18 January, 2022


We’re One Crucial Step Closer To Seeing Tony Blair At The Hague

By  –

George Monbiot

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

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. 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”. This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.

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.” 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.” 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.”

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 American and British ambassadors insisted that 1441 did not authorise the use of force. 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.” 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“.

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

The second justification, attempted again by Blair this weekend, 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 stronger.

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.” Their purpose, they revealed, was “maintaining American military pre-eminence”. The motivation for deposing Saddam Hussein was no more moral than the motivation for arming and funding him, two decades before.

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. (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.

Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as “the supreme international crime”, 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.

The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) 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 – www.arrestblair.org – 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. With our fourth payment last week, we’ve now disbursed more than £10,000. 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 prosecution.

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.

Twitter: @GeorgeMonbiot

A fully referenced version of this article is available at www.monbiot.com Courtesy the Guardian.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    …and Mahinda Rajapaksha and brothers are two steps closer to The Hague!!

  • 0

    I always thought that Blair and Bush and their ideological buddies such as Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz should have been hauled up to the Hague to answer to the charge of crimes against humanity. There they were swaggering about once in their purblind arrogance cheered on by the American far right and their brothers across the Atlantic touting the doctrine that “Might was Right” especially the might of the Anglo-Saxon “Democratic Christian” might.

    It was Bertrand Russel I believe who initiated a ‘private war crimes tribunal’ in Stockholm against US war crimes in Vietnam, in the face of the UN system’s cold feet to come out openly against American aggression.
    Archbishop Tutu has once again demonstrated his intellectual moral and spiritual stature by speaking out openly against the moral and human bankruptcy of the partners in crime: Bush and Blair.

    I look forward to the day when these two would be indicted in the Hague. When that happens and the strong message that Might Is not Right is given out to the world by the International community, let tyrants all over the world shake in dread and be shown for what they are, puny swaggering cowards hiding behind their fleeting second of unrestrained power.

    Shame on Blair the ‘converted’ Roman Catholic now trotting the world stage earning yet more millions of dollars and shame on those who pander to this man’s bloated ego.

  • 0

    Good stuff, indeed the unwritten CODES of silence of the world’s super political elites that jet from one G-8 conference to another G-12 conference that sustain the power of the western dominated global political elite need to be broken, not by the likes of violent fools and criminals in the global south like the Rajapassa war criminal who claims to be standing up to western hypocracy on human rights but by people like Tutu with great moral stature speaking up and out against the Blairs, Bushes, Netanyahus and Rajapassas and other war lords and war criminals of the world..

  • 0

    It may be unrealistic to believe that Tony Blair and his warmongering co-conspirators will face war crimes charges in the Hague. Unrealistic because of the people who have been charged in this European-dominated court in the past. But not because such charges are unwarranted. Indeed they are – this was clearly a war of aggression justified by Blair (and Bush) on the basis of falsified “evidence”, as is now widely known to be the case.

    • 0

      Romesh, although it may be unrealistic for Justice from this European dominated Court as you allege, these two should not be allowed to go scot free for the War Crimes committed. As this writer rightly points out the matter should be persued and pressure should be brought on the European Court for an Impartial hearing and punishment as there are still forces within the European Community who uphold Justice without bias. So without diverting your efforts in that direction to mobilise such a move, you trying to take the easy way out, gives the impression that you want to save the skin of some others of War Crimes that will follow, if these two are taken to Hague and dealt with. Your accusation that the European Court is biased, when you display signs of biasness yourself, is nost ludicrous to say the least.

      • 0

        I agree with you, Gamini, that efforts should be made to hold Blair and Bush (not to mention Dick Cheney) accountable for war crimes and other crimes against humanity. I am fully supportive of such efforts.

        • 0

          Thak you Romesh.

  • 0

    Blessed are those who follow Blair & Company the Kingdom of HAGUE is theirs……………

  • 0

    I hate to disturb everyone’s fantasies, but if you’re waiting for the ICC to deliver justice to Tony Blair and other Western politicians, it’s not going to happen.

    In 2000, Robin Cook, the UK foreign secretary was honest enough to say that ICC was “not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States.”

    Just memorise this and we can stop wasting time on this futile posturing.

    “There are three sets of circumstances under which the ICC can launch a prosecution.

    First, it can be invited in by a government which has ratified the treaty setting up the court, as in the ICC’s current prosecutions in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

    Second, it can have a case referred to it by the UN Security Council, as with its prosecution of Sudanese president Omar al Bashir.

    Third, it can launch an investigation on its own initiative, as it has done in Kenya, but only in relation to states which recognise its jurisdiction and national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

    There’s a further catch. The UN Security Council can halt any investigation it doesn’t wish to proceed. This is initially for a year, but is actually renewable indefinitely. Permanent members of the UN Security Council – such as the United States or Britain – are never likely to face prosecution, and could stop any investigation dead in its tracks.”


    The ICC can only acts against weak, powerless states – mainly African and some ex-Eastern European states.

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