Sunday 21 March 2021

Tony Blair and the Iraq War of 2003: Should He Stand Trial For the Crime of Waging a "War of Aggression"?

Title of Image: “Photo Op”. Credit: Imperial War Museum/Peter Kennard & Cat Philips (2005)

March 20th 2003 was the start of the Iraq War, a war many argue was an illegal "war of aggression" as prescribed under the Nuremberg Principles.

The Chilcot Inquiry found that Tony Blair was privately committed to the military option even though he lied to the Cabinet, Parliament and the British public that war would only be a last resort, and so was himself an active and knowing participant in the conspiracy to invade another sovereign nation on a false premise.

In doing this, he was breaching the “Nuremberg Principles” which clearly outlined the crime of waging aggressive war; the principle under which military and political leaders of the Nazi regime such as General Alfred Jodl, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and Joachim von Ribbentrop were convicted and later hanged.

For instance, in a telephone conversation with President Bush in December 2001, which made reference to the need to be rid of Saddam, Blair noted that an “extremely clever plan would be required.” (December 3rd, 2001) In July of the following year, he told Bush: “I will be with you, whatever.” (“Secret Personal Note on Iraq”, July 28th 2002). He was advised by Richard Dearlove, the Head of MI6 that the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was “thin”, but that that would be no problem advised Dearlove because “intelligence and facts were being fixed (by the US) around the policy.” (“Downing Street Memo”, Sunday Times, 1st May 2005).

In doing so, Blair was:

1. Abrogating his solemn responsibility to Parliament

2. Defying international law

3. Engaging in a criminal conspiracy

4. Abusing the powers vested in his office.

As a result, he was prima facie liable for the following criminal proceedings:

1. A criminal trial at a court of international jurisdiction for Waging a War of Aggression.

2. A prosecution under The Hague and Geneva rules which prohibit the pillage of another nation state by fundamentally transforming the economy of an occupied nation.

3. A trial in the Palace of Westminster following impeachment as a holder of public office for “high treason or other crimes and misdemeanours.”

4. Trial for the common law indictable offence of Public Misconduct. This is defined as occurring where a public officer acting in the course of their duties wilfully neglects to perform his duty or wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.

The war was illegal because it breached UN Charter Article 2(4) which provides that all member states must refrain from the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. And neither of the two exceptions of self-defence, that is the threat of an imminent attack, and Security Council authorisation applied.

In 2008, Lord Thomas Bingham used the occasion of his first major speech after his retirement from Britain’s highest court to describe the invasion of Iraq as a “serious violation of international law.”

The judgement of the International Military Tribunal said the following:

“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The long term effects of the conspiracy have been catastrophic to human life and regional stability. The occupation of Iraq which included massacres by the US military and torture in places such as Abu Ghraib; the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria all combined to create a huge death toll, permanent injuries, ecological damage, and population displacement which are still with the world to this day.

Unfortunately, Tony Blair has been able to escape prosecution, not only due to the lack of will of the political class in Britain, but because of two key legal obstacles, both centring on the lack of justiciability:

1. The decision to postpone the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the crime of aggressive war for a period which covered the conspiracy to attack Iraq and its launch.

2. The dualist tradition of the British legal system meant that although Britain was a signatory to the Nuremberg Principles, unlike the situation in a monist state where international law becomes part of domestic law without being implemented by a national legislature, Parliament had not translated the crime of waging aggressive war into an Act.

So far as 1 is concerned, a suitable definition was finally reached in 2010 when it was decided that alleged offenders should not be prosecuted until further agreement in 2017. And regarding 2, the case of R v Jones (2006) put to rest the argument that the crime of aggressive war had filtered into British municipal law. Ironically the judge who gave the leading statement, Lord Bingham would refer to the Iraq War as a “serious violation of international law” after his retirement.

The definition adopted at the Review Conference of the Rome Statute held in Kampala, Uganda provided the following:

“The planning or preparation or initiation by a person in a position effectively to exercise control or to direct political or military action of a state of an act of aggression which by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the charter of the UN.”

Although this wrongdoing is one of several “core” crimes such as genocide which do not have a statute of limitations, the legal principle against the retrospective application of laws is seen as a stumbling block. Of course, it is argued that the law ought not have been in a vacuum. It has also been argued that Blair could be tried in a court within a monist state such as Switzerland where the Nuremberg Principles were in existence at the time of the war.

However, the former British Prime Minister has continued to evade prosecution.


. I was interviewed about the culpability of Tony Blair in 2016 on 'The Mind Renewed' about Tony Blair's alleged participation in a War of Aggression:

Part 1 of 'Can the British State Convict itself

. I wrote this piece in 2016.

"COMMENTARY: Blair’s Instincts on Iraq Were Woefully Wrong"

. I wrote this piece in 2012.

"COMMENTARY: Tony Blair – War Crimes Suspect"

. I posted this newsreel last year.

