Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iraq invasion was illegal: US hawk

PENTAGON ADVISOR Richard Perle said international law stood in the way of doing what was right because not taking on Saddam was 'morally unacceptable'


International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment on Wednesday after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal.

In a startling break with the official White House and London lines, Perle told an audience in London: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing."

US President George W. Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq -- also the British government's publicly stated view -- or as an act of self-defense permitted by international law.

But Perle, a key member of the defense policy board which advises US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, said that "international law ... would have required us to leave [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein alone," and this would have been morally unacceptable.

French intransigence, he added, meant there had been "no practical mechanism consistent with the rules of the UN for dealing with Saddam Hussein."

Perle, who was speaking at an event organized by the Institute of Contemporary Arts at the Old Vic theater in London, had argued loudly for the toppling of Saddam since the end of the 1991 Gulf war.

"They're just not interested in international law, are they?" said Linda Hugl, spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which launched a court challenge to the war's legality last year.

Perle's remarks bear little resemblance to official justifications for war, according to Rabinder Singh, the attorney who represented the UK's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and also participated in the event.

Certainly the British government, he said, "has never advanced the suggestion that it is entitled to act, or right to act, contrary to international law in relation to Iraq."

The Pentagon adviser's views, he added, underlined "a divergence of view between the British government and some senior voices in American public life [who] have expressed the view that, well, if it's the case that international law doesn't permit unilateral pre-emptive action without the authority of the UN, then the defect is in international law."

Perle's view is not the official one put forward by the White House.

Its main argument has been that the invasion was justified under the UN Charter, which guarantees the right of each state to self-defense, including pre-emptive self-defense.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has questioned that justification, arguing that the Security Council would have to rule on whether the US and its allies were under imminent threat.

Coalition officials countered that the Security Council had already approved the use of force in Resolution 1441, passed a year ago, warning of "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to give a complete accounting of its weapons programs.

"I think Perle's statement has the virtue of honesty," said Michael Dorf, a law professor at Columbia University who opposed the war, arguing that it was illegal.

"And, interestingly, I suspect a majority of the American public would have supported the invasion almost exactly to the same degree that they in fact did, had the administration said that all along," Dorf said.

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