Tony Blair is a War Criminal

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © World Economic Forum

Tony Blair’s recent testimony at the Leveson Inquiry was interrupted when an angry protester breached security and branded the former PM a War Criminal. David Lawley Wakelin, a film-maker, managed to storm the supposedly secure hearing by using the judge’s corridor and then proceeded to let Blair have it in full view of the inquiry team and press. This was not the first time Blair has been confronted by someone in this manner. In September 2010, activist Kate O’Sullivan attempted to make a citizens’ arrest upon the former PM for war crimes whilst he was signing copies of his autobiography in a Dublin book shop.

After such incidents, the media devote their attention to the breach of security that allowed those involved to get so close to Blair. The accusations themselves seldom receive as much attention and the accusers like Wakelin are dismissed as “crazed” or as “lone idiots.” In reality however, Wakelin and O’Sullivan are neither crazy nor idiotic but rather spot on – Tony Blair is a War Criminal. He may lack the comical get-up of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in The Dictator but nevertheless, he can be accurately described as a War Criminal for committing the “supreme international crime” of aggression.

The US/UK invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression. It violated the principle of Nuremberg and the UN Charter. Aggression is the very crime that the Nazis were convicted and subsequently hung for at Nuremberg. Robert Jackson, the chief counsel for the prosecution at Nuremberg clearly defined aggression: “Declaration of war upon another State/ Invasion by its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State/Attack by its land, naval or air forces, with or without a declaration of war, on the territory, vessels or aircraft of another State.”  Jackson also made it clear that there were to be no exceptions barring one: “No political, military, economic or other considerations may serve as an excuse or justification for such actions, but exercise of the right of legitimate self-defence, that is to say, resistance to an act of aggression, or action to assist a State which has been subjected to aggression, shall not constitute a war of aggression.” 

The UN Charter was founded on the Nuremberg principle and declares aggression as “the supreme international crime differing from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The invasion of Iraq clearly falls within this definition.

Defenders of Blair may argue that by invading Iraq, Blair was not committing an act of aggression but rather exercising “the right of legitimate self-defence.” It is indeed true that the invasion was undertaken on the principle of anticipatory self-defence – Iraq had or was developing certain weapons that they intended to use on us or our allies and so we acted to prevent this. Whilst the UN Charter makes provision for anticipatory self-defence it does so only in the event of an imminent attack. The pretext for invasion became even less credible when it became evident that Iraq did not have and was not developing WMDs. In no way can it be said that the Iraq invasion is exempt from the charge of aggression on the basis of self-defence.

Once the original premise for war was thoroughly discredited, the UK Government, along with its US ally, attempted to invoke a retro-active justification of ‘Humanitarian Intervention.’ The then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made the case for the Government: “If you look in Iraq what you see there is a country that has been liberated from a terrible tyranny.”  Blair echoed these sentiments at Chilcot when he remarked that Saddam’s removal had made for a “better world.” Despite what the Government said, the invasion of Iraq was not a Humanitarian Intervention. According to academic consensus and individuals such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, the invasion of Iraq was not a Humanitarian Intervention principally because of the retroactive nature of the justification’s invocation and the non-humanitarian outcome of the invasion.

Others may suggest that the invasion of Iraq did not constitute aggression because it was directed against the monstrous Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime – in other words, we were right to depose Saddam because we are good and he was bad etc. Blair undoubtedly considered himself to be morally righteous when he made the decision to invade Iraq. Equally, no one doubts that Saddam was a monster deserving of the fate that befell him. However, this cannot exempt Blair from the charge of aggression because of the concept of universality. Every military force in history has believed itself to be right and good when it invades somewhere. It is for that reason that the Nuremberg principle and the UN Charter are intended to be applied universally, i.e. everyone is the same in front of the law, applying standards to others that we apply to ourselves etc.  Jackson was keen to emphasize this point at Nuremberg: “If certain acts are violation of treaties, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” As a former lawyer, Blair is surely aware of the concept of universality.

Tony Blair is indeed a War Criminal but don’t expect to see him on trial in the International Criminal Court anytime soon. Perhaps the tabloids are right to call the likes of O’Sullivan and Wakelin crazed and idiotic, not necessarily for levelling accusations at Blair per se but for being deranged enough to have reverence for the principle of Nuremberg, the UN Charter and for forgetting Thucydides’s maxim: “The strong do as they can, while the weak suffer what they must.”


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