Iraq: Will Tony Blair Finally Stand Trial for His Part in the “Supreme International Crime”?

Former British Prime Minister Blair listens to a question during an appearance at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“I think most people who have dealt with me, think I’m a pretty straight sort of guy, and I am.” (Tony Blair, BBC “On the Record”, 16th November 1997.) 

On 30th November last year, Michael Gove, currently UK Environment Minister, pretty well unloved by swathes of the population whatever Ministry he heads, declared, at the post Chilcot Inquiry debate in Parliament regarding Tony Blair’s role in dragging the UK in to a monumental tragedy for which history will not forgive:

“History, I think will judge him less harshly than some in this House do.”

Deciding whether or not to illegally invade Iraq was a “finely balanced act”, fantasized Gove.

It was not. It was a pack of lies, many of which came from the Blair regime, as confirmed by Colin Powell’s delusionary address to the UN on 5th February 2003, in subsequently unearthed correspondence and of course, the Chilcot Inquiry. 

On 15th September 2004, the then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in an interview with the BBC World Service, asked if the invasion was illegal, stated:

“Yes, if you wish.” He continued without caveat: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view and from the Charter point of view it was illegal.” 

Blair, his Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw and his Attorney General Lord Goldsmith did not face a Nuremberg type trial – and surreally, Blair, after his 2007 resignation was appointed Middle East Peace Envoy. Straw and Goldsmith went back to business as usual. 

However, after fourteen years, maybe two million deaths, the decimation by ISIS, the US, and the UK of Iraq’s (Mesopotamia’s) history, culture stewardship and witness, over millennia, to one of the world’s great, ancient civilizations, there is a chance that Antony Charles Lynton Blair, Jack Straw and Lord Goldsmith may yet face a Court of Law. 

File:Chirac Bush Blair Berlusconi.jpg

George W. Bush poses with G8 leaders during the G8 Summit in Evian, France, on June 2, 2003. From left, President Jacques Chirac of France, President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. (Source: White House photo by Eric Draper / Wikimedia Commons)

In April this year the UK Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, intervened in an attempt to halt a private prosecution of the three brought by General Abdul-Wahid al-Ribat, former Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein’s government.

The Attorney General argued that the basis of the case, the crime of aggression “the supreme international crime” as enshrined in the Nuremberg Tribunals, did not apply in British law and that the former Prime Minister, Blair and his Ministers had:

“implied immunity as former Head of State and government Ministers, therefore offence not made out … Allegations involve potential details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act for which Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions consent are required.” (1)

The implication seemingly being that those consents would not be forthcoming. 

However, in direct contradiction, relating to the argument regarding the crime of aggression:

“In his 2003 memo on the legality of the Iraq war (Lord) Goldsmith, then Attorney General, appeared to concede the key point of those now seeking his prosecution. ‘Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law’ “, he wrote in an advice to then Prime Minister Blair prior to the invasion. (2) 

Nevertheless the case was dismissed by the Judge at Westminster Magistrates Court. The legal team for General al-Ribat, led by Michael Mansfield QC and lawyer Imran Khan are not easily deterred. 

Mansfield has been described thus:

“The radical lawyer has become an icon in a disenchanted age … (Mansfield’s) high profile victories take on a hallowed significance: the good guys against the rotten state … with a flourish of his insolence and a refusal to shut up they flock to him … and he looks after them all. The Establishment loathes him.” (Guardian, 25th October 1997.) Imran Khan: “is one of the most highly regarded human rights layers in the country” and “a rebel with many causes.” (The Lawyer, 17th June 2015.) “My objective is to make sure the State is held accountable”, he is quoted as saying. 

This week, on Wednesday, 5th July, General al-Ribat’s case returned to the High Court in an appeal which is being heard by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and Mr. Justice Ouseley. 

The General had been motivated, Mansfield told the Court, by the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry that the Iraq invasion was unnecessary and undermined the United Nations. 

‘Mansfield summarised the report’s findings as:

“Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to the UK, intelligence reporting about [Iraqi] weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty, that the war was unnecessary and that the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council.” 

“Nothing could be more emphatic than these findings,” he said. “It was an unlawful war.” 

He further argued that in 1945:

“… when the British prosecutor, Sir Hartley Shawcross, opened the cases against Nazi leaders at the Nuremburg war crimes trials at the end of the second world war, he acted as though the crime of aggression had already been assimilated into English law.” (3) 

James Eadie, QC. representing the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright stated that:

“The crime of aggression is not know to English law” and does not exist in the statute book. 

