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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

You can contact John in the comments area or email him at j.rentoul@independent.co.uk

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"What do you mean by an 'illegal war'?"

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 06:51 pm


While I was on Radio 5 Live, suggesting to the BBC that its obsession with whether the Chilcot committee is "tough enough" betrays the antiwar assumption that its job is to unearth some guilty secret of Tony Blair's, presenter Nicky Campbell showed that some of its journalists at least are capable of impartiality. 

He asked Philippe Sands (right), who was on with me, the question that Nick Cohen asked in The Observer:

I am growing old and grey waiting for John Humphrys or Jon Snow to show a spark of journalistic life and ask Nick Clegg, Philippe Sands and all the rest of them the simple question: "What do you mean by an 'illegal war'?"

Sands's answer was to cite the report of the Dutch inquiry into its government's support for the Iraq invasion (in which Dutch forces did not take part). It is true that The Guardian reported: "Iraq war was illegal, Dutch panel rules." But that is not what the Dutch report says. You can read its conclusions, in English, here (pdf). Or the useful summary of the main points by the Iraq Inquiry Digest here.

It is a poorly-argued and tendentious document. It says in paragraph 7 that support for the invasion was "not consistent" with Dutch government policy of "neutralisation of the weapons of mass destruction" and that "it may therefore be said that the Dutch stance was to some extent disingenuous". I don't know what the Dutch for disingenuous is, but in English it is used by smart alecs when they want to accuse someone of lying but recognise - correctly - that the word is undignified.

However, its conclusion (paragraph 20) is that "the military action had no sound mandate under international law". (This was how the Dutch report was correctly reported by most of the antiwar media, including the BBC.) That is not the same as saying that it was illegal. That is an assertion that cannot be made, as Cohen suggested and Sands knows, because there is no court that can enforce one or other interpretation of UN Security Council resolutions.

The report therefore concludes that the Iraq invasion had the same standing in international law as the military action in Kosovo.

I paraphrase the Dutch report, and therefore Sands's answer to Cohen's question: "We did not agree with it."

Comments

How many Angels can you fit on the head of a pin, Mr Rentoul?
silenthunter2 wrote:
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 07:34 pm (UTC)
Which Labour Safe Seat are have you been promised? LOL

There can't be that many left.
Silent? ROFLMAO
quietzapple wrote:
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 07:57 pm (UTC)
How much innuendo can this fool bring to any forum?

As his prattleship has claimed there are no such things as safe Labour seats, and in the face of the once again declining tory lead that stance is "undignified," he reverts to type.

Not only was the war legal, so far as that was relevant, but it was wise.

Pity we cannot reprise Saddam and let him, Chemical Ali and their WMD programmes loose on obsessives like SH you know whom . . .
Illegality
brianbarder wrote:
Saturday, 23 January 2010 at 02:30 pm (UTC)
I'm puzzled by the proposition that an act may not be described as illegal unless and until a court endowed with the relevant authority has pronounced it so. We may all surely read the UN Charter, the relevant Security Council resolutions, and the opinions of numerous distinguished authorities on international law, and come to the only possible conclusion?
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