The ennobling of Tony Blair as a the highly elitist Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter by the Queen should mark a moment of clarity. Tony Blair’s knighthood is the proof to the world that the British elite do not simply have impunity for their crimes, they are rewarded for them. But it would not be possible were there any means at all of holding British leaders and elite to account. Such structures are non-existent both in law and in parliamentary procedure and this is by design.
By Nina Cross
Acting chief editor of The Indicter
The arbitrary appearance of experts in international criminal law
Yet this has not stopped English judges from setting up camp at the Hague and forming politically motivated tribunals to try politicians of non-English, non-NATO heritage. One such case is that of the International Criminal Tribunal set up as in the case of Slobodan Milosevic in 2002, shifting the focus away from NATO’s razing of Yugoslavia. Milosevic pointed out: “And look at this ‘court’: the indictment is based on allegations provided by the English Intelligence Service; the judge is English; the prosecutor is English; the Amicus Curiae is English; and I… (microphone turned off).”
Another example is the politically motivated case of the Ughur Tribunal in London last year, founded in fact by one of the same judges that sat on the Milosevic panel, Sir Geoffrey Nice:
“Up to three senior lawyers, expert in the field of international criminal law, will provide Opinions for, and be available to give evidence to, the Tribunal.”
Yet no such senior lawyer experts in the field of international criminal law sat on the Iraq inquiry.
The impunity instruction manual
We see that the Parliamentary inquiries into the government’s role in foreign military aggressions are devoid of any reference to international criminal law. The inquiry into Britain’s role in destroying Libya was made up in some part by MPs who voted to invade her. A bit like expecting the Saudi ministry of defence to investigate the Saudi ministry of defence for war crimes against Yemenis or expecting the Israeli government to investigate the IDF for war crimes against Palestinians.
How is it possible for British leaders to wage illegal wars, wipe out huge numbers of people, destroy states, inflame terrorism and create humanitarian disasters without a shred of accountability? Following Blair’s illegal war on Iraq, Parliamentary procedures for an investigation were followed. Such procedures are presented to British citizens as mechanisms upholding democracy. However, in practice they belong in an instruction manual on how to exercise impunity. It might go something like this:
- block an investigation into your war by voting against it but if that doesn’t work.
- get the most powerful person who voted to take your country to war and voted against an investigation to be in charge of setting up the investigation.
- Create and apply the type of investigation that can hide criminality and allow individuals to avoid questioning and call it a non-statutory public inquiry (as in the case of David Cameron who as PM led the aggression against Libya and refused to appear as a witness at the Libya Inquiry).
- Avoid at all cost references to the Geneva Convention, the UN Charter and other international law mechanisms in your inquiry’s remit.
- Appoint individuals with grand titles and expertise, who have sworn allegiance to the Queen to sit on your panel provided they are not experts in international criminal law. Such individuals are likely to be ideologically committed to globalism.
- Delay, sabotage or hide the report for years.
- Once published, undermine the report.
The person who set up the Iraq Inquiry in 2009 was the Labour Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown. This is the same man who voted 5 times to invade Iraq and then voted against having an inquiry.
He selected the panel, made up of civil servants and historians one of whom, Sir Martin Gilbert, was known to have written in 2004, “Bush and Blair “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill”.
Brown announced the inquiry would be in secret, a decision that was thought to have been influenced by Blair, but Brown was forced to allow some public sessions after criticism.
In a non-statutory inquiry, nobody could force Blair to give witness statements under oath. Blair therefore had the option of not answering any questions, although he did attend 2 sessions, presumably because of the pressure he was under.
The aim of the inquiry was described by its Chairman, Sir John Chilcot, as:
We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.
However, we should not think that the presence of an expert in law would guarantee proper recourse for victims of British imperialism or accountability. Those who operate with impunity have the tools they need to achieve the results they want, as shown by the led-by-a-legal expert Gibson Inquiry looking into the torture and rendition practices of the British intelligence services after 9/11. The inquiry, set up in 2010, was described by NGOs as “not fit for purpose”. Lord Gibson, an establishment stalwart, was the intelligence services commissioner. The government knows how to mark its own homework.
West-power’s imperialist propaganda of learning lessons from history
But any so-called lessons that could be learned about Iraq were too late coming as by 2016, the year of the Chilcot report publication, Britain, under David Cameron, once again in alliance with the US, and Qatar, had destroyed Libya, once again on the back of a pack of lies. And this in the wake of Blair’s adventurism that not only led to a massive death toll in Iraq, a humanitarian crisis and an exodus of refugees, but in the growth of terrorism and the rise of ISIS. Yet both Blair and Cameron went on to amass great wealth through their powerful status and connections.
The idea that the British political class can learn lessons from their war inquiries amounts to propaganda. In an interview in 2018 prolific liar Boris Johnson stated that officials at Porton Down, Britain’s very own chemical weapons laboratory, had confirmed that Russia had developed a substance which the British authorities claimed was used in a failed assassination attempt of the Russian Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter Yulia. The British authorities claimed the substance was Novichok and the attack was by Russia. Neither Porton Down nor the OPCW confirmed that Russia produced the substance. The idea therefore that our leaders will learn from mistakes is fantasy. They have shown that imperialism thrives on lies, deception and propaganda. Currently, we are bombarded daily from all sides by fearmongering headlines of Russian and Chinese aggression and are expected to forget the lies spun in our name to justify military aggression.
The Iraq Inquiry took seven years, despite a one year time plan. During that time Blair made a fortune through business deals with Gulf State dictators. He continued rubbing shoulders with the world’s most powerful and rich. On leaving government he ridiculously became Middle East Peace Envoy courtesy of George W Bush, which gave him access to regional business and commercial dealing. On the release of the Iraq Inquiry report Blair had acquired immense wealth and influence in the Middle East.
