Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Where should we be looking for the war criminal?

Sad news. Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister and current leader of the Opposition, has cancelled her planned trip to London. The reason? A court in Westminster has issued an arrest warrant for her on charges of war crimes.

This is an outrage. If we had any doubt about how outrageous it was, we had only to wait for the explosion from Israel. ‘The lack of determined and immediate action to correct this distortion harms the relations between the two countries,’ the Israeli Foreign Ministry told us. And worse was to come: ‘If Israeli leaders cannot visit Britain in a dignified manner, it will naturally be a real obstacle to Britain's desire to have an active role in the peace process in the Middle East.’ Another fantasy political football match is under way in the Middle East, in which noble words get kicked around for a while, and then everyone goes home feeling they’ve done their best for the good cause while things just get worse on the ground. And if we’re not nicer to the Israelis, our fine British leaders won’t be allowed to play.

Still, it’s an interesting development that judges over here should try to hold politicians to account for their war crimes. On the other hand, it feels odd that these particular judges should be concerned with those particular crimes. Whatever the Israeli Army may have done in Gaza when Livni was in office, don’t British judges have other fish to fry?

Some years ago, when he was still Prime Minister, Tony Blair looked into a TV camera and told us all that he was ‘a straight sort of guy’. Since leaving office, he has found his way to God, converting to Catholicism. It’s a good faith for straight guys. Blair is, incidentally, a longstanding friend of one fine Catholic, the present Prime Minister of Italy.

Now when honest Blair took us to war in Iraq he told us his aim was to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction. Last weekend, he told the BBC that even if he had known there were no WMD in Iraq, he ‘would still have thought it right to remove’ Saddam Hussein. It sounds like the saintly straight guy of today is undermining the good faith of the straight guy then.

You see, our international obligations unfortunately only allow us three grounds for military action, that (a) we are under attack, (b) we are under credible and imminent threat of attack or (c) our action has been explicitly authorised by the UN. We weren’t under attack and Blair couldn’t get the UN to endorse the war, so that only left an imminent threat of attack. That would have been hard to prove even with WMD in Iraq, since the country didn’t have missiles capable of hitting Britain. Without WMD, the argument becomes flimsy to the point of being threadbare.

But Blair has gone further still. By declaring that he would have gone to war even if he had known there were no WMD in Iraq, he is admitting that he was prepared to wage war without legal justification. An illegal war, in fact. It’s hard not to feel that a man prepared to wage an illegal war fits pretty precisely the textbook definition of a war criminal.

So the only question that really matters is – did he honestly believe that Iraq had WMD? Or did he actually already know and go to war anyway – as he says he was prepared to do?

Now the evidence for Iraqi WMD was weak at the time – the UN weapons inspectors were checking out location after location identified by the Western Allies, only to find them empty of WMD – and the invasion showed conclusively that Iraq had none.

Isn’t it just possible that he might have had an inkling of the truth? OK, OK, it’s a harsh charge to bring. It suggests that a man who told us himself how honest he was may have been a little economical with the strictest truth. Perhaps it’s an unworthy thought, but it’s one I’d love to see tested in a court of law.

So the question for British judges is, did they miss a trick when they issued a warrant to arrest only Tzipi Livni?


Awoogamuffin said...

I'd really love to know why they really went into Iraq. Was it really just for oil? Has the war benefited oil companies? The problem is that when I try to find out, the internet and the media are so polarised on the issue it's really hard to tell.

Did they really think Hussein had to be stopped? What about all the other dictators?

I don't know... it may well just be a case of George following in daddy's footsteps.

David Beeson said...

I have to confess that my preferred explanation is that George was trying to clear up Daddy's problem, because I'm sure they could have got the oil far more cheaply, far more easily, in another way.

And Tony just did what George wanted.