Britain Is Pressured on Iraq Legal Briefs
By JANE WARDELL
The Associated Press
Saturday, February 28, 2004; 10:57 AM
LONDON - The government faced growing pressure Saturday to reveal legal briefs from its senior lawyer about the justification for war in Iraq.
Greenpeace, the environmental group, said it had demanded access to the advice so that it could defend 14 of its activists, who face charges as a result of a February 2003 anti-war protest.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's office has rebuffed previous calls for private advice to be released and a spokesman restated that position Saturday.
"The attorney-general's advice remains confidential because of the long-standing convention that advice to governments in office is not disclosed," the spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
The Greenpeace demands come after the collapse of a criminal trial against a British intelligence agency worker on Wednesday. Katharine Gun admitted she leaked a January 2003 document that disclosed an American request for British help in monitoring phones and e-mail traffic of U.N. Security Council members as the two countries sought council backing for war.
Prosecutors discontinued the case against Gun after her lawyers asked to see the legal briefs of Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to Blair's government. The British leader was the primary U.S. ally in the Iraq war.
Both countries said the main reason for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein was his alleged program that had made weapons of mass destruction.
No such weapons have been found since the war ended March 20.
Goldsmith told the House of Lords the decision to drop the case against Gun was made solely on legal grounds and "free from any political interference."
Kate Harrison, Greenpeace's legal adviser, said it was essential to the case of 14 activists to know the legal stand of the government's advisers at that time.
Greenpeace said it was disappointed with the government's rejection of its request and would seek the information through the courts at the trial of the 14 activists, scheduled to begin March 9.
Lord Goldsmith issued advice publicly on March 17, 2003, saying the use of force against Iraq was legal, based on three U.N. resolutions.
But Greenpeace alleges that declaration by Goldsmith differed from advice he gave the government privately a month earlier.
© 2004 The Associated Press