Blair, Tony

Why I believe Blair should stand trial - and even face charges for war crimes,

by General Sir Michael Rose

By General Sir Michael Rose
Last updated at 3:44 AM on 28th November 2009

The inquiry into the Iraq War is not a court and no one is on trial. So said Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the inquiry, in his opening statement. He added that he was not there to determine the guilt or innocence of those responsible for the invasion of Iraq.

The object of the inquiry is simply to identify the lessons that should be learned from Iraq in order to help future UK governments who may face similar situations.

No doubt, Sir John's inquiry will be both frank and impartial. No doubt, where appropriate, some criticism will be made of politicians and officials alike.

But although these are worthy objectives, they fall scandalously short of the crucial issue which millions of people in this country  -  myself included  -  believe this inquiry should be about.

With respect to Sir John, there is really no point in holding a further inquiry unless it does apportion blame, unless it does hold to account those who led us into this unnecessary, unwinnable and costly war in Iraq.

The inquiry should be the first step in a judicial process that brings those responsible for the disasters of the Iraq war before the courts  -  and could, as I shall explain, ultimately result in Tony Blair being indicted for war crimes.

Already, the inquiry has provided us with devastating details of events in the run-up to Iraq.

Sir William Ehrman, former Director of Defence and Intelligence at the Foreign Office, told it this week that British spies reported ten days before the invasion that Iraq had 'disassembled' what chemical weapons it had. Yet Tony Blair nevertheless pressed ahead with the war.

Then came former Washington ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer's claim that Tony Blair and George W. Bush had signed a secret deal 'in blood' to topple Saddam Hussein almost a year before Iraq was invaded, and that officials found themselves scrabbling to find 'a smoking gun' to justify going to war.

But, despite these compelling accounts of what happened, the truth is that we already know the main lessons of Iraq: Britain was taken unprepared into war on false grounds, and the inevitable result was the destruction of Iraq, enormous loss of life and continuing political turmoil in the Middle East. Worse, the war has radicalised Muslim opinion against the West throughout the world, even spawning terrorism on the streets of London. 

Although it may be too early to assess the final cost of the war in human, political or economic terms, already the figures that have emerged are truly horrifying.

Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and more than 4,500 soldiers from coalition forces have been killed during almost seven years of the occupation  -  and probably ten times that number have been injured. Two million Iraqis have fled their country and another two million have been internally displaced.

Up to $3 trillion has been spent on the war by America  -  a staggering sum that is likely to have played a significant part in the collapse of the American banking system and helped create the present difficulties facing the world economy.

Today, so many destabilising political, economic and social issues remain in Iraq that despite victory having been declared, there is a serious danger the country will collapse into civil war when the American troops finally depart next year.

Added to all this is the effect on the war in Afghanistan. War can never be an isolated act, and the West's efforts in Afghanistan have been almost fatally damaged by the decision to concentrate on Iraq  -  with the resulting diversion of vital strategic resources.

If only a fraction of the military and economic resources that have been expended in Iraq over the past six years had been committed to Afghanistan in 2001, the situation would certainly look very different today from the deeply worrying one that currently exists in that war-torn country.

Crucially, it would not have been possible for the Taliban to return to Afghanistan or mobilise the support of the Afghani people against the coalition forces by claiming that the West had failed to deliver its promise to rebuild the country.

As it is, the Taliban has been able to exploit the vacuum that was left when the West turned away  -  and we now have a situation which, at its worst, could spill over into Pakistan, raising the spectre of Al Qaeda gaining access to nuclear weapons.

Any military strategist will tell you it is never sensible to open a second front, as we did in Iraq, before completely defeating the enemy on the first front.

As Blair walks off into our history books, without seemingly a scintilla of blame being attributed to him for his part in the Iraq war, no wonder there is such extreme fury and frustration with a political system that refuses to make him answer for his actions.

Recently, I heard an Oxford academic describe the Iraq war as 'stale cabbage', adding that the British people were no longer interested in how the Iraq war had come about.

But this dismissive attitude greatly underestimates the desire for justice that characterises most of us in this country.

Indeed, it is likely that much of the current anger over the issue of MPs' expenses is actually an expression of deep disillusionment with the entire democratic process, which has been brought on by Blair's decision to go to war against the clear will of the majority of the people.

Sadly, it was also a decision in which the majority of MPs, with a few honourable exceptions such as the late Robin Cook, were complicit.

For it is not just Blair who should be held to account. In the run-up to the Iraq war, it is clear that MPs failed sufficiently to question the validity of the intelligence used by Blair to justify the war  -  choosing to believe what they were told and supinely accepting the conclusions of the infamous 'dodgy dossier' which warned that Saddam could launch an attack on the West within 45 minutes.