Sabah al-Mukhtar, of the Arab Lawyers Network, commented of the case:

“This is just looking at whether the first Court was right in refusing to entertain the case. 

“The Magistrates Court dismissed it on the grounds that Tony Blair had immunity and that the crime of aggression was not part of English law. Many think they were not correct on that.” 

The case can be brought in Britain since the British were part of the occupying forces in Iraq, thus General al-Ribat, now living in exile is: “under the European Convention on Human Rights, deemed to have been within the jurisdiction at a relevant time.” 

The High Court’s decision has been reserved to allow a further week for the General’s legal team to make “additional specified submissions.” If the Appeal is not dismissed: “the issue of whether the crime of aggression exists in English law will be sent up to the Supreme Court to decide.” 

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Sir John Chilcot (Source: Iraq Inquiry)

It has not been Blair’s week. In the light of the Court hearing, Sir John Chilcot – who headed the seven year Inquiry in to the decimating attack on Iraq and found that the Blair Cabinet’s decisions on the matter had been “far from satisfactory” – broke a year long silence in an interview with the BBC. 

Asked if the former Prime Minister had been as truthful with him and the public as he should have been, Sir John replied: 

“Can I slightly reword that to say I think any Prime Minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.” 

Millions would surely agree, including a swathe of the media, as encapsulated by media correspondent Roy Greenslade (4) exactly a year ago, on the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry. The sub-heading was:

“Without exception, the ‘feral beasts’ of the press tear the former Prime Minister apart over the Iraq invasion, leaving his reputation in tatters.” 

A few front page examples were: “Chilcot Report into Iraq war delivers harsh verdict on Blair” (Financial Times); “A monster of delusion” (Daily Mail); “Weapon of mass deception” (Sun); “Blair’s private war” (Times); “Blair is world’s worst terrorist” (Daily Star) and “Spinning on their graves” (Independent). The Mail cited: “the duplicitous, dishonest, secretive, shallow and incompetent conduct of Tony Blair…” 

In November 2011:

“In Kuala Lumpur, after two years of investigation by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC), a Tribunal (the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, or KLWCT) consisting of five Judges with judicial and academic backgrounds reached a unanimous verdict that found George W Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.” (5)

Of relevance to this week’s case may be that: The Tribunal also added several recommendations to its verdict:

1) Report findings in accord with Part VI (calling for future accountability) of the Nuremberg Judgment of 1945 addressing crimes of surviving political and military leaders of Nazi Germany; 

2) File reports of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague; 

3) Approach the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution demanding that the United States end its occupation of Iraq; 

4) Communicate the findings of the tribunal to all members of the Rome Statute (which governs the International Criminal Court) and to all states asserting Universal Jurisdiction that allows for the prosecution of international crimes in national courts; and

5) Urge the UN Security Council to take responsibility to ensure that full sovereign rights are vested in the people of Iraq and that the independence of its government be protected by a UN Peacekeeping Force. 

It is ten years nearly to the day (27th June 2007) since Blair left Downing Street, left Iraq bathed in blood and tears and walked off to make £millions and a joke of all peace stands for, as a “Peace Envoy.”

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The Debate: Bush and Blair War Crimes: Ken O’Keefe

In March 2003, the US and its allies invaded Iraq under the pretext of annihilating weapons of mass destruction Saddam Hussein had in his arsenals.

George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the leaders of the US and Britain, spearheaded the invasion that removed Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator, from power, yet left the country in ruins and claimed more than a million Iraqi lives.

In this edition of the Debate, we ask Ken O’Keefe, a peace activist and former US Marine from London, and Lee Kaplan, an investigative journalist from San Francisco to answer when those responsible for the war crimes will be held accountable.


Carla Del Ponte – A War Crimes Prosecutor or A Guided Missile Against Syria?

 

 

Featured image: Carla Del Ponte, former member of Commission the Independent International of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic during the press conference. 8 February 2016. (Source: UN Photo /Jean-Marc Ferré/ flickr)

Only one week after announcing her decision to step down as one of the three members on the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria where she has spent five years since it’s inception in September 2012, Carla Del Ponte told Swiss media in interviews published Sunday, that her team has collected enough evidence against the President of Syria, Dr. Bashar Al Assad to convict him of war crimes.

She stated that her reason for stepping down is due to frustration at the U.N. Security Council’s failure to continue the commission’s work by setting up a special tribunal for Syria that could try alleged war criminals.

