Russell Tribunal Extraordinary Session on Gaza | Rethinking the Palestinian Struggle!

Russell Tribunal Extraordinary Session on Gaza | Rethinking the Palestinian Struggle ~ Dr. Peter F. Cohen, Humanity for Palestine (Founder) October 4, 2014.

We are putting the world on notice, with very heavy hearts, that we believe that something [terrible] will happen.  Ahdaf Soueif

Every time the operations are getting worse, the massacres are getting worse – I’m telling you that this massacre will happen again.– Eran Efrati

There is no reason that [we] can say we don’t know. We know. Dr. Mads Gilbert


On September 24th, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) held an Extraordinary Session in Brussels on Operation Protective Edge, followed by a press conference and presentation to the European Parliament on September 25th. Several members of Humanity for Palestine were there.

Founded by Bertrand Russell in 1966, the Russell Tribunal is intended to be a “Tribunal of conscience,” investigating injustices and violations of international law that the international community fails to adequately address. Since the first Tribunal on war crimes in Vietnam, headed by Jean-Paul Sartre, Tribunals have been formed to examined human rights violations in Argentina and Brazil (1973), Chile (1974-76) and Iraq (2004), and Palestine (2009-2012). Having held five sessions and delivered a Final Report, the RToP decided, during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, to hold a supplementary session due to the gravity of the situation on the ground.

Three of the four Gazan witnesses invited by the Tribunal were prevented from leaving Gaza, due to such Kafkaesque restrictions as having to physically obtain Israeli approval for their Belgian visas in Jerusalem, while being denied access to Jerusalem (the very fact that this requirement held even though the witnesses were attempting to exit via Egypt itself belies the myth that Israel is not the Occupying Power, effectively controlling all access by land sea and air). The only one who managed to get out, Palestinian journalist Mohamed Omar, was able to do so only with his Dutch passport, after having first had his Gazan passport refused. The European Parliament Members who had attempted to enter Gaza two weeks earlier were also denied access.

The session was extraordinary in more ways than one. The intellectual caliber, humanity and commitment of the Jurors and witnesses were impressive. The testimonies were detailed, comprehensive and chilling, and the patterns that emerged from them constellated a compelling case for systematic and deliberate war crimes committed in a broader social context of racism, impunity and genocidal discourse. While the legal definition of the “G-word” sets a high bar, the Tribunal’s conclusion – and that of many present – was that we are all too close and getting inexorably closer to the mass-scale willful extermination of an entire people.

Attacks on Civilians

IMG_1600The deliberate targeting of civilians, prisoners and wounded, abductions, beatings, humiliation and torture, the use of children as human shields, systematic attacks on journalists and medics, massive destruction of property, homes, mosques, churches and cemeteries, farms, factories, businesses and basic infrastructure including water, food, sanitation and electricity, revenge attacks and other possible war crimes – all committed against a backdrop of rising ethno-religious supremicism, racist and genocidal speech and hate crimes – lend a new urgency to the international struggle in support of the Palestinian people.

To cite a just a few of the grim specifics, 89 families were completely liquidated – one after being ordered to stay in their home or shot, and the house bombed several hours later with them inside.  Handcuffed bodies were found with bullets to the head and chest and bullet casings by the heads, in classic “shoot to kill” fashion. A video was shown of the murder of a man while searching for a family member in the rubble accompanied by international solidarity workers, including a coup de grace as he was lying wounded on the ground. There were several examples of groups being asked who spoke Hebrew and anyone who answered affirmatively being promptly shot in the chest. One man was told to step forward and hold up his lighter and, when he did so, shot. A 17-year-old boy was held by the IDF for 5 days, stripped, beaten, tortured and used as a human shield (this just one of multiple cases of children being used as human shields by the IDF during the operation). A 55 year-old Imam was ordered to strip naked in front of women and to tell people to leave their homes over the mosque’s PA. The men were then taken at gunpoint, also forced to strip and marched away, while the Imam himself was placed against a bulldozer, a bottle placed at his neck, and used for target practice. One family sheltering in their basement from an F-16 attack when IDF soldiers broke in and held them captive were refused use of the toilet and told to “do it on yourself.” A 65-year-old man was shot at close range by an IDF solider in front of his family while pleaded with the soldiers in English. His last words were: “Please don’t shoot me.”

