In 2009 then prime minister Gordon Brown announced an inquiry into the Iraq War and its botched aftermath to be led by former leading civil servant and Privy Councillor Sir John Chilcot. Its publication has suffered delay after delay and you have to wonder why.
The fact it has been held back until after the general election gives grist to the mill that Iain Duncan Smith, the supine Tory Leader at the time, will be heavily criticised for failing to live up to Randolph Churchill’s maxim, “the duty of the Opposition is to oppose” .
IDS’ support for the war ensured that Blair won the Commons vote on 18th March 2003. Without Tory support the vote would have been lost due to 140 Labour MP’s defying whip and filing through the Aye lobby to support an amendment worded thus; “there is no moral case for war against Iraq.” You can read the full list here, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2862397.stm but notable names include Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell plus Clive Efford, Diane Abbott, and Jon Trickett. One unexpected rebel on the Tory side was Ken Clarke.
As Work and Pensions Secretary IDS is a senior Cabinet Minister and an integral part of Cameron’s war on the working class performing his role as tormentor in chief with chilling gusto. So if Duncan Smith were named as complicit in something so grotesque it would rock Cameron’s administration to the core, reminding the public that it was with Tory connivance that this tragedy was wrought on Iraq.
Last weekend it was reported that Chilcot will publish his report next year. Tony Blair’s immediate reaction was instructive. As a former pm he has brazenly cashed in on the gravitas surrounding the post including advising the dictatorship of Kazakhstan on how to spin your way out of massacring your own citizens. (1) His fee was £7 million a year.
But Blair’s response this weekend was to take to the airwaves in a cringing act of self justification without a fig of consideration for the 179 families left bereft by the war and for whom every day of publicity is something to be endured making the process of adjusting to life without their loved one even tougher.
Is Tony Blair a war criminal?
That’s a big call to make about someone and if taken seriously has massive consequences for the Establishment. It was alleged in Jimmy McGovern’s film, “Sunday” (2002) that UK premier Edward Heath and his Ulster counterpart Brian Faulkner had ordered a crackdown in Derry against protests regarding interment. At the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday Heath was asked if the following had been discussed in Cabinet prior to the massacre, “that unarmed people obstructing the British Army in Northern Ireland were enemies of the Crown and should be liable to being shot”. Heath did not deny it (2) Yet the former prime minister is never referred to as a criminal of any kind.
Let’s refer to the dictionary for some guidance. “War Crime: a crime committed during a war that breaks the accepted international rules of war. (3)
There are a number of problems with the semantics here, particularly when we are discussing Iraq. If we conclude that, “accepted rules” refers to the legality of the war in question then we really are on a sticky wicket. Blair has always claimed that the war was legal and above board despite the lack of a second UN resolution specifically sanctioning the invasion. But when giving evidence to Chilcot the former pm admitted ignoring a specific memo from Attorney General Peter Goldsmith dated as late as 3rd March 2003 that going into Iraq without a second resolution would render the action illegal (4).
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was asked directly in 2004 if he thought the Iraq War was illegal, “Yes. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” (5)
There you have it, in black and white with none of the usual politician’s equivocation or caveats. The 2003 US led invasion of Iraq which our Government backed to the hilt with weapons and personnel was 100% against international law and therefore Tony Blair is a war criminal.
Jeremy Greenstock was British Ambassador to the United Nations, sitting on the Security Council during the run up and during the Iraq invasion. In July he was sent to Baghdad to help run the Coalition Authority which was meant to establish law, order and democracy in post conflict Iraq.
This is what he thought about the legality of the whole thing, ” If you do something the majority of UN states think is wrong, illegitimate or politically unjustifiable, you are taking a risk….I regard our participation in Iraq in 2003 as legal but of questionable legitimacy in that it didn’t have the backing of the majority of member states.” (6)
Greenstock is a trained diplomat and as such is well versed in dressing up terrible acts in boring and non committal language. When you bear that in mind the statement is explosive and a damning indictment of Blair’s approach. It transpired that Greenstock had threatened to quit his post unless Blair pulled out all the stops and secured a second resolution.
One way of putting Blair’s guilt, or otherwise to the test is by using the mechanism already in place at the UN; that is to have it investigated by the Security Council under Article 39 of the UN Charter. (7) This allows the Council to rule on the legality of war, and is retrospective. But seeing as the UK is a permanent member of the Council and can exercise a veto this is very unlikely to happen.
Blair’s argument, which he authorised Labour Party HQ to issue to members questioning his action, centred around Resolution 1441 which had been passed in December 2002 by the Security Council. It called on Iraq to comply fully, and immediately with Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors. Saddam dragged his feet but Blix felt it would only take, “but few months” to collect the necessary information.
