An interesting exchange of letters between former defence minister and Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle and a Labour party member found its way into my inbox this week.
A back bench opponent of the war, Kilfoyle appeared on the Today programme last month to repeat the oft-heard anti-war claim that the war in Iraq was illegal and that parliament had been misled.
I didn’t hear the show so I don’t know how much of a rough ride he received from the Today presenters but he certainly wasn’t let off the hook by Labour Party member Ian Hunt who got in touch with him and challenged his assertions.
Click below to read the full exchange of emails:
19 July 2003
Dear Mr Kilfoyle
I heard you on the ‘Today Programme’, yesterday, in which you and the ‘Today Programme’ took the opportunity, once again, to attack the Government on the stance taken on Iraq and the Prime Minister on his speech given before Congress in the USA.
You also mentioned your belief in Labour values. Labour values are written on the back of the membership card and are as follows:-
“We believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
I wonder if you could explain how the Government’s decision to stand alongside our US allies to rid the world of a brutal, destabalizing tyrant who used his vast wealth to build monuments to himself while the ordinary people of Iraq suffered; to work with our allies and the Iraqi people to establish a democratic system of government in that country; to work to bring stability to the Middle East and end the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and to endeavour to free us all from the threat of terrorism – is contrary to Labour values?
In a widely reported speech, Robin Cook MP once called for a “foreign policy with an ethical dimension”. Is the ousting of Saddam’s murderous and destabalizing regime not consistent with such a call?
I am puzzled as to why we seem eager to call for legal action to be taken against our own Prime Minister and yet the long list of Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity and his persistent failure to comply with UN resolutions, or give assurances that he was not a threat, is almost forgotten? With the probability of Saddam Hussein’s brutality and instability being followed by even greater brutality and instability from his sons, isn’t it likely that military action would have been necessary at some stage?
Rather than engaging in a long period of fruitless wrangling, then, wouldn’t it be better for us now to honour the victims of Saddam’s regime of terror – and the sacrifice made by coalition troops and innocent Iraqi civilians in his overthrow – and encourage and support the constructive work being undertaken with the people of Iraq to bring hope, peace and stability both to Iraq and to other nations in that region?
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Copy of reply from Peter Kilfoyle MP
25 July 2003
Dear Mr. Hunt,
1. We were told that we were in imminent danger from Weapons of Mass Destruction. That was the key – and misleading – argument.
2. The war was illegal. There is no Labour principle supporting “might is right”, any more than supporting a murderous despot.
Peter Kilfoyle MP
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29 July 2003
Dear Mr Kilfoyle
Thank you for your letter of 25 July 2003 regarding Iraq. In response to your two points I have now looked through the following items:-
UN Resolution 1441; the Policy Commission update on Iraq of 27 January 2003; the Foreign Secretary’s statement on Iraq of 28 January 2003 and his statements to the UN on 5 February 2003 and 14 February 2003; the Prime Minister’s speech of 15 February 2003; information about Iraq from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – dated 17 March 2003; the House of Commons motion on Iraq of 18 March 2003; the Prime Minister’s House of Commons speech of 18 March 2003; a letter sent by the Prime Minister to Labour members on 20 March 2003 and information about Iraq from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office – dated 6 May 2003.
With regard to your first point, the main arguments from these items seem to be that:-
Saddam Hussein’s history of non-compliance with UN resolutions on the issue of WMD, and his willingness in the past to use such weapons, posed a threat to international peace and security.
The UN had warned Iraq that it would face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.
Saddam Hussein’s regime had not accounted for missing WMD nor provided evidence of their destruction and it had not co-operated fully nor complied fully with Resolution 1441.
International failure to enforce UN resolutions with regard to Iraq at this time would undermine the authority of the UN and lead to Saddam Hussein, and other tyrants and terrorists, being strengthened and emboldened to pose even greater threats to international peace and security in the future.
The Iraqi regime had engaged in a sustained campaign of repression against its own people and more Iraqis would continue to be tortured and killed if the regime remained in power.
Provision needed to be made to protect Iraq’s territorial integrity and allow the Iraqi people to benefit from its natural resources.
Efforts needed to be made which would lead to a representative government in Iraq.
Efforts needed to be made which would lead to a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and peace and security in the wider Middle East.
As I can see no mention in these items that “we were in imminent danger from Weapons of Mass Destruction”, I wonder if you could provide evidence which supports your statement that this was the key argument?
On your second point, the House of Commons motion on Iraq on 18 March 2003 was carried by an overwhelming majority (Ayes 412, Noes 149). Information from the Foreign & Commonwealth office dated 6 May 2003 includes the following:
“Authority to use force against Iraq derived from the combined effects of UNSCRs 678, 687 and 1441; and all of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security.
The Attorney General set out his views on the legal basis for force against Iraq on 17 March (please see: www.pmo.gov.uk/output/Page3301.asp).”
In addition, the Attorney General confirmed, in a BBC interview on 11 June 2003, that the conflict was justified under international law and that nothing had happened since the war to change his mind.
The Attorney General has stated:
“As is very clear, the UN resolutions involved the Security Council unanimously deciding last November that there was a threat to peace and security – that is why they passed resolution 1441.
