WE are still waiting to know what advice the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, gave to Tony Blair and the Cabinet about the legality of the war in Iraq. It is known that he changed his opinion at some stage but it may be 30 years before the relevant documents are released. In the meantime another case of questionable advice from the Attorney General has arisen from the leak of an e-mail containing his opinion on whether British servicemen and women in Iraq should be subject to the Geneva Convention or the Human Rights Act in treatment of their prisoners.

There have been many shocking events in Iraq but the ill-treatment of prisoners by an occupying force is particularly heinous; more than 60 allegations of abuse of prisoners by the British army are currently under consideration. It is therefore extraordinary to discover from the leaked document that Lord Goldsmith advised the Army that “pragmatism” and the Geneva Convention, rather than the higher standard of the European Convention of Human Rights, should form the basis of the treatment of Iraqis under interrogation. This advice ran counter to the opinion of the Army's senior lawyer, Col Nicolas Mercer, who believed that the Human Rights Act not only protected the suspect being questioned but would also prevent abuses for which British troops might subsequently be prosecuted. Col Mercer was overruled but the question remains of whether in giving his advice Lord Goldsmith's acted as a lawyer or a politician.


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