A short while ago, I was up close and personal with Tony Blair.
As the former prime minister made his way into a packed committee room in the European Parliament, I stepped up to him and laid my hand on his arm. “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest,” I said. For a split second, he looked directly at me, treating me to an expression that seemed both blank and quizzical. Then I was pushed away firmly, though not too aggressively, by one of the phalanx of body guards surrounding him. “You are guilty of war crimes,” I shouted after him, adrenaline giving me the kind of high I haven’t experienced in years.
I had prepared a more lengthy speech about how I believed Blair should be prosecuted for authorising the war against Iraq as this involved crimes against peace and the crime of aggression. I had also intended to invite him to accompany me to the nearest police station so that I could file a criminal charge against him. Yet to no surprise, I did not get a chance to recite these arguments and to test out my hastily acquired knowledge of the Nuremberg principles that were set down following the Second World War and the more recent Rome statute (the agreement under which the International Criminal Court was founded).
I will happily admit that my attempt was the work of a copycat. A woman named Grace McCann made a more daring effort to apprehend Blair as he left the Chilcot inquiry in January. And Peter Tatchell suffered permanent damage to his health when he was beaten up by thugs shielding Robert Mugabe, as he tried to hold the Zimbabwean autocrat to account for human rights abuses in 2001. I guess that I could invoke Oscar Wilde’s defence of plagiarism –“talent borrows, genius steals” – but it would be more honest to say that I could not think of a more original method of protest.
Although I passionately concur that Blair must be tried at some point for lying to Britain and the world about his motivations for joining George Bush’s offensive against Iraq and for helping to cause the deaths of possibly 1 million Iraqis, there are several other offences for which he should be tried. His similarly gung-ho enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan; his refusal to condemn Israeli atrocities during its 2006 attacks in Lebanon; his acceptance of Israeli settlements in the West Bank; his approval of the use of cluster bombs during NATO’s bombardment of Serbia in 1999 are all despicable and worthy of criminal investigations.
More generally, I am tired of the notion (rarely questioned among the media or political elite here in Brussels and some other European capitals) that war crimes are only committed by men with names that westerners have trouble pronouncing or by “savages” in distant lands. I fully support the work of the International Criminal Court but am outraged that all of the indictments it has issued have been against Africans. And why have all the proceedings relating to atrocities in the former Yugoslavia been against Serbs and Croats and Bosnians? Were the NATO forces that relentlessly bombed Serbia incapable of committing crimes?
I am troubled, too, about how Blair is now an international envoy to the Middle East. The film-maker Ken Loach has pithily explained the absurdity of that appointment. “They say that satire died when Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize,” Loach told a little-reported event in Brussels last year. “Well, it died again when Tony Blair was appointed a special representative for the Middle East.”
To prove just how unworthy of that job he is, Blair has only visited Gaza twice since he took up the role of envoy in 2007. And he has kept largely mum about the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, even though he can see some of the houses that have been expropriated by Israeli settlers from his office in the luxurious American Colony hotel. (OK, he recently described the building of new settlements in East Jerusalem as “unhelpful” but that hardly counts. “Unhelpful” is the kind of term that’s suitable if you encounter a grumpy waiter in a restaurant, not for denouncing the attempted erasure of an entire culture).
George Monbiot, the environmentalist and founder of the . Arrest Blair campaign, has indicated to me that I am eligible to a share of a bounty he has collected (after I go through a verification process). Because Blair has abetted crimes committed against the Palestinians, I have asked Monbiot to donate any money I might be owed to a Gaza-based human rights organisation. My feeble efforts are nothing compared to the relentless work undertaken by many of those who have to live with the consequences of war crimes.
First published by The Samosa www.thesamosa.co.uk
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