During the debate on the dossier on September 24, 2002, they failed to challenge the Prime Minister even though it would have been a simple matter to determine whether the missiles that Saddam supposedly possessed were tactical or strategic weapons.

Tactical battlefield missiles  -  which are what they turned out to be  -  could only just reach the British sovereign base at Dhekelia in Cyprus, and they certainly did not constitute a strategic threat to the West as Blair claimed.

If one of my military students at the British Army Command and Staff College had produced such a sloppy and weak case for war as did Tony Blair before Parliament, I would have sacked him  -  for he would have revealed himself to be entirely without the strategic grasp or ruthless analytic quality that is necessary in any military leader, especially one in time of war.

Yet Blair's misuse of intelligence in the run-up to war is but one of at least two vital issues where the Iraq inquiry should be seeking to determine whether he is guilty of deception.

First, the then Prime Minister clearly stated before the invasion that regime change would never be the reason for going to war  -  yet it is already beginning to emerge from the Iraq inquiry that this was almost certainly the real reason for invading Iraq.

On this issue, at least, it seems as if Blair misled Parliament and, indeed, the country.

Second, according to accepted international law of war, no country should go to war unless it is the action of last resort; its actions are proportional to the threat; and unless the end result is justified by the means used  -  in other words, that the situation in the country after the invasion will be an improvement, in human and security terms, on the original state of affairs. 

The war in Iraq represents a clear breach of these three basic requirements: the UN believed there was no justification for going to war in March 2003, as we had not reached the point of 'last resort'; there was no threat whatsoever from Iraq in the absence of chemical weapons; and the woeful failure to commit proper resources to the post-war situation meant Iraq inevitably descended into a spiral of disorder, violence and chaos from which it has still not recovered.

Everyone  -  even a Prime Minister  -  must be presumed innocent until he is proven guilty. However, it is not a sustainable defence for Blair to say that he felt he was doing the 'right thing' when he committed this country to the invasion of Iraq, or that he was himself misled by the intelligence.

It is his obvious responsibility as the country's leader to determine the validity and quality of the source of the intelligence before taking us to war.

And it seems more than probable, from the grotesque fiasco of the 'dodgy dossier', that Blair was quite happy to use any intelligence that suited his case  -  and ignore warnings about its quality.

Already, the inquiry seems to be confirming our worst fears about events leading up to the war against Iraq in 2003. Already, a prima facie case could be made that the invasion of Iraq was in significant breach of international law and might constitute a war crime.

Surely, if such a case does exist against Blair, then the people of this country could rightly demand that he be brought before a court of law. The Chilcot Inquiry must not stop short of apportioning blame given the evidence building up against Blair.

In Britain, we have a good tradition of holding our leaders to account when they lead our country to disaster. When Admiral John Byng lost the island of Minorca to the French in 1756, he was shot by six Royal Marines as he knelt on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch. Subsequently, Voltaire claimed  -  probably correctly  -  that the British had done this to encourage other admirals never to repeat such mistakes.

When the British Army was defeated at Yorktown in 1781 at the end of the American War of Independence, the entire British Cabinet resigned. George III, who had fervently supported the war, also tried to resign, but was not allowed to do so.

When Winston Churchill, who as First Sea Lord had been the main architect of the Empire's Gallipoli campaign against the Turks, saw the scale of the disaster that happened there in 1915, he immediately volunteered for the trenches in France  -  where, no doubt, he hoped to find death or redeem his honour.

In contrast, Blair today swans about the world making millions from business contracts and lectures. And, to make matters still more distasteful, much of these earnings are only made possible because of the American and Middle Eastern contacts he made as a result of his unconditional support for Bush during the Iraq war.

In going to war, against the will of the people, Blair has gravely damaged democracy in this country. Is it any surprise that only a minority of the voting public in Britain now turn out for general elections?

That is why I believe that, if justice is to prevail, and faith in democracy is to be restored in this country, Tony Blair and those officials responsible for the disasters of the Iraq war should appear in a court of law which could lead to them being indicted for war crimes.

We owe this much at least to those many brave and courageous people who have died or been injured in Iraq as well as to their families.

As with the shooting of Admiral Byng, putting Blair before a court of law to answer for his actions would surely encourage future prime ministers not to wage costly and unnecessary wars in times to come.

General Sir Michael Rose was commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. He is shortly to appear as a witness in the Karadzic war crimes trial in The Hague.

Read more: