Tony Blair feels the heat over Iraq

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Something astonishing, even historic, is happening in the United Kingdom. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair is being accused -- so far unofficially -- of very serious crimes. The shadow hanging over him makes questions about Brian Mulroney's creepy past pale in comparison.


Although Blair (called Bliar by some) was, according to reports, "defiant" and "predictably slick" during his recent appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war, the walls seem to be closing in.


Outside the inquiry venue, demonstrators, including the relatives of slain soldiers, labelled the moment Blair's "Judgement Day" -- in part because, as the Stop the War Coalition declared, "the latest evidence given to the Chilcot Committee shows beyond doubt that Tony Blair knew he was taking Britain into an illegal war, and that he doctored legal advice to deceive his Cabinet, Parliament and the British public."


Just days before Blair was about to present his reasons for going to war as George W. Bush's ally, he was effectively ambushed by one of Britain's top columnists.


In the Guardian newspaper on January 25, George Monbiot launched a website named www.arrestblair.org. He is not kidding around.


Monbiot's goal is to raise money to pay a bounty to people who attempt a peaceful citizen's arrest of Blair for crimes against peace -- or, more ominously, war crimes. The strategy has been described in the media as a "21st-century bounty hunt".


"I have put up the first £100," Monbiot wrote, "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 for as long as Blair lives. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try."


There seems to be public support. In the first two days, the fund raised £9,000 -- over $15,000. (On "Judgement Day" one protestor was "restrained" by police when attempting an arrest.)


What exactly are crimes against peace? Monbiot answers that clearly on his website.


He notes that the Nuremburg Principles state that such crimes, which are "punishable under international law" include the "(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances."


Monbiot is frustrated because he feels the Chilcot Inquiry is going to avoid the main issue of whether the war against was Iraq illegal. If it was, he argues, then Blair's case becomes a criminal, rather than a political one -- and he could be arrested.


According to Monbiot's research, there is no question that the war was illegal. He notes that a recent Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, established that the invasion had "no sound mandate in international law."


Monbiot also quotes a former British law lord who stated that "in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal." A former lord chief justice in Britain has also argued that the Iraq war was "a serious violation of international law and the rule of law."


Before a legal war can be waged under the UN Charter, Monbiot explains, two conditions must be met. First, the disputing parties must attempt to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Second, an armed attack must occur.


We all know that Iraq did not attack either the U.S. or the U.K., but few are now aware that the U.S. and the U.K. actually rejected Iraq's attempts to negotiate. In fact, writes Monbiot, "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 of this is important because, as Monbiot states bluntly: "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."


Ironically, the crimes Monbiot and others believe Blair committed can, in theory, be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), established under the Rome Statute. This statute was ratified by Blair's own government in 2001 -- although technical roadblocks have since been put in the way by several countries.


"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," writes Monbiot.


Because the U.K., like the U.S., re-elected the government which took them into an illegal war, Monbiot feels the British people have a duty to "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."


Monbiot is upping the ante. He is challenging the British people and, indeed, citizens of all democracies to come forward and defend their values. "There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on."


How many of us are up for the Monbiot challenge?

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