House on 31 January 2003. The two leaders discussed the possibility of securing further UN support, but President Bush made it clear that he had already decided to go to war.

...Also present at the meeting were President Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice and her deputy Dan Fried, and the President's Chief of Staff, Andrew Card. The Prime Minister took with him his then security adviser Sir David Manning, his Foreign Policy aide Matthew Rycroft, and and his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.
Channel Four News is a subsiduary of Independent Television News (ITN) and as such shares first place with the BBC as far as British broadcast news goes. I trust it. I regard this as yet another smoking gun.

Update Two BBC World News on PBS showed a segment from a BBC interview with Prof. Sands today. The interviwer asked if he was suggesting that Bush and Blair had broken the law and he replied:
I'm not suggesting it, I'm stating it unambiguously. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair breached international law and have taken themselves individually into the realm of the criminal.
Here's Prof. Sands bio from University College, London. "As a practicing barrister he has extensive experience litigating cases before the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, and the European Court of Justice. He frequently advises governments, international organisations, NGOs and the private sector on aspects of international law. In 2003 he was appointed a Queen's Counsel." He seems singularly well qualified to make that assessment.