Neil Clark: A trial would be warmly welcomed by millions – so what happens next?
By Neil Clark
DECEMBER 14, 2009
Tony Blair’s extraordinary admission on Sunday to the BBC’s Fern Britton – that he would have gone to war to topple Saddam Hussein regardless of the issue of Iraq’s alleged WMDs – is sure to give fresh impetus to moves to prosecute our former prime minister for war crimes.
The case against Blair, strong enough before this latest comment, now appears rock solid. Going to war to change another country’s regime is prohibited by international law, while the Nuremburg judgment of 1946 laid down that “to initiate a war of aggression”, as Blair and Bush clearly did against Iraq, “is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.
Blair’s admission, that he “would still have thought it right to remove him [Saddam]” regardless of the WMD issue, is also an acknowledgement that he lied to the House of Commons on February 25, 2003, when he told MPs: “I detest his [Saddam’s] regime. But even now he [Saddam] can save it by complying with the UN’s demand. Even now, we are prepared to go the extra step to achieve disarmament peacefully. I do not want war… But disarmament peacefully can only happen with Saddam’s active co-operation.”
The view that Blair is a war criminal is now mainstream: when comedian Sandi Toksvig, host of Radio Four’s News Quiz, called him one on air, the BBC, according to the Mail on Sunday, did not receive a single complaint.
But while it is easy to label Blair a war criminal, what are the chances of him actually standing trial – and how could it be achieved? Various initiatives have already been launched.
The Blair War Crimes Foundation, set up by retired orthopaedic surgeon David Halpin, has organised an online petition, addressed to the President of the UN General Assembly and the UK Attorney General, which lists 14 specific complaints relating to the Iraq war, including “deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war” and violations of the Geneva Conventions by the occupying powers.
The campaigning journalist George Monbiot, who attempted a citizen’s arrest of the former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, for his role in the Iraq war, said at the Hay Literary festival in 2008 that he would put up the first £100 of a bounty payable to the first person to attempt a non-violent citizen’s arrest of Blair.
Monbiot has also called for the setting up of national arrest committees in countries which, unlike Britain, have incorporated the ‘Crime of Aggression’ into their domestic law. These committees would exchange information with one another and make sure that Blair “would have no hiding place”.
If Blair is to face an international trial, then the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague – to which Britain is a signatory – would be the likeliest forum. While the ICC has said that it will not conduct prosecutions for the Crime of Aggression until it has been defined by its own working group, the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, told the Sunday Telegraph in 2007 that he would be willing to launch an inquiry into US/UK war crimes in Iraq. Charges could also be brought against Blair at the ICC for failing to prosecute the war in a “proportionate manner”.
From Iraq itself, there are also moves to bring Blair to book. It has been reported that lawyers acting for Tariq Aziz, the former deputy leader of the country, now held in captivity, have written to Britain’s top legal adviser asking permission to prosecute Blair for war-crimes, in the light of his latest comments.
Whichever way it comes about, if Blair is forced to stand trial, there can be no underestimating the event’s significance. Up to now, the only political leaders who have faced war crimes trials since World War Two are those who fell foul of the west – and in particular the United States of America. But the notion of international justice will never be taken seriously if western politicians are deemed to be exempt from the same rules that leaders in Africa and elsewhere are supposed to adhere to.
The prospect of Teflon Tony finally having to answer for his crimes in a court of law, would be warmly welcomed by millions of people throughout the world, not least all those who marched for peace through central London in February 2003, one month before the Iraq invasion.
There is widespread contempt for a man who has made millions while Iraqis die in their hundreds of thousands due to the havoc unleashed by the illegal invasion, and who, with breathtaking arrogance, seems to regard himself as above the rules of international law.
The next decade will tell us whether that is indeed the case.
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