by John Pilger
Staring at the vast military history section in the airport shop, I had a choice: the derring-do of psychopaths or scholarly tomes with their illicit devotion to the cult of organized killing. There was nothing I recognized from reporting war. Nothing on the spectacle of children’s limbs hanging in trees and nothing on the burden of shit in your trousers. War is a good read. War is fun. More war please.
The day before I flew out of Australia, 25 April, I sat in a bar beneath the great sails of the Sydney Opera House. It was Anzac Day, the 95th anniversary of the invasion of Ottoman Turkey by Australian and New Zealand troops at the behest of British imperialism. The landing was an incompetent stunt of blood sacrifice conjured by Winston Churchill; yet it is celebrated in Australia as an unofficial national day. The ABC evening news always comes live from the sacred shore at Gallipoli, in Turkey, where this year some 8000 flag-wrapped Antipodeans listened, dewy-eyed, to the Australian governor-general Quentin Bryce, who is the Queen’s viceroy, describe the point of pointless mass killing.
It was, she said, all about a “love of nation, of service, of family, the love we give and the love we receive and the love we allow ourselves to receive. [It is a love that] rejoices in the truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And it never fails.”
Of all the attempts at justifying state murder I can recall, this drivel of DIY therapy, clearly aimed at the young, takes the blue riband. Not once did Bryce honor the fallen with the two words that the survivors of 1915 brought home with them: “Never again.” Not once did she refer to a truly heroic anti-conscription campaign, led by women, that stemmed the flow of Australian blood in the first world war, the product not of a gormlessness that “believes all things” but of anger in defense of life.
The next item on the TV news was an Australian government minister, John Faulkner, with the troops in Afghanistan. Bathed in the light of a perfect sunrise, he made the Anzac connection to the illegal invasion of Afghanistan in which, on 13 February last year, Australian soldiers killed five children. No mention was made of them. On cue, this was followed by an item that a war memorial in Sydney had been “defaced by men of Middle Eastern appearance.” More war please.
“Gooks”, “rag-heads”, “scum”
In the Opera House bar a young man wore campaign medals which were not his. That is the fashion now. Smashing his beer glass on the floor, he stepped over the mess which was cleaned up another young man whom the TV newsreader would say was of Middle Eastern appearance. Once again, war is a fashionable extremism for those suckered by the Edwardian notion that a man needs to prove himself “under fire” in a country whose people he derides as “gooks” or “rag-heads” or simply “scum.” (The current public inquiry in London into the torture and murder of an Iraqi hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, by British troops has heard that “the attitude held” was that “all Iraqis were scum”).
There is a hitch. In the ninth year of the thoroughly Edwardian invasion of Afghanistan, more than two thirds of the home populations of the invaders want their troops to get out of where they have no right to be. This is true of Australia, the United States, Britain, Canada and Germany.
What this says is that, behind the media façade of politicized ritual – such as the parade of military coffins through the English town of Wootton Bassett — millions of people are trusting their own critical and moral intelligence and ignoring propaganda that has militarized contemporary history, journalism and parliamentary politics – Australia’s Labor prime minister, Kevin Rudd, for instance, describes the military as his country’s “highest calling.”
Here in Britain, the war criminal Tony Blair is anointed by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee as “the perfect emblem for his people’s own contradictory whims.” No, he was the perfect emblem for a liberal intelligentsia prepared cynically to indulge his crime.
That is the unsaid of the British election campaign, along with the fact that 77 per cent of the British people want the troops home. In Iraq, duly forgotten, what has been done is a holocaust. More than a million people are dead and four million have been driven from their homes. Not a single mention has been made of them in the entire campaign. Rather, the news is that Blair is Labor’s “secret weapon.”
All three party leaders are warmongers. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader and darling of former Blair lovers, says that as prime minister he will “participate” in another invasion of a “failed state” provided there is “the right equipment, the right resources.” His one condition is the standard genuflection towards a military now scandalized by a colonial cruelty of which the Baha Mousa case is but one of many.
For Clegg, as for Gordon Brown and David Cameron, the horrific weapons used by British forces, such as clusters, depleted uranium and the Hellfire missile, which sucks the air out of its victims’ lungs, do not exist. The limbs of children in trees do not exist. This year alone Britain will spend £4 billion on the war in Afghanistan, and that is what Brown and Cameron almost certainly intend to cut from the National Health Service.
Edward S Herman explained this genteel extremism in his essay, The Banality of Evil. There is a strict division of labor’s, ranging from the scientists working in the laboratories of the weapons industry, to the intelligence and “national security” personnel who supply the paranoia and “strategies”, to the politicians who approve them. As for journalists, our task is to censor by omission and make the crime seem normal for you, the public. For it is your understanding and your awakening that are feared, above all.
David Cronin has tried to arrest former Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes:
As the former prime minister made his way into a packed committee room in the European Parliament, I stepped up to him and laid my hand on his arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said.
For a split second, he looked directly at me, treating me to an expression that seemed both blank and quizzical. Then I was pushed away firmly, though not too aggressively, by one of the phalanx of body guards surrounding him. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted after him, adrenaline giving me the kind of high I haven’t experienced in years.
I had prepared a more lengthy speech about how I believed Blair should be prosecuted for authorising the war against Iraq as this involved crimes against peace and the crime of aggression. I had also intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station so that I could file a criminal charge against him.
