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 The prospect of a trial for Tony Blair now starts to look more plausible

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PostSubject: The prospect of a trial for Tony Blair now starts to look more plausible   Wed 05 Sep 2012, 10:57

A Step Towards the Dock
The prospect of a trial for Tony Blair now starts to look more plausible

George Monbiot

Blair arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to give evidence
on media ethics to the Leveson inquiry in May 2012. Photograph: Dan
Kitwood/Getty Images

Desmond Tutu has helped us see the true nature of what the former
prime minister did to Iraq and increased pressure for a prosecution

September 4, 2012

For years it seems
impregnable, then suddenly the citadel collapses. An ideology, a fact, a
regime appears fixed, unshakeable, almost geological. Then an inch of
mortar falls, and the stonework begins to slide. Something of this kind
happened over the weekend.

When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to the Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done(1).
Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those
who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I
expect that Blair will never recover from it.

The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of
aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg
Principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war
of aggression"(2). This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter(3).

That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks
indisputable. Blair’s cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His
Attorney-General warned that there were just three ways in which it
could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or
UN Security Council authorisation. The first and second could not be
the base in this case."(4) Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.

His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be
legal, "i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack
must be imminent; ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means
to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) The acts in
self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object
of stopping the attack."(5)
None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him "A legal
justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’
advice, none currently exists."(6)

Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass
murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people,
and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair
and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they
go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international
justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.

Blair’s diminishing band of apologists cling to two desperate
justifications. The first is that the war was automatically authorised
by a prior UN resolution: 1441. But when it was discussed in the
Security Council, both the US and UK ambassadors insisted that 1441 did
not authorise the use of force(7).
The UK representative stated that "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."(8)
Two months later, in January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair
that "resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force
without a further determination by the security council"(9).

Yet when Blair ran out of options, he and his lieutenants began
arguing that 1441 authorised their war. They’re still at it: on Sunday,
Lord Falconer tried it out on Radio 4(10). Perhaps he had forgotten that it has been thoroughly discredited.

The second justification, attempted again by Blair this weekend(11),
is that there was a moral case for invading Iraq. Yes, there was one.
There was also a moral case for not invading Iraq, and this case was

But a moral case (and who has launched an aggressive war in modern
times without claiming to possess one?) does not provide a legal basis.
Nor was it the motivation for the attack. In September 2000, before they
took office, a project run by future members of the Bush administration
– including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – produced a
report which said the following: "While the unresolved conflict with
Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial
American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime
of Saddam Hussein."(12)
Their purpose, they revealed, was "maintaining American military
preeminence"(13). The motivation for deposing Saddam Hussein was no more
moral than the motivation for arming and funding him, two decades

But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak.
Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the International Criminal
Court, and all of them are African(15).
(Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal).
There’s a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can
prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not
the crime of launching that war(16).

Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described
aggression as "the supreme international crime"(17), several powerful
states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed
that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until
2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in
international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike
the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they
were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression
committed beyond that date(18).

The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25(19))
which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws.
Perhaps Blair’s lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a
few speaking gigs.

That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all
the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010
I set up a bounty fund –
– to promote peaceful citizens’ arrests of the former prime minister.
People contribute to the fund, a quarter of which is paid out to anyone
who makes an attempt which meets the rules(20). With our fourth payment last week, we’ve now disbursed over £10,000(21).
Our aim is the same as Tutu’s: to de-normalise an act of mass murder,
to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a

That looked, until this weekend, like an almost-impossible prospect.
But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first
plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of
places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.

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