“That is why the situation is so frustrating. The preparatory work has been done, but nevertheless, there is no prosecutor and no court,” she told Sonntagszeitung. “It’s a tragedy.” She stated that “everyone in Syria is on the bad side. The Assad government has perpetrated horrible crimes against humanity and used chemical weapons. And the opposition is now made up of extremists and terrorists.”

In Sunday’s interviews, she said she had handed in her resignation letter last Thursday, and that she would officially step down on September 18, after the commission presents its latest report to the UN Human Rights Council. UN chief Antonio Guterres appealed last week for the commission to continue its work despite Del Ponte’s departure.

As a veteran former war crimes Prosecutor and former Swiss Attorney General, Del Ponte has prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia and is accustomed to high stress, high level corruption and crimes. Therefore her abrupt decision to step down and theoretically throw in the towel based on “frustration” seems a bit out of character for someone of her caliber.

Due to her obsessive perseverance her slain friend Giovanni Falcone had warmly dubbed her “the personification of stubbornness”. Interestingly enough though, when she left a previous office in 2007 her two most high-profile targets (The former Bosnian Serb wartime leaders, Radovan Karadzic andRatko Mladic) were still at large. They have yet to be brought to trial to face charges of genocide. Could this be a pattern for Ms. Del Ponte, the petite lawyer known for her ruthless pursuit of fugitives? Does frustration and the inability to carry out a task to completion cause her to quit time and time again?

A few additional nicknames Carla Del Ponte has been known by are “the new Gestapo”, “the whore”, “the unguided missile”.

Del Ponte’s evident bias against the Syrian Government

As writer Brandon Turbeville states:

“In her remarks announcing her resignation, Del Ponte, who is 70 years old, also admitted her own bias against the Syrian government since the beginning of the crisis. She stated that, when she was first appointed to the Independent Commission of Inquiry On Syria in 2012, “the opposition (members) were the good ones; the government were the bad ones.” Apparently, the woman so concerned with “crimes against humanity” was fine with “opposition members” randomly shooting civilians, raping women, slaughtering whole families and villages, and committing unspeakable acts against Syrian military soldiers and Syrian civilians. After all, she considered them the “good ones.” Only when the Syrian military began fighting back in earnest did “war crimes” become a concern. “The Assad government is committing terrible crimes against humanity and using chemical weapons. And the opposition, that is made up only of extremists and terrorists anymore,” she said.

Del Ponte claims that the Security Council should have appointed a court similar to the ones for Rwanda and Yugoslavia but the decision to do so was vetoed by Russia. Del Ponte is clearly frustrated at the fact that the Russians have prevented the U.N. from condemning and prosecuting Assad for crimes he did not commit. Thus, she will be leaving her post in September, leaving only two members left on the commission”.

Del Ponte under Investigation for bullying, bribery, and tainted evidence charges

In 2010, Judges at the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague ordered an independent inquiry into the practices of Del Ponte and two prominent serving prosecutors, Hildegard Ürtz-Retzlaff and Daniel Saxon, after complaints from witnesses that they had been harassed, paid, mistreated and their evidence tampered with.

Ms. Del Ponte, the former war crimes prosecutor who put Balkan warlords and political leaders behind bars, was investigated over claims that she allowed the use of bullying and bribing of witnesses, or tainted evidence.

In the eight years leading up to this investigation Del Ponte was a combative and divisive figure. As a determined Swiss investigator she served as her country’s ambassador to Argentina until she left her post in 2007.

The allegations against her concerned the working practices of her team of investigators in the prosecution for war crimes of the Serbian politician, Vojislav Seselj, a notorious warlord.

“Some of the witnesses had referred to pressure and intimidation to which they were subjected by investigators for the prosecution,” said a statement from the judge in the Seselj case. “The prosecution allegedly obtained statements illegally, by threatening, intimidating and/or buying [witnesses] off.”

One Serbian witness said he was offered a well-paid job in the US in return for testimony favourable to the prosecution.

“The statements mention sleep deprivation during interviews, psychological pressuring, an instance of blackmail (the investigators offered relocation in exchange for the testimony they hoped to obtain), threats (one, for example, about preparing an indictment against a witness if he refused to testify), or even illegal payments of money.”

An independent investigator, expected to be a French magistrate, is to report on the allegations within six months. Prosecutors in The Hague rejected the allegations while promising to co-operate with the inquiry.

