Perle says Iraq war illegal

The chickenhawks are continuing to crow (but only when out of the country), and the revelations are startling some. International lawyers and anti-war activists in London were stunned when one of the leading hawks–Richard Perle–said the invasion of Iraq was illegal.

Perle, formerly chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the Pentagon, which advised Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, jettisoned the official Bush-Blair line and told a London audience: “I think in this case, international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.”

President Bush has continued to claim the war was legal because of existing U.N. resolutions on Iraq, or as an act of self-defense allowed by international law.

The Guardian newspaper quoted Perle in its report as saying that “international law…would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone, and this would have been morally unacceptable.”

French opposition to the war, he said, meant there was no practical diplomatic way to deal with Saddam Hussein.

Perle spoke at an event presented by the Institute of Contemporary Arts at the Old Vic theatre in London. Perle proposed invading Iraq in the early 1990s, and the idea was picked up and included in the neo-conservative platform, the Project for the New American Century.

Perle’s remarks drew some criticism. “They’re just not interested in international law, are they?” said Linda Hugl, spokeswoman for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which started a legal challenge of the war last year. “It’s only when the law suits them that they want to use it.”

Rabinder Singh, who also took part in the program, said the British government “has never advanced the suggestion that it is entitled to act, or (has the) right to act, contrary to international law in relation to Iraq.”

Singh said Perle’s comments 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 U.N., then the defect is in international law.”

Some thought Perle displayed considerable candor in his remarks. “I think Perle’s statement has the virtue of honesty,” said Michael Dorf, law professor at Columbia University, who was against the war. “And, interestingly,” he said, “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.”

Perle declined to expand on his statements. He resigned his chairmanship of the policy board earlier this year, but remains a member of that advisory body.

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