On release of the report, so much time had elapsed that some politicians suggested the Iraq invasion was history that did not need revisiting. One such politicians was the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, on the cusp of leaving Downing Street following the Brexit referendum result. Cameron spoke in the House of Commons on 6th July 2016, the day of the Chilcot report publication suggesting there was not “a huge amount of point” in “replaying all the arguments of the day…What we should do instead is…learn the lessons of what happened and what needs to be put in place to make sure that mistakes cannot be made in future.”
During the same debate, when asked about the government’s investigation into Iraq historic crimes allegations against British military personnel, Cameron said:
“We are doing everything we can to get through and knock down these wholly unjustified inquiries, because by and large, as we would expect, British forces behaved entirely properly.”
Cameron, despite bombing Libya in 2011 in the name of human rights, went camping with Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2020, lobbying for business. A year before, the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killing, Agnes Callamard, had advised civilised nations to bring proceedings against the Saudi Prince given evidence implicated him in the ordering of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. She was also the target of death threats. Saudi Arabia continues to sentence children to death.
The unimaginable heights of British government impunity
In theory the UN General Assembly can commission the International Court of Justice to bring a case against a British Cabinet Minister/Prime Minister for war crimes, but which British authority wants to see imperialist Britain exposed as a rogue state before the world? And which foreign government would dare to bring a case against the man whose military aggression was coordinated with a US leader?
Any Parliamentary fires burning for accountability from Blair following the Chilcot report were easily extinguished. A motion of contempt brought by some MPs on its release was crushed by procedural power and a motion to further investigate Blair’s manipulative use of correspondence was shut down equally easily. Impunity was protected.
Over the almost 19 years since Blair lied his way to a war on Iraq, a catalogue of inquiries and investigations has been carried out, including:
The Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, an adviser on biological weapons issues to the government and a former senior member of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in Iraq. Dr. Kelly’s alleged suicide followed his naming in the media as the source for a BBC report which suggested the government had deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD programmes. Tony Blair set up the inquiry, called a whitewash, instead of allowing a coroner’s inquest. There have been many concerns that his death was suspicious.
- The Butler Inquiry into the government’s intelligence gathering on Iraq WMDs.
- The Iraq (Chilcot) Inquiry
- The Royal Military Police’s Special Investigations by a branch deployed to Iraq in 2003 with conventional troops, “ready to investigate serious incidents involving UK forces, including potential British war crimes.” These were halted in 2004 due to “a concerted attempt by the chain of command to influence and prevent an investigation“.
- The Iraq Historic Allegations investigation (HIAT) (2010-2017) into allegations against British military personnel of serious crimes committed in Iraq between 2003 to July 2009, including allegations of war crimes, unlawful killing, unlawful killing of juveniles, sexual assault and rape.
- The Iraqi Fatality Investigation (IFI).
- The Gibson Inquiry into the British military and intelligence services’ complicity in rendition and torture programmes.
- The UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC)inquiry (following on from the Gibson Inquiry) published two reports following its investigation into detainee mistreatment and rendition in June 2018. Following its publication, the NGO Freedom from Torture stated: “The reports published today by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) put beyond the shadow of a doubt the heinous fact of UK complicity in torture after 9/1.
Yet only a tiny number of crimes have been prosecuted. They relate to low ranking soldiers who were jailed in 2005 for abusive treatment of Iraqi civilians, and one jailed in 2007 for a period of one year following the death of a man named Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist in Basra in September 2003. The scale of criminality and manipulation that engulfs the British government and military in regard to Iraq is immense. Deception, coercion, cover ups, botched investigations, whitewashes, secrecy, lies, closing of ranks, cherry-picking experts -the system is designed to survive in this way. This is not failure but the triumph of impunity.
Because of the failure of the British government to adequately investigate allegations of war crimes in Iraq, in 2014 the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an initial examination of the methodology used. In 2017, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC announced there was reason to believe that members of British forces committed war crimes in Iraq, – including willful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence. It also believed “several levels of institutional civilian supervisory and military command failures contributed to the commission of crimes against detainees by UK soldiers in Iraq”. However, in 2020 the ICC announced it would close its file. The ICC claimed it could not sufficiently show that UK judicial authorities were shielding military personnel from prosecution, its remit under the Statute of Rome. The ICC has been heavily criticised for not pursuing an investigation, as seen here, here and here, and that evidence exists to indicate systematic abuse. Therefore, in spite of all the evidence, the only international legal recourse left the arena. British impunity will only be emboldened.
The systematic failure of the British political system to hold its leaders, generals, politicians, intelligence services and soldiers to account shows the impenetrable armour of impunity. The judiciary plays an instrumental role in the armour’s upkeep. The following are just two examples.
In November 2002 proceedings were brought by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) against Tony Blair, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the Defence Minister Geoff Hoon. The CND argued the government must return to the UN for a clear resolution on Iraq before mounting military aggression and that to fail to do this and go to war would be a violation of international law. The British high court threw out the case. Less than four months later Britain invaded Iraq.
In June last year, Reprieve, a legal action NGO, together with two MPs appealed against Boris Johnson’s refusal to hold a judge-led public inquiry into the role of the British intelligence services in rendition and torture programmes following the 2001 terrorist attack in New York. Their involvement became a matter of public record following the 2018 ISC inquiry. The court dismissed the appeal. One of the judges of this court ruled on the US appeal case against Julian Assange in October, reversing the decision of the lower court not to extradite him to the US. In essence, Julian Assange is being persecuted for exposing US war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The judges have ruled to send him to the same authorities known to have plotted his assassination. Assange, as the publisher of Wikileaks, has exposed torture and rendition programmes, including Guantanamo. Assange is in prison fighting for his life. Tony Blair got a knighthood.