NEW YORK – In what is the latest of many calls for the trial of former U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner has demanded that both leaders be tried for their role in the Iraq war. Given the tremendous loss of lives and the perversion of international law that war has caused, Tutu’s recommendations should be seriously considered.
According to Tutu, the decision to invade Iraq has had major costs. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died since the beginning of the conflict and millions of Iraqis have been displaced. In addition, by the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded and left with serious injuries. Tutu says that those responsible, notably Bush and Blair, should tread the same path as some of their Asian and African peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.
Blair tried to refute Tutu’s assertions, and claimed that Iraq was now a much more prosperous country than under Saddam Hussein. “I have a great respect for Archbishop Tutu’s fight against apartheid — where we were on the same side of the argument — but to repeat the old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every independent analysis of the evidence has shown,” said Blair. In his response to Tutu, however, Blair doesn’t address the charge of the essential illegality of the Iraq war and the consequences it has had on the international rule of law.
In February 2006, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court stated that he had received 240 communications related to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, which alleged that various war crimes had been committed. U.S. and U.K. officials, however, argued that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions after the first Persian Gulf war had authorized the invasion.
Critics of the invasion of Iraq claimed that it was necessary to have a special U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the invasion. In September 2004, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, “From our point of view and the U.N. Charter point of view it [the war] was illegal.”
The U.N. Charter is considered the foundation of modern international law. Because it is a treaty that was ratified in 1945 by the U.S. and its main coalition allies in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, they were therefore bound by its terms. Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter bans the use of force by states except when very specific conditions are met. It says, “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”
Therefore, in the absence of an armed attack against the U.S. or the coalition members, any use of force, or the threat of a use of force had to be supported by a specific U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing such an exceptional course of action. In 2003, Louise Doswald-Beck, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists, deplored the moves toward a war of aggression on Iraq. Even Richard Perle, one of the main architects of the war, conceded in November 2003 that the invasion was illegal but still justified.
Benjamin Ferencz, one of the chief prosecutors for the U.S. at the Nuremberg trials and a former law professor said that not only Hussein should be tried, but also former president George W. Bush, because the Iraq war was waged without authorization from the U.N. Security Council. Such a move was also supported by Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei.
Bush’s responsibility is even greater when one considers that both he and his advisers were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure “regime change” even before he took power in January 2001. The plan is included in a document titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources For A New Century,” written in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century.
It can be argued that such a drastic step as trying a former U.S. president and a former British prime minister for war crimes is not practical and would probably cause significant unrest both at the national and global level. However, three Latin American countries, Argentina, Chile and Peru, have tried and sent their former leaders to prison for crimes of much less magnitude than those involved in the Iraq war. Perhaps the U.S. and the United Kingdom could follow in their footsteps.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.