Another call for an investigation against Del Ponte but this time with a request for sanctions against her as well

Yet again, Ms. Del Ponte was under investigation in 2012 when the counsel for Mr. Ante Gotovinafiled a formal complaint and request for an investigation and for sanctions to be placed against her.

“We, the undersigned, were counsel for Mr. Ante Gotovina, who on 16 November 2012 was acquitted of all charges by the Appeals Chamber of the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). 1, On 20 November 2012, in an interview with the Serbian newspaper Blic, Ms. Carla Del Ponte, former ICTY Prosecutor and currently a member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. 2, reacted to the ICTY Judgment with the following comments: “This is not justice; this is denial of a huge crime.” 3, She further elaborated on her position stating that the “Serbian Government and the Serbs cannot accept such a verdict and I completely agree with their televised statements because it is clear that the crime has been committed. We shall see what is going to happen next, but surely this is not justice.” 4, Her remarks were later published by other regional and international media. 5, Ms. Del Ponte’s improper media statements constitute a grave violation of Mr. Gotovina’s fundamental rights and are an unacceptable interference with the reputation and authority of the ICTY”.

They went on to say

“Clearly, Ms. Del Ponte is accusing the Appeals Chamber judges of corruption. This is highly inappropriate, especially where there is no basis whatsoever for such serious allegations. The United Nations must act immediately both to protect Mr. Gotovina’s fundamental rights and to protect the reputation of the United Nations and its judges. Remarkably, Ms. Del Ponte admitted that she made these statements before she had even read the judgement of the ICTY Appeals Chamber.”

Interview with David Greene putting blame on all Sides of the Syrian Conflict

On August 8th, 2017 David Greene interviewed Carla Del Ponte, regarding the reason(s) why she decided to leave the UN Syria Commission. The complete interview is included below.

DAVID GREENE, HOST: A former war crimes prosecutor has decided that she is done. She’s had enough of serving on a U.N. Syria commission because, in her words, the commission does absolutely nothing. This commission was investigating human rights violations. They released around a dozen reports on atrocities, but the United Nations never referred Syria to the International Criminal Court. Carla Del Ponte is the former prosecutor. She’s on the line now from her home in Switzerland. Thanks for joining us.

CARLA DEL PONTE: Good morning for me, yes.

GREENE: Well – so tell me why you decided to quit this commission.

DEL PONTE: Myself and my colleagues in the commission, we could not do it. We could not achieve that. We were many time – Security Council in New York we were all called. We present twice a year a report to the Council of Human Rights. We travel around the world to persuade the states. No, nothing happened. Justice is not an issue to discuss. And so I got enough. And I quit.

GREENE: You had enough and quit. How much do you point the finger at Russia? Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council. They can veto anything. And they, of course, support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Are they a big reason that nothing has happened, in your mind?

DEL PONTE: Absolutely because they are putting the veto right – that no resolution for the constitution of the international tribunal. So, of course, Russia (unintelligible) because in the end what I mean is that the other states are not making pressure to Russia to change in his opinion. But in any case, that’s politics. So myself – I’m ready to be prosecutor of a tribunal for Syria, but I’m not ready to continue to sit in this commission that just is an alibi for the international community.

GREENE: I just want to finish by asking you, I mean, you’ve worked doing this kind of work with Rwanda and the genocide there, with the former Yugoslavia. How does the war in Syria compare to those conflicts?

DEL PONTE: Well, you know, what I see myself is that the crimes that are committed in Syria are even much, much more horrible and terrifying what is happening in Syria. I never saw that kind of brutality. Not in the former Yugoslavia, not in Rwanda, but in Syria we are seeing atrocities that we can’t even imagine. And that is something more why it’s not possible to obtain justice.

GREENE: Is it all sides, not just the government in Syria?

DEL PONTE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, all sides, All sides. But, you know, at the beginning in 2011, it was the government, the opposition – democratic opposition was the good side. But now, they are all all, all, all committing crimes. All parties on this conflict are committing crimes.

GREENE: That’s former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte speaking to us from Switzerland. Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

DEL PONTE: Thank you.

As we can decipher from her responses above, from just a few days ago, she clearly stated that “all sides” were committing crimes. She did not single out one side. One must then question why on Sunday she changed her narrative to implicate and allege that President Assad is guilty of war crimes. Also, Del Ponte has no reservations against blaming Russia for interference yet she completely leaves out the fact that the United States, the U.K, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, etc. have been supporting, backing, training, and funding the armed opposition terrorist groups that have carried out most of the atrocities in Syria during the past 6 years. Again if in fact she believes that ALL sides are responsible why is she only trying to convict one side with war crimes? The hypocrisy is blaring.