Massive and Systematic Destruction

The totality of the evidence suggested that such examples were not isolated, but consistent with broader policies, attitudes and practices – the low level of convictions and light sentences for such crimes when investigated, being one (“systemic impunity is the status quo,” said Yvan Karakashian).

The sheer scope of the damage – including deaths of at least 1658 civilians, the wounding of 11,231, and the destruction of 18,000 housing units (or 13% of available housing in Gaza), leaving 110,000 people homeless – is itself evidence of a systematic and willful campaign against the civilian population of Gaza. The 51-day assault dropped an estimated 700 tons of explosives – 2 tons per square kilometer – equal to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The use of such armaments as white phosphorous, depleted uranium, DIME, flechettes, fuel-air and thermobaric munitions, and cluster bombs suggested a deliberate antipersonnel strategy against a trapped civilian population in one of the most densely populated places on earth, denied of their basic right to flee a conflict zone.

The destruction of businesses, food production, and 220 factories (including a soap factory and a candy factory), 68% of the arable land, fishing equipment that had been stored for protection, and 130 cows on one farm (“none of the cows were Hamas,” said their owner, “they were secular cows”), coming as it did on the heels of an 8-year embargo and four major attacks, amounted to the effective destruction of a once healthy economy.

The destruction of 50% of the hospitals and 63% of the medical clinics; the shooting of ambulances and refusal to allow ambulances in (donkey carts were being to replace them); and the shooting of medics attempting to help people (one medic was shot in the hip and chest and bled to death and when his colleagues tried to help him, they were also shot); with a total of 144 healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, medics, firefighters killed or injured.

The destruction of basic civilian infrastructure was also massive and systematic. The bombing of water facilities for 450,000 people comes in a context of the diversion by Israel of water from Gaza to Negev leading to the drying up of three major local wadis and expected depletion of coastal aquifer by 2016 and refusal to allow the importation of the chemicals needed to purify the remaining – and heavily contaminated – Gazan water. The destruction of Gaza’s only power plant further affected water treatment, sanitation, food and the capacity of medical facilities to treat the wounded and displaced. Even UN-sponsored and controlled infrastructure was bombed, including three UNRWA schools being used as refugee shelters.

As the IDF claimed a 90% success rate for its bombing campaign, one can only conclude – along with the Tribunal – that this destruction was willful. “There was no justification at all,” said journalist Martin Lejeune of the bombing of factories: “I think it was really to harm the civilians and to harm the population of Gaza. That was the reason they committed these attacks.”

War Crimes

Russell Tribunal Extraordinary Sessions on Gaza | Rethinking the Palestinian StruggleAn established military protocol (“Dahiya Doctrine”) for disproportionate revenge attacks on local populations (including a policy of shooting anything that moves in pre-designated areas) was invoked in Shuja’iyya after 13 IDF soldiers were killed during the 4-day occupation by Golani Brigade on July 19th-23rd. Within 7 hours, at least 600 shells (most contained depleted uranium), and 120 1-ton bombs, were dropped in the neighborhood. The infantry entered the area on foot with orders to break windows, and destroy property and houses.

A policy was described by IDF veteran and journalist Eran Efrati of drawing a “red imaginary line,” beyond which anyone would be immediately killed, around the houses in which the IDF set up temporary field posts. He claimed that, unlike in earlier campaigns, the lines during Protective Edge were drawn as much as hundreds of meters from the posts and that neither the locations nor the presence of the lines was communicated to locals. He concluded that it was not loss of life that caused the IDF to launch the Shuja’iyya bombing so much as the humiliation of sustaining losses: “What we are doing here is trying to revenge and trying to kill people for an insult.”

An IDF protocol for killing its own soldiers in order to avoid their capture and eventual use in prisoner exchanges (the “Hannibal Directive”) was reportedly invoked when an Israeli raid on a tunnel in Rafa went awry minutes before the start of a ceasefire. The IDF immediately blamed Hamas for the soldier’s death and launched an assault on Rafa along the lines proscribed by the Dahiya Doctrine.