Blair's First "Dodgy Dossier" | Launch of UK Government Document on Iraq's Alleged WMDs | Sept. 2002

 © Adeyinka Makinde (2021)

 Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England. He has an interest in history and geopolitics.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Israeli Attacks on Iranian Oil Tankers, US Strikes in Syria and Sanctions: The Legacy of a Failed Policy of Regime Change

The recent disclosure by the Wall Street Journal that Israel has been waging a covert war against Syria-bound Iranian oil tankers, using water mines and other explosives does not come as a surprise. But it would be misleading to attribute this only to a continuing historic rivalry between Israel and Syria, or the contemporary one with Iran. Instead, it is clear that the actions of Israel along with the recent United States air strikes against purported Iranian-backed militias in Syria, as well as the imposition of sanctions against Syria represent the continuum of a failed policy to overthrow the government of Syria. All of these ill-considered measures do not stand a chance of causing the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, instead they risk prompting an all-out war between Iran and its regional adversaries Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, the fact that the Wall Street Journal used US government and regional officials as sources for the story may indicate that there are dissenting voices in Washington which seek to promote a different course from that taken by successive US administrations.

It has long been an open secret that the government of the United States has, with the connivance of its allies in the Middle East, sought to overthrow the Ba’athist government led by President Bashar al-Assad. This policy, revealed in a succession of position papers, economic manoeuvres and covert warfare, much of which was predicated on the utility of Islamist proxies, was an overarching one designed to reshape the Middle East and North Africa by taking down the governments in a number of countries, all of which shared a common opposition to the State of Israel.

The succession of policy documents prepared by Israel-friendly, often neoconservative, think-tanks, were often explicit about which countries to take down as well as the means of accomplishing this. General Wesley Clark’s recollection of a memorandum shown to him by former colleagues in the Pentagon in 2001 detailed how the United State was going to “take out seven countries in five years”. Those targeted were Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. This was consistent with the ‘Statement of Principles’  of the now defunct Project for the New American Century, as indeed they were with the ‘Clean Break’ document, that is, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, a policy document produced in 1996 for Binyamin Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister of Israel. Part of the strategy alluded to the “weakening, controlling and even rolling back” of Syria.

Other papers provided the suggested means of destroying these states. The RAND Corporation-produced and Pentagon-funded 2008 paper entitled Unfolding the Future of the Long War: Motivations, Prospects and Implications for the U.S. Army pointed towards the exacerbation of tensions between Sunni and Shia communities, while a declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document from August 2012 which was circulated to US government agencies such as the State Department, the CIA and the FBI, explicitly desired the creation of a “declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria”, a state of affairs which it suggested could be achieved by declaring a ‘No Fly Zone’ as had been done in Libya when NATO had given cover to Islamist militias, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had overthrown the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi during the previous year. There was evidence that a segment of the jihadists who were involved in the overthrow of Gaddafi were transferred to the Syrian theatre most notably through Turkey, which along with Israel and the Gulf emirates, was facilitating the infiltration of Syria by foreign Islamists.

It is against this background that Israeli strikes on Iranian tankers, the launching by the Biden administration of missile strike in Syria and the implementation of sanctions against Syria can be understood.

These actions come in the wake of the failure to unseat the government of Syria. At the heart of this were the actions of Syria’s regional allies, the component nations of the so-called Shia Crescent represented on the ground by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The intervention of Russia proved decisive in preventing the fall of the secular government of Syria. The Syrian Arab Army alongside its Shia allies and the use of Russian air power gradually reclaimed most of the major cities of the country. This reconquest from Islamist groups such as the so-called Islamic State would have been total but for the actions of the United States in occupying the oil-producing eastern part of the country and Turkey in doing the same along parts of its border with Syria. Turkey has also been instrumental in protecting the last bastion of Islamist control in the city of Idlib in north eastern Syria.

The substantive interest of the United States in taking down the government of Syria is not immediately obvious to an impartial observer. And with the perennial economic motives related to mineral wealth absent, the centrality of Israeli interests to which the United States has strenuously catered to for many decades becomes all the more apparent. Certainly, Roland Dumas, a former foreign minister of France, when speaking on the French Parliamentary TV network station LCP in June of 2013, was clear in his assessment that the war in Syria, which had been in his words “prepared, conceived and organised” at least two years before the insurgency began in 2011, was pursued for the benefit of Israel.

Israel’s influence on American foreign policy is well documented as is its historical mission to achieve and maintain its regional hegemony by a continuous policy of seeking to balkanise its Arab and Muslim neighbours. One clear motive for achieving the dismemberment of Syria would be the difficulty of successor statelets to reclaim the Golan Heights which it illegally annexed in 1981.

Israel has pursued its covert war on Iranian tankers with a well practiced amorality and cynicism. The damage or destruction of oil carrying vessels obviously runs the risk of polluting the oceans and nearby coastlines, and the revelations of this subterfuge puts into doubt Israeli accusations that Iran was responsible for the deliberate spilling of oil which reached its coastline and caused what is believed to be one of Israel’s worst ecological disasters. The suggested “environmental terrorism” on the part of the Iranians as claimed by Gila Gamliel, the Israeli Environmental Protection Minister, may likely be in fact the proceed of Israeli terrorism on the high seas.

