M. Gordon Brown announced the long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war yesterday. Sir John Chilcot (the chairman), Baroness Usha Prashar, Sir Roderic Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman, and Sir Martin Gilbert will meet in private to "identify the lessons learned" from the conflict. There will be no obligation for any witness to attend, nor will there be any attempt to apportion blame, or any civil or criminal liability.
In other words, it is pointless. Yesterday's announcement merely serves to make clear to Britain's politicians, civil servants, and military that whatever international conventions and treaties are breached, they can always be assured of a cosy and recrimination-free cover-up when all's said and done.
The terms of the inquiry should have been:
1) to consider in public the process by which the 414 members of parliament who voted for war were influenced to do so, though public opinion, as evidenced by opinion polls and demonstrations, was so clearly against;
2) to review the circumstances of the deaths of Dr David Kelly and Mr Robin Cook;
3) to provide a clear and concise statement of all treaties and conventions relating to the conduct of war that have pertained in the UK since 1945;
4) to consider whether UK conduct since March 2003 has led to any breaches of those treaties and conventions;
5) to consider whether, in the event of any breaches of those treaties and conventions being found, such breaches are best tried in a court in the UK or the International Criminal Court."
So how to take this forward?
What is so vexing about Iraq is that public opinion was so clearly against the war: not at all indifferent or apathetic. The biggest demonstration since VE Day in 1945 took place in London in February 2003 with more than 1 million marchers. Opinion polls showed 70%+ of the public against the war. There was no UN resolution, there was no agreement in NATO, there was no agreement in the EU. Without that agreement, an invasion of one state by another is a crime: an illegal war of aggression. This principle is clear from the Nuremberg trials (1946), the United Nations charter (1948), and the Rome statute (1998). The UK is party to all of them.
My opposition to the war in February 2003 was not based on this. What I did think was if a foreign power invaded Britain, do you think we would have any trouble finding a few thousand nutters to join the resistance? Answer: no! So why do we think it will be any different in Iraq? I predicted a bloodbath, and without knowing any of the complexities of the situation there, merely from common sense. I was not alone: I was apparently in the majority.
So why did MPs fail to reach the same judgement? I would really like to know. I hypothesise that their acculturation to the political system warped their basic judgement in some important way. We could talk about the whips, or the greasy party pole, or the professionalisation of political representation, or the likelihood of sociopathic personalities being drawn into politics, or the dysfunctional lobby, or Sir Humphrey, or the royal perogative, or prime ministerial patronage, or sofa government, endlessly. But somewhere along the line, there was a disconnect: the man in the street was stating the bleeding obvious, yet 414 MPs walked through that lobby and did exactly the opposite of what was sane.
This was a major error. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead as a direct consequence of this error, and it was paid for with my taxes. Well, I thought, they will pay at the election. But in May 2005, the British electorate (well, 22% of it) returned M. Blair with a thumping parliamentary majority. And then we had the stories of both British and American forces' involvement in torture, extraordinary rendition, Abu Graibh, Guantanamo Bay and so on. This pre-emptive war has clearly been found to be baseless, even on the terms chosen by the M. Bush and M. Blair themselves.
The natural loyalty of British people to British troops serving in a theatre of combat has had a chilling effect on political protest. Now they are home.
The inquiry Gordon Brown has announced will lead only to cover-up. But the point of prosecution is above all to state society's disapproval of the crime, not necessarily to punish any individual involved. If there were errors of judgement, a public record of them will serve best to instruct those who must navigate the difficult waters of international diplomacy in future. There is no need to be vengeful.
If the government won't do it, then it seems the only recourse that has actual legal traction is a private prosecution, funded, hopefully, by numerous modest donations from the public. If the one million who marched each give ten pounds I am sure a set of lawyers and a courtroom in London can be found who are willing to give it a try.
If not, then to the International Criminal Court at the Hague we must go.
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