Attempting to frame President Assad with unreliable evidence while looking away from crimes committed by terrorists and their sponsors

Ms. Del Ponte is overly eager to prosecute President Assad for crimes he didn’t commit while simultaneously looking past crimes that his adversaries did in fact commit.

The Syrian government led by Dr. Bashar Al Assad an ophthalmologist who is widely loved and respected and won his latest election in 2014 with 88.7% of the votes in what international observers who were present during the elections deemed as a fair and free election has denied  reports by the commission documenting widespread war crimes committed by government-backed forces and Syria’s security services.

In her latest interview with Swiss media on Sunday, Ms. Del Ponte expressed her resignation was also meant as a provocation.  Adding that she hoped it would “put pressure on the Security Council, which must deliver justice to the victims.” Del Ponte however said that if an international judicial process is eventually established for Syria, “I am ready to take on the position of international prosecutor.” She stressed that international justice was vital for Syria, where the crimes committed were “far worse” than what she had seen in the former Yugoslavia. “Without justice in Syria, there will never be peace and thus no future,” she said. “I do not want to be an alibi for an international community that is doing nothing at all,” Del Ponte told Le Matin Dimanche, explaining her decision to leave the UN commission.

2013 Del Ponte blamed “rebels” for chemical weapons attack NOT the Syrian Government

In an interview with Swiss-Italian TV in 2013, Ms Del Ponte, who served as a commissioner on the panel, said:

“Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals”. “According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated…This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities”.

Interestingly enough, no calls to prosecute the nation’s responsible for sponsoring these “rebels” were made.

This begs the question, why is Del Ponte more concerned with unverified information from unreliable sources which she is somehow wholeheartedly convinced is enough to charge President Assad with war crimes?

Effectively, a biased, unreliable, frustrated UN official has quit a mockery of an independent team which was set up to do a witch hunt rather than actually investigate war crimes in Syria, and the world is better off because of it. If this team actually cared about the truth and was procuring information via reliable sources they would name and shame the ones that are in fact responsible for this imposed war and invasion. They would call out the United states for arming terrorists, and the UK, NATO, GCC, etc. for their involvement in fueling the armed opposition as well. They would charge Turkey and Jordan with crimes for allowing terrorists to cross the border into Syria to help with the staged uprising in 2011.

That would simply be asking too much from the UN which has chosen to have Saudi Arabia a leading violator of human and women’s rights on both councils. The UN is a sham and does more harm than good and if there is any justice on earth it should be replaced with a group that actually does have the worlds best interests at heart, not one that is complicit in war crimes against humanity, that deliberately ignores real atrocities such as Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war against Yemen, which is being fueled by weapons purchased from the US and UK.

In contrast to the West, and in particular the biased, untrustworthy UN Council which has been intent on destroying Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, Russia and Iran are playing a constructive role in preventing the overthrow of Assad and the formation of a fundamentalist Sunni government in the country, a group of German academics have written in an open letter.

A group of German university professors have penned a joint statement criticizing the mainstream media’s portrayal of the roles of Russia and Iran in regulation of the Syrian conflict, Sputnik Deutschland reported. Called “a statement on the Syrian war,” the declaration was written by the scientific advisory board of the German branch of Attac, an international organization that campaigns for alternatives to globalization.

“Russia and Iran exhausted all the possibilities for a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the conflict; (although) such an attempt seemed be futile at first, they have for the time being ended military attacks and the war in Aleppo. Therefore, we think the attacks on Russia in the mainstream media are absurd,” they wrote.

The statement, written by 14 German university professors, recalls a 2011 interview with former NATO Secretary-General Wesley Clark, who revealed that just weeks after 9/11, the US had plans to not only invade Iraq, but five countries in the Middle East.

Until we hold the correct parties responsible for war crimes, and demand that countries take every precaution to help prevent additional wars, based on lies which are meant to essentially help our military industrial complex, and line the pockets of neocons in first world countries, then we will continue to watch as countries are destroyed, innocent people are killed, refugees are created, infrastructure is leveled, lives are ruined, and sovereign nations attacked for daring to not blindly follow and become subdued by powerful Western countries led by greedy, blood thirsty, war mongers.

Sarah Abed is an independent journalist and political commentator. Her articles can be read at the Rabbit Hole.

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