Jim Sillars: Tooth and claw, Blair was dog of war

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The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War will not publish in full the letters, notes of meetings and transcripts of the telephone discussions between Tony Blair and George W Bush.

It doesn’t mean Blair will be cleared where it matters most, in the court of public opinion. For would-be statesmen that is the most important forum of all, where reputations are destroyed.

To understand Blair’s position, points of international law must be grasped. At the Nuremberg trial of the Nazis, two laws were established. Some legal scholars have doubted the legitimacy of Nuremberg, it being victors’ justice, but both are now firmly accepted.

The first: not only are those lower down the food chain who commit the crimes guilty, but so also are those in the highest places who decided upon war and set them loose. The second: that aggression was in itself a war crime. Up until Nuremberg, neither were crimes in international law.

Then there is the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, ending the long religious wars in Europe. It outlawed regime change, and that is the case today.

We now have an International Criminal Court (ICC) to try those who actually commit atrocities, and those leaders who commanded them. The ICC statute lists the number of war crimes and crimes against humanity that it can try. Among them is aggression. Unfortunately, there was no definition of that when the court was set up. It took years of negotiations to get one, but the UK made sure it was not retrospective, and so the Iraq War is excluded.

The case against Blair is that right from the start, while he was consistently telling parliament and people that he had not decided on war on Iraq, he had in fact committed this country to do so, for the purposes of regime change – a crime in international law.

A twist in this tale is that when some citizens tried to take him to court, the judges acknowledged that it was a crime in international law, but pointed out that aggressive war was not a crime in English domestic law, and so he could not be prosecuted in their courts. The Crown Office told me Scots judges would likely come to the same opinion.

Correspondence, telephone calls and discussions Blair had with Bush will be crucial in providing proof whether he lied to us or not over regime change which he knew was a crime, but went ahead anyway.

So, is Blair off the hook, his role covered in whitewash? No, because there is a book full of evidence against him from e-mails and memoirs of those who worked for him, and took his orders. They are already in the public domain if people want to do the research, as I have done.

A Cabinet Office memo dated March 8, 2002, listed “three options for achieving regime change”. A memo from Sir David Manning to Blair personally, March 14, 2002, relates his meeting with Condi Rice, Bush’s national security adviser: “I said you would not budge in your support for regime change but you had to manage the press, a parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.”

A memo from Christopher Myer, British ambassador to the US, to Manning on March 18, 2002 relates his meeting with Paul Wolfowitz, US deputy secretary of defence: “On Iraq I opened by sticking very closely to the script that you used with Condi Rice last week. We backed regime change, but the plan had to be clever and failure was not an option.”

Nothing about it being legal, just clever. These alone show Blair determined on war.

On September 7, 2002, Blair met Bush at Camp David in Maryland. Ambassador Myer records Bush praising Blair’s “cojones” as a “tribute to Blair’s unequivocal reaffirmation to Bush of his earlier commitment to stand by the Americans, including war”.

But in the House of Commons two weeks later, September 24, he was asked: “Has he given the US any commitment that the UK would support unilateral action against Iraq,?” He replied: “As I said a moment ago, we are not at the stage of taking decisions about military action”. Fibbing is too soft a word. The man lied and knew he was lying. A Chilcot whitewash will never take the stain of war criminal from Blair’s record.


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