by The Guardian (London) –
(March 2, 2004) — A group of anti-war lawyers today tried to indict Tony Blair and the foreign and defence secretaries for war crimes over the invasion of Iraq.
The group Legal Action Against War have submitted a petition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague today, asking them to investigate alleged offences by Mr Blair, Jack Straw, Geoff Hoon, and the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.
The group said “a principal charge” was “intentionally launching an attack knowing that it will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians”.
The legal team said the reasons given for the war – from weapons of mass destruction to the violation of UN resolutions and regime change – were not justified under the UN charter.
The Global Consensus: ‘The War Was Illegal’
Michael Mansfield QC, who is leading the campaign, said “The consensus of international legal opinion suggests the basis for the war was illegal.”
Mr Mansfield said the war would only have been legal with UN backing. Even then the coalition could not have used more force than was necessary. That meant it was illegal to use cluster bombs, he said.
Mr Mansfield insisted he was not prejudging the allegations, but it was vital for the ICC to investigate them. “We are saying there are matters here that prima facie need to be investigated,” he said.
“What is the point of having an international court if one of the gravest things this country has ever done the ICC is to turn its back on, and say it will only look at banana republics or African states or countries that have greater vulnerability than the leaders of the west – which can operate above and beyond the rule of law?”
Mr Mansfield conceded that there would be “extraordinary reluctance” to indict ministers but he said there was “a real case” that they should be investigated.
The manoeuvre comes a day after the latest inquiry into the Iraq war was plunged into controversy by the decision of the Conservative leader, Michael Howard, to withdraw his support.
Inquiry chairman Lord Butler last night rejected Mr Howard’s claim that he had interpreted his remit too narrowly.
And former Conservative minister Michael Mates said that he would continue to serve on the committee, which is looking into the intelligence on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, despite the withdrawal of his leader’s support.
UK WMD Investigation In Turmoil
Mr Ancram defended the decision to pull out, saying that Lord Butler’s interpretation of his terms of reference meant he would not be able to look at the judgments ministers made in relation to the intelligence they received.
He dismissed government claims of opportunism and insisted Mr Howard had tried to give the inquiry a “fair wind” by seeking to negotiate terms of reference which were acceptable to him.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the inquiry could still carry out a valuable assessment of intelligence.
“But it will not answer the fundamental question, which is the one which the British people increasingly want addressed,” he said.
He accused the Conservatives of a spectacular U-turn. “The position of the Conservative party, quite frankly, is risible,” he said.
Mr Straw himself will not be in the country to hear the war crimes case against him – after taking Foreign Office questions in the Commons this morning, the foreign secretary flies to Istanbul for a memorial service for those killed in the bombings of the British consulate and the HSBC bank. He then goes on to Pakistan before travelling to Afghanistan.
During questioning in the Commons, Mr Straw condemned his former cabinet colleague Clare Short as “deeply irresponsible” over her claims that the UK bugged the UN.
But he refused to confirm or deny her allegations, saying merely that security services “operate strictly in accordance with statutory provisions which take full account of international law.”