“The resolution also made clear Iraq was in breach of UN decisions and that it had a final opportunity provided it fully cooperated – and it did not.”
I wonder, then, if you could provide evidence which supports your statement that the war was illegal?
You also say that there is no Labour principle supporting “might is right”. The Policy Commission update on Iraq, endorsed by the NEC, contains the following statement:- “the principles of international law can only be credible if they are enforced, and failure to do so can only undermine the authority of the UN itself.” As Labour also seems to accept the need for a Ministry of Defence (of which you were once Minister) does Labour not then accept that in some circumstances military action, sadly, is necessary and that in such instances, therefore, might is needed to enforce right?
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Copy of reply from Peter Kilfoyle MP
4 August 2003
Dear Mr. Hunt,
Thank you for your letter of 29 July. I am very sorry, but I am unable to indulge in protracted correspondence with you.
1. The simple fact remains that parliament and people were led to believe that we were in imminent danger of attack by WMD from Iraq. We were not. There are no such weapons, evidently. Nor could they be “launched” in 45 minutes.
2. Pre-emptive war is a new, American, concept. Regime change is ruled out under the United Nations charter. Ergo, the American war was outside of that charter, and America being under no threat, could not be described as self-defence.
Philadelphia lawyers – even from Muswell Hill – have no locus in what is a simple case of right and wrong.
Peter Kilfoyle MP
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8 August 2003
Dear Mr Kilfoyle
Thank you for your further reply of 4 August 2003. With regard to your first point, I’m not sure that you have provided the evidence to support your statements that I asked for. For example, could you indicate particular speeches in the House of Commons that advocated military action because “we were in imminent danger of attack by WMD from Iraq”? As I outlined in my last letter to you, none of the items I looked through seemed to include any such reference. I am still not clear, then, how you have concluded that this was the key argument and that we were misled.
On your second point, the Attorney General has set out his views on the legal basis for force against Iraq as follows:
“Authority to use force against Iraq exists from the combined effect of resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. All of these resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which allows the use of force for the express purpose of restoring international peace and security:
1. In resolution 678 the Security Council authorised force against Iraq, to eject it from Kuwait and to restore peace and security in the area.
2. In resolution 687, which set out the ceasefire conditions after Operation Desert Storm, the Security Council imposed continuing obligations on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction in order to restore international peace and security in the area. Resolution 687 suspended but did not terminate the authority to use force under resolution 678.
3. A material breach of resolution 687 revives the authority to use force under resolution 678.
4. In resolution 1441 the Security Council determined that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of resolution 687, because it has not fully complied with its obligations to disarm under that resolution.
5. The Security Council in resolution 1441 gave Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations” and warned Iraq of the “serious consequences” if it did not.
6. The Security Council also decided in resolution 1441 that, if Iraq failed at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of resolution 1441, that would constitute a further material breach.
7. It is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply and therefore Iraq was at the time of resolution 1441 and continues to be in material breach.
8. Thus, the authority to use force under resolution 678 has revived and so continues today.
9. Resolution 1441 would in terms have provided that a further decision of the Security Council to sanction force was required if that had been intended. Thus, all that resolution 1441 requires is reporting to and discussion by the Security Council of Iraq’s failures, but not an express further decision to authorise force.”
As you can see, there is no mention here about regime change being the justification for the British military action taken in Iraq. I still wonder, then, on what reliable grounds you claim that this war was illegal?
Although no WMD seem yet to have been found, I wonder if you are satisfied that Saddam Hussein had complied fully with UN resolutions or that he had accounted for missing WMD or provided evidence of their destruction within the time limits set out by the international community? Given his willingness in the past to use such weapons, his long history of non-co-operation and his sponsorship of terrorism, do you believe that such a murderous despot should have been allowed still more time to prevaricate – with the focus of the international community, meantime, shifting elsewhere – or that he and his sons posed no threat to international peace and security?
Experience has taught me that the world is often a lot more complicated than any “simple case of right and wrong”, but I wonder if you believe that it would have been “right” to allow Saddam Hussein’s regime to continue to challenge the authority of the UN; to continue to pose a threat to international peace and security; to continue to engage in a sustained campaign of repression against its own people – with yet more Iraqis being tortured and killed; to continue to deprive the Iraqi people of the benefits of the natural resources of that country; to continue to deprive the Iraqi people of the opportunity to elect a representative government; to continue to destabilize the Middle East and to act as an obstruction to efforts being made to negotiate a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians? If you have put forward feasible alternatives to the course taken by the Prime Minister and the Labour Government, and which you think would have provided a lasting solution, then I shall be pleased to receive details of these.
Going back to my first letter to you of 19 July 2003, however, would it not now be constructive to honour the victims of Saddam’s atrocities and the casualties of the war, and to support the efforts being made to bring peace and security to the people of Iraq and other nations in the Middle East? Wouldn’t such a stance also be consistent with Labour values, as written on the back of the membership card?
(not a “Philadelphia lawyer”, merely a humble – but loyal and hardworking – Labour volunteer, No. A994994)