The moral bankruptcy of the policy pursued by the United States and Israel in providing both direct and indirect aid to Islamist groups bent on overthrowing the Syrian government continues with the acts of terror committed by the Israelis on the oceans, a policy condoned by the Trump administration.

President Joe Biden’s decision to launch strikes into Syrian territory meant that he became the third successive U.S. President to do this against a sovereign country with which the United States is not officially at war. It is disturbing to note that apart from some voices who questioned the constitutionality of taking such action given that War Powers Act of 1973 expressly prohibits the executive branch from committing the country to an armed conflict without prior authorisation from Congress, few political figures apart from former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard have referred to the context of America’s strategy of regime change.

Also lacking a moral basis is the regime of sanctions imposed on Syria by the United States through the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019 (the ‘Caesar Act’), an action which only serves to deprive the bulk of the Syrian population of food and medicine. The aforementioned occupation of Syrian territory by the United States and Turkey is depriving the war ravaged country of food which could be made from wheatfields and oil which would provide revenues desperately needed for national reconstruction.

Sanctions often only have the effect of increasing mass suffering in the countries which are targeted. One example is the estimated deaths of at least half a million children in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein. The U.S. Secretary of State of the time Madeleine Albright unfortunately asserted that she believed that the price was “worth it.”

The cold-blooded callousness behind Albright’s words are no less relevant to what is being imposed on Syria today by the United States which bears responsibility as the grand author of the Syrian tragedy. There is less chance of the United States and Israel succeeding in overthrowing Assad through an economic war than there was in overthrowing him via a covert war. The combination of multiple airstrikes on Syrian territory by Israel and the imposition of sanctions only serves to prolong the presence of Iran and Russia in Syria, a country where as the invitees of the legitimate government of a sovereign state, they have a legal presence in contrast to the illegal occupation of the United States.

The prolongation of anti-Syrian actions risks sparking a destructive regional war between Iran and its regional allies on the one hand and the Israelis and the Saudis on the other, with the latter bloc hoping to involve the United States. Such a war would not only be catastrophic for the region, it would ensure that American moral authority would sink to greater depths after decades of waging a succession of illegal wars.

There is some hope perhaps that sanity will prevail because the help given by official sources to the Wall Street Journal which revealed the sabotage policy being pursued by the Israeli state, can be construed as a rebuke for the futile sustaining of a discredited and failed policy of regime change.

Time will tell.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2021)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer and law lecturer based in London who has an interest in geopolitics.

Monday 8 March 2021

Ali-Frazier I: The Fight of the Century

Joe Frazier swings and Muhammad Ali evades during their epic encounter at Madison Square Garden on March 8th, 1971

Half a century has now passed since the third and last bout dubbed ‘The Fight of the Century’ during the 20th century.

The first bout between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali was a unique clash of undefeated heavyweight champions. One of the most anticipated events in sporting history, it was promoted as reflecting the ongoing battle in America between the forces of conservatism and those of the counterculture, represented respectively by Frazier and Ali.

Only two other fights had carried a similar level of significance: Joe Louis’s return confrontation with the German Max Schmeling on the eve of World War Two, and the duel between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries in 1910. While Louis-Schmeling was touted as a contest between opposing ideological camps on the threshold of war, the encounter between Johnson and Jeffries was perceived and promoted as a clash between black and white, and nothing short of a battle for racial hegemony.

Held at Madison Square Garden, Ali-Frazier I was attended by an extraordinary array of people. New York’s nobility and the city’s underworld sat ringside with celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, who worked on assignment as the official photographer for Life, and Miles Davis. Burt Lancaster worked as a co-commentator.

But beyond the hyperbole and the mischaracterization of what both men represented (Frazier was not a man of the Establishment and Ali, then a member of the Black separatist Nation of Islam, was not an aficionado of the counterculture) was the display of skill and courage over 15 gruelling rounds. Ali, who had been stripped of his world title by a vengeful Establishment over his refusal to be drafted into the United States Army during the Vietnam War, and whose religious affiliations had engendered widespread public animus, fought Frazier having had only two bouts after an absence of three and a half years.

Although he caused Frazier a significant amount of physical damage, which necessitated Frazier’s stay in a hospital after the bout, Ali, himself was also significantly corroded by the contest, during which he was felled in the last round by a patented left-hook. Frazier won the bout in which both fighters shared equally, the then colossal sum of 5 million dollars.

And while the sport of boxing then as now is criticised for its raison d'etre for the purposeful infliction of violence and its tendency to criminally exploit fighters, nothing can take away from its capacity for spectacle, as well as its ability to function as a vehicle for expressions of ideological sentiment and sociological undercurrents.

Ali-Frazier I embodied this.

It is arguable that no two other athletes have commanded the world’s attention as they did in the build up to their fight.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2021)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. He is also a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing.