Tag Archives: Chilcot

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?

What are the odds of putting Blair in the Hague for what he did to Iraq?
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
4 July 2016

With the Iraq Inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot, set to finally report on Wednesday, it is important to remember the legal questions being considered by the Blair Government as they geared up for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

With the Prime Minister under intense pressure from a growing anti-war movement and rebellious Labour Party MPs, in July 2002 the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith told Tony Blair there were only “three possible legal bases” for attacking Iraq. These were “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation”. The first and second justifications were out of the question, Goldsmith noted.

Things were equally fraught at the Foreign Office, with Sir Michael Wood, the department’s chief legal adviser, warning Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that invading without a second resolution would “amount to the crime of aggression”.

Despite applying huge amounts of pressure on members of the security council, the UK and US failed to obtain a security council resolution. The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared the war to be in contravention of the UN charter, as did figures ranging from senior judge Lord Bingham to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and prominent American neoconservative Richard Perle. “It is generally agreed, by… most international lawyers that the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was illegal, contravening the prohibition on the use of force in the UN Charter”, notes Bill Bowring, Professor of Law at Birkbeck, University of London.

“The war is responsible for millions dead and displaced, the country is still in flames and there have been no sanctions whatever against those who prosecuted it”, Lindsey German, the Convenor of Stop the War Coalition, tells me. “We are not lawyers but many would like to see Blair in The Hague, and this is an extremely popular demand within the anti-war movement”.

It’s a popular demand among the wider public too – a ComRes/Independent poll in 2010 found “37 per cent of people believe that Mr Blair should be put on trial for going to war with Iraq”. However, while the expert consensus and public’s anger are well known, the legal technicalities surrounding if, and how, Blair and his colleagues could be brought to trial are rarely explored.

For example, the International Criminal Court [ICC] at The Hague is the only body that has jurisdiction to prosecute the “crime of aggression”. However, it turns out the ICC only agreed on an official working definition of the term in 2010. And, more importantly, they also agreed that the validity of a case would be determined by the UN Security Council and that it would not consider cases retrospectively.

Professor Bowring and Professor Gerry Simpson, Chair in Public International Law at the London School of Economics agree, with the latter noting “It is virtually impossible for this ‘crime’ [the crime of aggression] to be prosecuted by an international court”. Therefore, the chances of Blair standing trial are “extremely slim”, Professor Simpson explains.

Similarly, in 2006 the House of Lords held that the crime of aggression was not part of domestic law and would need an Act of Parliament to be incorporated. Therefore, Blair “cannot be prosecuted in the UK’s domestic courts for aggression”, noted Dapo Akande, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Oxford, on European Journal of International Law’s blog in 2009.

What all this means, as journalist Richard Hall explained in 2010, is though “There was no legal case for launching the war” there is also “no legal basis to prosecute for it”.

All this will be deeply frustrating and disappointing for the millions of people who marched against the war and want the Blair Government held to account. But all is not lost for them. There are, it seems, a few other viable options.

So, while the chances of prosecuting the Blair Government for its illegal and aggressive invasion are currently close to zero, attempts are in progress to bring the UK Government to account for war crimes committed by British forces during the occupation itself. Based on a dossier compiled by Public Interest Lawyers and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, “two years ago, the new [ICC] Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, commenced a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes committed by members of the government in the following period of occupation”, Professor Bowring explains. The BBC reported the dossier contained evidence of what they said was more than 400 cases of mistreatment or unlawful killings carried out by UK forces. “Blair could have been, and perhaps may be, prosecuted for war crimes at the ICC in The Hague”, Professor Bowring believes.

Furthermore, though it is still unlikely, Professor Simpson notes “a foreign court is a little more likely” to prosecute the crime of aggression, though Blair “would have to travel to somewhere with a crime of aggression on the statute books”. Philippe Sands QC, Professor of Law at University College London, concurs, telling the Daily Mirror in 2010 “When Tony Blair travels he now gets legal advice on where he can go and the pattern of extradition agreements.” There are, according to Sands, approximately 50 countries which have enshrined the crime of aggression into their law and would therefore be unsafe for Blair to visit. “The possibility of a national prosecutor going after Blair in some foreign jurisdiction is reasonably high”, he added.

With legal prosecution and sanction very unlikely in the UK itself, it looks like it will continue to fall to the court of public opinion to pass judgement and punishment on Blair and his close conspirators. One thing is certain – Blair’s reputation is shot to pieces, with the former Prime Minister unable to do book signings without protests, or appear in public without people trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest. The Iraq War’s toxicity continues to inform British politics, with potential challengers to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn hindered by their support for the war.

“The publication of the Chilcot Report will be very important”, notes Professor Bowring about the legal questions surrounding the Iraq War. The content of the report will, of course, be central to the debate, but arguably the deciding factor on how this plays out will be the response from Corbyn’s Labour Party, the media and the public. Stop the War Coalition are holding a protest at the report’s launch in London on 6 July and then a rally on 7 July. “We will do everything we can to make clear what the issues of legality, lying and the creation of future chaos really mean”, German says. “We don’t know whether Chilcot will help pin the blame on the guilty, but we do know this remains an issue of immense importance to millions of people in Britain.”

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq

Responding to Chilcot: more deceptions from Tony Blair on Iraq
by Ian Sinclair

8 July 2016

The United Nations con trick

This morning BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interviewed Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister from 1997-2007, about his central role in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Asked by presenter John Humphrys about the secret 28 July 2002 memo that Blair sent to US President George Bush in which Blair wrote “I will be with you, whatever”, Blair replied:

“The whole purpose of it [the memo] was to ensure that the Americans went down the United Nations route to dealing with this, which we then did. And we had a [UN] Resolution in November 2002, which had the terms of that resolution been satisfied then there wouldn’t have been a war.”

Blair is repeating the narrative – largely accepted by our media – that he persuaded a reluctant Bush Administration to work through the United Nations, in an attempt to solve the crisis peacefully. However, though Humphrys ignores it, Blair discusses exactly this issue in a later part on the 28 July 2008 memo. Under the heading ‘The UN’ Blair writes:

“We don’t want to be mucked around by Saddam over this, and the danger is he drags us into negotiation. But we need, as with Afghanistan and the ultimatum to the Taleban, to encapsulate our casus belli in some defining way. This is certainly the simplest. We could, in October as the build-up starts, state that he must let the inspectors back in unconditionally and do so now, ie set a 7-day deadline… There would be no negotiation. There would be no new talks with [UN Secretary-General Kofi] Annan. It would be: take it or leave it. I know there is reluctance on this. But it would neutralise opposition around the UN issue. It he did say yes, we continue the build-up and we send teams over and the moment he obstructs, we say: he’s back to his games. That’s it. In any event, he probably would screw it up and not meet the deadline, and if he came forward after the deadline, we would just refuse to deal.”

The language – “encapsulate our casus belli”, “no negotiation”, “we would just refuse to deal” – seems very far from someone sincerely interested in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and using military action as a last resort.

Blair’s position on the role of the UN here mirrors other secret memos which have been subsequently released. In March 2002 Christopher Meyer, the UK Ambassador to the United States wrote to Tony’ Blair’s Foreign Policy Advisor David Manning about his recent meeting with US Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. “We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option”, noted Meyer. “I then went through the need to wrongfoot Saddam on the inspectors and UN SCRs [security council resolutions]”.  How would this be done? A Cabinet paper from July 2002 explains: “It is just possible that an ultimatum could be cast in terms which Saddam would reject (because he is unwilling to accept unfettered access) and which would not be regarded as unreasonable by the international community”.

The goal then, was to use the weapons inspectors and the UN as a tool for triggering war, not, as Blair continues to assert, to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

UN Resolution 1441: 2016 Tony Blair versus 2002 Tony Blair

At his press conference responding to Chilcot, Blair repeated his claim that Iraqi non-compliance with UN Resolution 1441 authorised the US and UK to take military action against Iraq:

“I persuaded a reluctant American administration to take the issue back to the UN. This resulted in the November 2002 UN Resolution 1441 giving Saddam ‘a final opportunity’ to come into ‘full and immediate compliance with UN Resolutions’ and to cooperate fully with UN inspectors. Any non-compliance was defined as a material breach…. as at the 18th of March, there was gridlock at the UN. In resolution 1441 it had been agreed to give Saddam one final opportunity to comply. It was accepted he had not done so. In that case, according to 1441, action should have followed”.

What Blair doesn’t say is Resolution 1441 was only passed by Russia, China and France on the understanding a second resolution would be required to authorise military action. Indeed,

on the day Resolution 1441 was passed by the UN Security Council Tony Blair himself said “To those who fear this resolution is just an automatic trigger point, without any further discussion, paragraph 12 of the Resolution makes it clear that is not the case.”

This was confirmed by the UK Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who explained at the time:

“We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about ‘automaticity’ and ‘hidden triggers’ – the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as a co-sponsor with the United States of the text we have just adopted. There is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12. We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities.”

The Al Qaeda link: nothing to do with me guv

During the Q&A session of his press conference on Chilcot, Nick Watt from BBC Newsnight asked Blair the following question:

“You say ‘For us to understand what happened, we need to understand how the calculus of risk changed after 9/11.’ But you were told then, and we know now, that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.”

To which Blair replied:

“On the links between AQ and Saddam – it was never our case. There were elements of the American Administration that argued that there was a link between Saddam and Al-Qaeda. That was never my case.”

Contrast this clear disavowal with the content of the 28 July 2002 memo Blair wrote to Bush. Under the heading ‘The Evidence’ Blair tells Bush “I have been told the US thinks this unnecessary. But we still need to make the case. If we recapitulate all the WMD evidence, add his attempts to secure nuclear capability; and, as seems possible, add on Al Qaeda link, it will be hugely persuasive over here.”

So, to confirm, though Blair claims that he did not make a link between Al Qaeda and Hussein, the memo clearly shows Blair suggesting to Bush that “an Al Qaeda link” should be made with Saddam Hussein because “it will be hugely persuasive over here” – that is it will help persuade the population of the UK, and perhaps mainland Europe, for the need for war.

 

 

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq

The red herring of post-war planning in Iraq
by Ian Sinclair
Middle East Eye
23 June 2016

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions”, the American novelist Thomas Pynchon once wrote, “they don’t have to worry about answers.”

When it comes to the US and UK’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent occupation, the British establishment have conveniently and repeatedly asked the wrong questions. Quoting a senior, unnamed source, last month the Times newspaper reported Tony Blair, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of MI6 Richard Dearlove “will face serious ‘damage to their reputations’ from the Chilcot report into the Iraq War, which has delivered an ‘absolutely brutal’ verdict on the mismanagement of the occupation.” According to the Times “the section [of the Inquiry’s report] on the occupation will be longer than that on the build-up to” the invasion, with the Times reporter blogging that the section on the occupation “is where some of the most damning verdicts are drawn.”

As they have done with every previous public utterance he has made in recent years, the Guardian happily provided Blair with a platform in June to pre-empt the Inquiry’s findings – and shift the focus to the occupation and away from the most damaging and dangerous areas for the former prime minister. According to Guardian Blair will “argue the ultimate cause of the long-term bloodshed in Iraq was the scale of external intervention in the country by Iran and al-Qaida.” (Come on, stop laughing, this is serious). He will also “accept that the planning for the aftermath of the war was inadequate” and admit “the west did not foresee the degree to which complex tribal, religious and sectarian tensions would be uncorked” by overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Let’s be clear: the US-UK military occupation of Iraq – full of massive amounts of deadly violence dished out by the US and UK armed forces, torture and destructive divide and rule tactics – was a catastrophe for the people of Iraq. And it was hugely unpopular, with a secret Ministry of Defence 2005 poll of Iraqis finding 82 per cent “strongly opposed” the presence of coalition troops, and 45 per cent saying attacks against US and UK forces were justified. However, it is a complete red herring to suggest better planning is the crux of the issue. “The problem wasn’t the way that this was implemented, the problem was that we were there at all”, argued Rory Stewart, who served as the Coalition Provisional Authority Deputy Governorate Co-Ordinator in Maysan province In Iraq, in 2013:

“All these people who think ‘If only we had done this, if only if we hadn’t de-Ba’athified, if only we hadn’t abolished the army’ misunderstand the fundamental tragedy of that encounter between the international community and Iraqis… it wasn’t the detailed, tactical decisions that were made, it was the overall fact of our presence. The problem was so deep that if we hadn’t made those mistakes we would have made other mistakes. It was a wrecked intervention from the beginning, from the very moment we arrived on the ground.”

Moreover, the assumption behind the establishment’s fretting over post-war planning is that if the occupation had gone smoothly then everything would have been OK. In reality, it would not have changed the fact that the US and UK aggressively invaded an oil rich nation in contravention of international law, based on pack deceptions. It was a “crime of aggression” – as explained by the chief legal adviser at the Foreign Office at the time – whether the occupation was successful or not. Bluntly, if I plan and execute a robbery, whether it goes ‘smoothly’ with minimal violence and resistance or is a complete mess is immaterial – it’s still a crime.

The limited, self-serving debate surrounding post-war planning in Iraq echoes the liberal media’s belief that, to quote Cambridge Professor David Runciman, the US and UK invaded Iraq “to spread the merits of democracy.” Yes, it all went wrong, but our intentions were good. This kind of thinking can lead to spectacularly convoluted and offensive conclusions, as the BBC’s John Humphrys proved in October 2012 when he asked about the British occupation of Iraq: “If a country has sent its young men to another country to die, to restore – create democracy, you’d expect, well you’d expect a bit of gratitude, wouldn’t you?”

British historian Mark Curtis has coined a term for this blinkered power friendly framing: ‘Britain’s basic benevolence.’ Criticism of foreign policies is possible, notes Curtis, “but within narrow limits which show ‘exceptions’ to, or ‘mistakes’ in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence”.

The West’s support for democracy in the Middle East is also evidence free. “It is presented as though the invasion of Iraq was motivated largely or entirely by an altruistic desire to share democracy”, notes Jane Kinninmont, Deputy Head of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House. “This is asserted despite the long history of Anglo-American great-power involvement in the Middle East, which has, for the most part, not involved an effort to democratize the region”, she explains. “Rather, the general trend has been to either support authoritarian rulers who were already in place, or to participate in the active consolidation of authoritarian rule, including strong military and intelligence cooperation, as long as these rulers have been seen as supporting Western interests more than popularly elected governments would.”

Back to Chilcot. Blair’s Government and its supporters successfully deceived – or atleast bamboozled – large sections of the press and key sections of the establishment in 2002-3 in what Curtis calls “a government propaganda campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights in the post-war world.” By steering the debate onto questions surrounding the occupation of Iraq, Blair and co., assisted by a pliant press and Chilcot, are once again shifting the narrative to their advantage. We cannot allow them to triumph over us again. Therefore it is imperative that everyone interested in uncovering the truth and seeking justice for Iraqis keep the focus on the key issue – the deceptions, lies and legal questions surrounding the run up to the initial invasion. As the judgement of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg – a key influence on the development of international law – declared, “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”