British MPs seek ICJ ruling on Iraq

27 Jul 2004

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LONDON, July 26: Forty British parliamentarians have asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to seek the opinion of the UN's International Court of Justice on the legality of the Iraq invasion, the Daily Mirror newspaper said on Monday.

It said that the cross-party group, which had written a letter to Annan dated July 20, believes Prime Minister Tony Blair's government breached the UN's charter when it joined the invasion of Iraq. The letter asked for an "advisory opinion" from the court in the Hague.

"Lots of people have concerns about the legitimacy of the war and it seems we do need to have clarification on this," said Alan Simpson, an MP from Blair's own ruling Labour party, who is leading the group.

The British public has long been suspicious of the motives behind the invasion of Iraq and a report earlier this month by former civil servant Lord Butler has given Blair's critics fresh ammunition to question his credibility.

Lord Butler cleared Mr Blair of distorting spies' assessments on Iraq but exposed faulty intelligence. He criticized Mr Blair's informal style of government and its closeness to secret agents.

The parliamentarians' letter to Annan said: "It is clear that, in Britain and the United States, war was justified on the basis of intelligence reports of current and serious threats from weapons of mass destruction, purportedly held by Iraq, all of which turned out to be without foundation."

"We look to the court for an advisory opinion on this war, not only to address the casualties and damage done to the people and country of Iraq, but also to offer clear guidelines for the future about the legality of pre-emptive wars."

MISSING PILOT: A team searching for a US pilot shot down over Iraq during the 1991 invasion has found no evidence he was ever held captive after his jet went down, and a general who once oversaw the search effort has concluded he is dead, US officials said on Monday.

But the Navy has not changed the official status of Capt. Michael Scott Speicher as "missing/captured," a designation reflecting the belief Iraqi forces may have taken him alive after his F/A-18C Hornet went down on Jan. 17, 1991, said Lt. Mike Kafka, a Navy spokesman.

The Iraq Survey Group, which is hunting for evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction but also seeking to determine Speicher's fate, has found "no evidence that he was ever held captive, which means ever being alive after the shoot down", said a defence official.

Another US official said there was "no indication" the Navy pilot survived after the Hornet went down. Speicher, from Jacksonville, Florida, was 33 when he disappeared. Army Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, who last month wrapped up a year as the military leader of the Iraq Survey Group, "personally believes that he (Speicher) is not alive", the defence official said.

The official said the Iraq Survey Group was expected to complete a report on Speicher in late September or early October, and that "it's still an open investigation." "The team is still looking. They're engaged. They continue to follow leads. But as every lead goes to a dry well, it becomes less promising," the official said.

The official noted that information from an Iraqi defector that Speicher survived and was held captive had been discredited. The official said Iraqi doctors who the defector said would know about Speicher have denied any knowledge of him and passed polygraph examinations.

The official said no remains of Speicher have been found, nor other physical evidence such as a uniform or identification material. Investigators last year found writing that looked like the letters "MSS" on a prison cell wall in Iraq, which some took as a reference to Speicher's initials, but the official said this writing has not been definitively linked to the pilot.

The Navy in Oct 2002 reclassified Speicher's status as "missing/captured," rather than simply "missing in action." Adm. Vern Clark, the Navy's top officer, said in March that "we have not found out new specific intelligence revelations that have changed our fundamental conclusion" that Speicher was captured. Kafka said the Navy's views remain unchanged. -Reuters