Richard Norton-Taylor / The (London) Guardian – 2005-05-23 00:47:17
(May 6, 2005) — Lawyers acting for anti-war groups yesterday presented the international criminal court with evidence which, they say, shows that the government acted unlawfully by participating in the US-led invasion of Iraq.
They say that British forces acted out of all proportion to the official war aim — ridding Iraq of its banned weapons programme but not regime change.
They also argue that British troops acted, and were ordered to act, beyond the bounds of military necessity. British soldiers acted unlawfully by detaining and, they allege, mistreating Iraqi civilians, and by targeting cluster munitions on urban areas.
The submissions to the ICC, which is based in The Hague, have been drawn up by Public Interest Lawyers, a Birmingham-based firm which is representing the Stop the War Coalition, Peacerights, a non-government organisation set up to promote peaceful conflict resolution, Military Families Against the War, and relatives of Iraqi civilians allegedly injured and killed by British troops.
The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned Tony Blair on March 7 2003, less than two weeks before the invasion that “given the controversy surrounding the legal basis for action, it is likely that the [international criminal] court will scrutinise any allegations of war crimes by UK forces very closely”.
Luis Moreno Campo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, has told Public Interest Lawyers that the cases are potentially significant and that he is treating seriously evidence already submitted to it.
In its submission to the ICC yesterday, Peacerights said it had a “particular concern that attacks, and methods used, were pursuant to the impermissible military objective of regime change rather than dealing with the threat to international peace and security of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction”.
It added: “There may have been attacks and weapons systems used (particularly cluster munitions) in locations where civilians were particularly at risk (for example, urban areas) where the military objective pursued was intrinsically connected to regime change”.
Military Families Against the War told the ICC: “At the very least, a reasonable suspicion arises that the prime minister committed the UK (and thus our clients’ loved ones) to war on the basis of regime change.”
They have asked the court to determine whether any member of the British armed forces died or suffered injuries “pursuing impermissible military objectives connected to regime change rather than the threat to international peace and security in the region from Iraq’s (alleged) programme of WMD.”
Rose Gentle, the mother of a British soldier killed in Iraq, said yesterday: “The soldiers’ families are seriously concerned that not only were they fighting an illegal war but also fighting for regime change rather than to remove WMDs. The attorney general had specifically advised that that would be unlawful. This just compounds the anger that we feel that our loved ones died for no good or lawful reason.”
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers said he had also referred to the ICC prosecutor all the cases of alleged torture and deaths in detention in areas controlled by British troops.
“Murder and torture are ‘war crimes’ and the UK had a particular duty under Geneva convention IV to protect Iraqi civilians during the occupation,” he said. He added: “The ICC will have no alternative but to formally investigate all these cases.”
Lord Boyce, then chief of defence staff, has confirmed to the Guardian that his concern that British commanders might be hauled before the ICC was one reason why he demanded an unequivocal assurance from the attorney that an invasion would be lawful.
Lord Boyce got the assurance four days before the invasion – after the attorney had sought Mr Blair’s advice on Iraq’s weapons programme.
He described the ICC issue as potentially “hugely troublesome”. He was persuaded, along with the other British chiefs of staff, to go along with it when ministers assured them in the late 1990s that there would be no problem when the government signed up to the court.
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