Desmond Tutu’s Right On Tony Blair

Last week Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for Tony Blair to be dragged before the International criminal Court at The Hague to face a war crimes trial for his part in instigating the war in Iraq. Tutu bases his case on the fact that Britain and the United States went to war on the premise of a lie: that Iraq possessed, and was ready to use, weapons of mass destruction. Of course upon the invasion of Iraq, weapons inspectors, as before the invasion, found no evidence of any such weapons and thus the misgivings held by both governments before the invasion proved incorrect, invalidating their reasoning behind the invasion.

However, although as I will explain Tutu was right to call for Blair to be tried for war crimes due to his lies that led to the invasion, it is the reasoning behind Blair’s lies (his relationship with the US and Bush in particular) that is equally as worrying and something that I hope to see all Prime Ministers in the future avoid.

The initial factor to be taken into consideration when deciding how culpable Blair is, and whether his actions constitute a crime, is how far Blair’s invasion and the events leading up to, and following it, went against international laws concerning declarations of war. Firstly, if we take Jack Straw, the then foreign secretary’s advice, Blair’s declaration of war would have been justifiable had it been in response to an attack, where force was a necessary counterbalance to the initial use of force, and where the use of force was limited to stopping that attack. Blair’s invasion cannot be said to have been a retaliation, one of the few legal reasons for invasion.

Saddam Hussein, whilst perhaps having a terrible human rights record, and deserving to be deposed, had not, in the recent past before the invasion (i.e. within a few months), invaded any other country and therefore there was no war to stop. If anything, the US and UK action to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the aggressive action that, were the US not able to ignore international law, the international community would have been obligated to stop, via the use of force. Blair’s invasion clearly constitutes a breach of the internal law which says that any act of war committed under any circumstances excepting those of self-defence is an act of aggression and therefore an illegal act.

So, recognising that Blair’s attack cannot be attributed for under international laws, can Blair’s reasoning for the invasion explain and legitimise the invasion? Blair claimed that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction which the demonic tyrant was prepared to use at short notice against his own populace (as he had used chemical weapons against the Kurds previously) and against western targets. Blair gave evidence to support such a conclusion to the House of Commons, to the public and to the international community and used these weapons as a pretext for going to war. However, both prior to, and following the invasion, weapons inspectors failed to find a single weapon of mass destruction and thus Blair’s reasons for attacking Iraq were blown out of the water. Therefore, Blair and Bush were left without both a moral and legal justification for their attack, and therefore can be seen guilty of ignoring international law and potentially war crimes.

The second part of the story to unravel is the magnitude of Blair’s crimes. Apart from lying to Parliament and the public and instigating an illegal invasion of another country (against the advice of legal experts and ministers alike), the deadly results of Blair’s war makes his war crimes an even more severe case. The Iraq war is estimated to have been the cause of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, including British and American soldiers and countless Iraqi deaths (too many of which have been left uncounted). Furthermore, the war has caused the displacement of millions of Iraqis and destroyed the lives of so many innocent civilians drawn into the conflict. The repercussions within Iraq therefore are evident on a massive scale and cannot be ignored when considering whether Blair should stand trial. However, even these reckonings do not account for the damage caused to millions across the globe, whether they have lost relatives in the war, been forced to move their whole lives, cause an increase in Islamist terrorism and tensions between Muslim communities and their western counterparts worldwide. Blair’s invasion of Iraq has cause immeasurable pain and suffering to countless millions of people internationally, this is something he has to explain.

It is important then, when dismissing Blair’s public reasoning, to investigate what it was in fact that caused Blair to break international law and invade Iraq. The truth is that Blair was beholden to George Bush, the US and the ‘special relationship’. Blair relied upon this relationship to keep Britain alive and kicking as one of the world’s major powers. Knowing that without US might and close friendship Britain was falling behind the US and other growing superpowers, Blair decided to link the UK increasingly closer to a US regime that used its superpower might to project an American image of democracy worldwide. If this meant deposing leaders that the US did not like and replacing them with US friendly governments then the US was prepared to step over international laws to do so, knowing that repercussions would be limited.

Blair’s pandering to the US led Britain into one of its most shameful acts of recent years and caused immeasurable suffering. No plausible or legal explanation has ever been offered by Blair or his apologists and as such, the international community has the obligation to bring Blair before a court so as to give him an opportunity to explain his actions, and, if he is unable to do so, send Blair to jail for the crimes he has committed. Furthermore, Blair needs to be used as a warning to other Prime Ministers, and world leaders, that if they break international law they will, whether a US ally or not, be held to account. We can only hope that this would prevent future PMs from blindly following a ruthless ally into wars that not only break the law but cause unimaginable suffering on a human level.