Yet to no surprise, I did not get a chance to recite these arguments and to test out my hastily acquired knowledge of the Nuremberg principles that were set down following the Second World War and the more recent Rome statute (the agreement under which the International Criminal Court was founded).
The real crime of course is that an arrest for war crimes will never happen, even though it should. Having taken Britain to war based on lies, in order to appease an American president hell-bent on an illegal war based entirely on mad ideological principles, will never likely have anyone held accountable. Where would the process end? Putin? Bush? Thatcher? Blair would likely argue his behaviour was nothing abnormal for someone in his position, indeed that it was to Britain’s advantage. Yet look at the hatred the war has engendered, look at the hundreds of thousands dead, look at the country we supposedly went to ‘liberate’ totter under a regime as disinterested in human rights as Saddam Hussein was. And don’t forget Saddam was once our friend too.
The only question that counts is the one that the Chilcot inquiry won’t address: was the war with Iraq illegal? If the answer is yes, everything changes. The war is no longer a political matter, but a criminal one, and those who commissioned it should be committed for trial for what the Nuremberg tribunal called “the supreme international crime”: the crime of aggression.
But there’s a problem with official inquiries in the United Kingdom: the government appoints their members and sets their terms of reference. It’s the equivalent of a criminal suspect being allowed to choose what the charges should be, who should judge his case and who should sit on the jury. As a senior judge told the Guardian in November: “Looking into the legality of the war is the last thing the government wants. And actually, it’s the last thing the opposition wants either because they voted for the war. There simply is not the political pressure to explore the question of legality – they have not asked because they don’t want the answer.”
Others have explored it, however. Two weeks ago a Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had “no sound mandate in international law”. Last month Lord Steyn, a former law lord, said that “in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal“. In November Lord Bingham, the former lord chief justice, stated that, without the blessing of the UN, the Iraq war was “a serious violation of international law and the rule of law“.
Under the United Nations charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN security council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (article 51). Neither of these conditions applied. The US and UK governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point the US state department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection (all references are on my website). Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation.
We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that “a legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists.” In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told the prime minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war – “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.” Bush and Blair later failed to obtain security council authorisation.
As the resignation letter on the eve of the war from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, revealed, her office had ”consistently” advised that an invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution. She explained that “an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression”. Both Wilmshurst and her former boss, Sir Michael Wood, will testify before the Chilcot inquiry tomorrow. Expect fireworks.
Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. Crimes of aggression (also known as crimes against peace) are defined by the Nuremberg principles as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties”. They have been recognised in international law since 1945. The Rome statute, which established the international criminal court (ICC) and which was ratified by Blair’s government in 2001, provides for the court to “exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression”, once it has decided how the crime should be defined and prosecuted.
There are two problems. The first is that neither the government nor the opposition has any interest in pursuing these crimes, for the obvious reason that in doing so they would expose themselves to prosecution. The second is that the required legal mechanisms don’t yet exist. The governments that ratified the Rome statute have been filibustering furiously to delay the point at which the crime can be prosecuted by the ICC: after eight years of discussions, the necessary provision still has not been adopted.
Some countries, mostly in eastern Europe and central Asia, have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws, though it is not yet clear which of them would be willing to try a foreign national for acts committed abroad. In the UK, where it remains illegal to wear an offensive T-shirt, you cannot yet be prosecuted for mass murder commissioned overseas.
All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the international criminal court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression. We should also press for its adoption into national law. But I believe that the people of this nation, who re-elected a government that had launched an illegal war, have a duty to do more than that. We must show that we have not, as Blair requested, “moved on” from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it.
But how? As I found when I tried to apprehend John Bolton, one of the architects of the war in George Bush’s government, at the Hay festival in 2008, and as Peter Tatchell found when he tried to detain Robert Mugabe, nothing focuses attention on these issues more than an attempted citizen’s arrest. In October I mooted the idea of a bounty to which the public could contribute, payable to anyone who tried to arrest Tony Blair if he became president of the European Union. He didn’t of course, but I asked those who had pledged money whether we should go ahead anyway. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
So today I am launching a website – www.arrestblair.org – whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister. I have put up the first £100, and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I’ve laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available until Blair faces a court of law. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try.
At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on.
Friday 29th January will be a big day. Tony Blair gives evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry:
The timetable for the protest is as follows:
8.00: PROTEST STARTS AS BLAIR ARRIVES
A delegation including Iraqi citizens and grieving military families take the People’s Dossier of questions for Tony Blair to Sir John Chilcot.
9.00-10.00: NAMING OF THE DEAD CEREMONY
When Blair’s testimony begins, names of Iraqis killed in the war will be read by novelist A.L Kennedy, Musician Brian Eno, actor and director Sam West, actor and director Simon McBurney, playwright David Edgar, Lancet editor Richard Horton, former UK ambassador Craig Murray, Iraqi author Haifa Zangana, comedian and author Alexei Sayle, actor Miriam Margolyes, and more.
10.00-11.00: SPEECHES, READINGS AND PERFORMANCES
Including by many of those participating in the Naming the Dead ceremony.
Lowkey, King Blues and other Musicians.
13.00-14.00: MILITARY FAMILIES NAMING OF THE DEAD
Members of military families who lost loved ones in the Iraq war will read the names of all 179 British soldiers who died.
16.00: PROTEST AS TONY BLAIR LEAVES THE INQUIRY
Be there, hold this war criminal to account, and expect the Met’s fine words after G20 to fall by the wayside.