Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to attend a conference last week for a very good reason – he did not want to be publicly associated with a war criminal.
That war criminal was Tony Blair, who had been paid his usual whopping fee ($238,000 in this case) to deliver his usual sanctimonious blather at a South African conference on “leadership.” Tutu – who was speaking for no fee – withdrew from the meeting when he heard Blair was coming, the Guardian reports.
This was a rare – very rare – example of behavior which should be ubiquitous: shunning mass murderers. Blair, like George W. Bush (and Bill Clinton, he whose minions openly accepted responsibility for the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children in the US-UK sanctions regime that devastated Iraq before the US and UK finally launched their outright war of aggression in 2003), swans around the world collecting accolades – and mucho dinero – from the great and good and the high and mighty (and their simpering media sycophants), untroubled by his instrumental role in the Hitlerian invasion and its aftermath, which has left – according to measurement tools used by Blair’s own government – more than a million innocent people dead.
But Tutu did more than a simple shunning. He went on to pen a column in The Observer openly calling for Blair and Bush to be put on trial for war crimes. His indictment (quoted here in the Guardian) is damning:
Tutu, a Nobel peace prize winner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accuses the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and says the invasion left the world more destabilised and divided "than any other conflict in history."
… But it is Tutu's call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and western ones, he says the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.
"On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague," he says.
In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilisation, with no gain. "Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.
"Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?" Blair and Bush, he says, set an appalling example. "If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?" he asks.
"If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?"
Blair attempted to reply to this withering blast, with his best ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ shtick, but he only compounded his moral nullity with his defense. He offered, as usual, the facts that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who violently oppressed his people – a situation that has long obtained in many countries around the world (including many of Tony’s pals in the Middle East and Central Asia, who pay him so handsomely for his ‘counsel’). And of course, this oppression had nothing to do with the repeatedly stated “reasons” for the attack offered by Bush and Blair: that Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat of attack on Britain and America.
The knowing falsity of these pre-war charges has been confirmed in a multitude of quarters, but Blair, with the irreality of the genuine psychopath, now claims the opposite, saying “the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown.” The fact is that every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown the complete opposite: that high officials throughout both governments were well aware of the weakness and falsity of the “evidence” of Iraq’s WMDs, and that these weak reeds were bent and shaped to fit the policy approved by both leaders: to invade Iraq, come hell or high water.
But Blair goes even further into the mire. One of the features of his defense is – I kid you not -- how “prosperous” the Iraqi economy is now compared to the situation before the invasion:
"I would also point out that despite the problems, Iraq today has an economy three times or more in size, with the child mortality rate cut by a third of what it was. And with investment hugely increased in places like Basra."
I must admit that, old cynic that I am, even I was taken aback by the brazenness displayed here. Blair was in power for six years of the US-UK sanctions regime against Iraq. He is just as complicit as Clinton and both George Bushes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent children (and adults) who perished as a direct result of the devastating sanctions, which denied Iraqis most of the basic elements of life. If Iraq’s economy really is “three times larger now” (that is, assuming this smiling, unctuous, super-Christian liar is not lying in his usual lying manner), it is because it is starting from the “Year Zero” level imposed on the ordinary Iraqi people – by Tony Blair himself, colluding with his bipartisan masters in Washington, Clinton and Bush.
Blair himself helped grind the Iraqi economy – and the Iraqi people – into the dust. And now, after launching a war of aggression against the country which killed a million more people, he takes credit for the “improvement” from lifting the sanctions he himself imposed and sternly policed.
Surely this breaks new ground for war criminals. Not even Adolf Hitler claimed that his murderous invasions were “good” for the Poles and the Russians and the Jews, that by launching baseless wars of aggression and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people he was somehow doing them a favor. But Blair, like Bush and Clinton – and like Obama and Romney and the rest of the American political class – insist that their murders and invasions and black ops and sanctions are altruistic missions of mercy to the very people they are killing or strangling.
And as Tutu notes in his piece, the same dynamic is now being played out against Iran – with the stakes for mass murder, suffering and generations of chaos, hatred and destabilization engulfing the world even higher. Yet our leaders plunge on and on in this berserker frenzy in their impossible quest to dominate the entire world.
I’m writing quickly, on the road, grabbing a few rare moments of internet time, so I can’t do this outrage the justice it deserves. (And no, this is not some blanket endorsement of every position or personal association ever taken or made by Desmond Tutu.) But his shunning of Blair and his call for the instigators of the invasion of Iraq – an atrocity which dwarfs the suffering Saddam inflicted on the people there – are examples that should be emulated by everyone in public life. We can only hope it catches on.
UPDATE: George Monbiot has more on Tutu's humanitarian intervention in the Tony Blair war crimes case. From the Guardian:
When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to The Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done. Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.
The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg principles as the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression". This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter.
That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair's cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.
His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, "i) there must be an armed attack upon a state or such an attack must be imminent; ii) the use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) the acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack." None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him: "A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists."
Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.
…But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the international criminal court, and all of them are African. (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There's a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war.
Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as "the supreme international crime", several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date.
The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair's lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.
That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – www.arrestblair.org – to promote peaceful citizens' arrests of the former prime minister. … Our aim is the same as Tutu's: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.
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That looked, until this weekend, like an almost impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.