Blair’s position that no second resolution was needed is blown out of the water by the assertion in the wake of 1441 by US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte that, “there are no hidden triggers…. even if Saddam is in breach the matter will return to the Council” (8)
The case is pretty clear. Blair’s actions amount to prima facea war crimes. A widely held view is that Bush wanted to go to war at all costs to avenge his father who had been subject to a Saddam backed assassination plot which had forced Bill Clinton to order air strikes in 1993.(9) 9/11 provided the cover he needed even though the CIA concurred that Saddam had nothing to do with the Bin Laden inspired attacks on that September day.
In April 2002 Britain’s Ambassador to the US, Christopher Meyer heard Blair tell Bush at the latter’s ranch in Crawford Texas, ” ‘I’m with you whatever‘, something that Meyer confirmed to Chilcot whilst giving evidence in 2011. (10)
However there is a previous case that must be taken into account. Kosovo.
In 1999 the Balkans War which had destroyed the lives of millions of people across the region entered another dark phase with the Serb state inspired attack on the people of Kosovo, a semi autonomous region within Serbia. The actions of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic attracted worldwide condemnation and NATO led forces secured safety for Kosovo first via air strikes and then by physical occupation. The UN played no role due to the position of Russia as Serbia’s ally. This diplomatic protection enjoyed by Milosevic meant there would be no UN Security Resolution. Therefore, it could be argued, the same situation was at play as with Iraq.
The UK took a leading role and Blair received almost universal acclaim for putting the pressure on US President Bill Clinton to intervene on humanitarian grounds. The difference with Iraq was that the Balkans intervention enjoyed public support plus the UN acted right away in the aftermath to ensure a structured post war strategy was implemented. A complete contrast to Iraq. In addition the Kosovan people welcomed the NATO intervention and regime change in Belgrade came from within rather than being imposed with no thought for the consequences.
But even then massive questions arose from Kosovo not least NATO air strikes on civilian targets and the destruction of a TV station (which some say led to the murder of Jill Dando by Serb agents in London) which were indiscriminate.
Kosovo laid the foundations for Iraq. Tony Blair’s reception in Pristina went to his head. Mingling with the locals chanting his name led Dr. David Owen to conclude in his book, “In Sickness and in Power” (2011) that the prime minister began to develop what the former Labour Foreign Secretary terms, Hubris Syndrome. (11) According to Owen the sufferer displays behaviour of uber hubris (excessive pride or self confidence) and will not listen or act on reason. As such Blair would pass a lie detector test on say the 45 minute deployment of WMD due to complete self delusion.
Perhaps this will Tony Blair’s line of defence should he ever be put on trial for War Crimes at the Hague. “Guilty due to reasons of diminished responsibility”.
In 2006 Tony Blair went on “Parkinson” and what he told the legendary talk show host was a summary of just how far wrong the Labour Party had gone in choosing and then supporting Blair as their leader since 1994. When asked about Iraq Blair said he would not be judged by the Iraqi or UK people, the Labour Party or those relatives bereaved by the war, “If you believe in God (the judgement) is made by God.”
Blair will never be made to account properly for his actions because the Establishment has too much to lose and it would be an admission that the 2 million who took to the streets on Saturday 15th February 2003 under the banner, “Don’t Attack Iraq” were right. If that that was conceded it would kick open the door to all the other evils inflicted on us by a narrow, despotic elite.
- Daily Telegraph, “Tony Blair gives Kazakhstan’s autocratic president tips on how to defend a massacre”. 24 Aug 2014 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/11052965/Tony-Blair-gives-Kazakhstans-autocratic-president-tips-on-how-to-defend-a-massacre.html
- “Former British Prime Minister Edward Heath gives evidence to Bloody Sunday tribunal” 18th Feb 2003 https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2003/02/heat-f18.html
- “Tony Blair tells Chilcot Inquiry he disregarded legal advice on legality of Iraq war” Daily Telegraph Feb 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/tony-blair/8273402/Tony-Blair-tells-Chilcot-Inquiry-he-disregarded-legal-advice-on-legality-of-Iraq-war.html
- “Iraq war illegal, says Annan” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3661134.stm
- Iraq War was legal but not ‘legitimate’ Jan 2012 http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/iraq-war-was-legal-but-not-legitimate-433916
- Chapter VII UNO Charter 1948 http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter7.sht
- UN Security Council Minutes 8th Nov 2002 Verbatim Report 4644. S/PV/4644 page 3. Mr. Negroponte United States
- Washington Post “U.S. Strikes Iraq for Plot to Kill Bush” 27/6/93 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/iraq/timeline/062793.htm
- Daily Telegraph 9th March 2013 Iraq War: Sir Christopher Meyer: ‘I’m with you whatever’, Tony Blair told George Bush http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/9919816/Iraq-War-Sir-Christopher-Meyer-Im-with-you-whatever-Tony-Blair-told-George-Bush.html
- “In Sickness and in Power” (2011) By David Owen Methuen Publishing Ltd