Genocidal Discourse

IMG_1527As horrifying as the many individual stories of violence detailed by the witnesses were to those present (complete with unmistakable elements of humiliation, torture and sadism), the most chilling testimony was arguably Israeli journalist David Sheen’s panoramic depiction of Israeli hate speech, anti-Arab racism, and incitement to genocide. Sheen’s examples were drawn from top political leaders, religious figures and other influential figures, and were so numerous that there was no time to present all his slides. The cumulative effect of his evidence was to place the violence and destruction described by other witnesses in the socio-political context of a broader nationalist project, the collapse of the Israeli political center, and the rise of Settler extremism within the IDF itself (with and messianic nationalists now comprising nearly a third of the officer corps). As the Tribunal concluded:

…the Israeli state is implementing an apartheid system based on the dominance of Israeli Jews over Palestinians. Beyond the prolonged siege and collective punishment of the Palestinians of Gaza, the ongoing settlement project in the West Bank, and the now regular massive military assaults on the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, one must add the increase in aggravated racist hate speech. … The jury has listened to alarming evidence over the course of this extraordinary session; we have a genuine fear that in an environment of impunity and an absence of sanction for serious and repeated criminality, the lessons from Rwanda and other mass atrocities may once again go unheeded (Russell Tribunal on Palestine 2014:10).

Implications for the Peace with Justice Movement

Up until now, many of us in the pro-Palestine movement have framed it as a human rights struggle, along the lines of the Civil Rights and anti-Apartheid Movements. The case presented in Brussels with such comprehensiveness and clarity, however, challenges us all to reframe our mission as nothing less than the staunching of a nascent genocide that, if left unchecked, will only express itself in ever-mounting numbers of murdered men, women and children.

One thing that distinguishes this particular crisis from other attacks on civilian populations, such as in Iraq, Syria or Congo is that here the solution is simple: boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS), legal action against states and corporations that collude in these crimes, suspension of arms sales and financial aid, prosecutions in the International Criminal Court – in a word, putting the Israeli government on notice that it can no longer commit these crimes with impunity, but must answer for its actions. Until this is done, we are all complicit.

Dr. Peter F. Cohen is an anthropologist and Founder of Humanity for Palestine.

Watch the video recordings of the Russell Tribunal and European Parliament sessions

Photos by Lori Sloan

 

| Michael Mansfield QC denounces Egypt coup for Rule of Law!

Michael Mansfield explains to MEMO why it is important to prosecute the perpetrators of the Egyptian coup ~ Dr Sarah Marusek, MEMO.

“The Middle East is a crucible for what is going on” in the world.

Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Palestine. These are among some of the territories that hegemonic world powers have been trying to construct as spaces of exception, where international law does not apply and crimes against humanity take place with impunity.

Since last summer, Egypt has now joined this list. However, as is the case in all of these territories, the effort to deny people their basic rights is being met with strong resistance in Egypt.

On Saturday, a group of international lawyers convened a press conference to present the initial findings of their investigation into the Egyptian military regime’s crimes against humanity since the coup d’état on 3 July that ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president and parliament.

The high profile legal team has been appointed by Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) as well as other members of the country’s deposed parliament. Led by Tayab Ali, a solicitor and partner of the human rights law firm ITN Solicitor, the team comprises some of the world’s most distinguished legal minds, including: the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord Ken Macdonald QC; South African International Lawyer and former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur, Professor John Dugard SC; and renowned human rights barrister, Michael Mansfield QC.

At the conference Ali and Mansfied joined Dr Abdul Mawgoud Dardery, a member of Egypt’s suspended parliament, and Professor Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine, to discuss the preliminary findings of their report and to call upon the international community to name these crimes and actively oppose them.

Indeed, the speakers repeatedly stressed that we all share this historical burden and that our collective future, including the rights that we all cherish, depends on the outcome in Egypt.

Ever since the tragedy of 11 September 2001, Western eyes, and especially those of Americans, have been focused on the Middle East to try to understand why the attacks happened. However, as American scholar Derek Gregory points out in his book The Colonial Present, by searching for the answer “over there” rather than “over here”, the US and its European allies have created spaces of exception, where following the logic of the colonialist and Orientalist projects, the lives “over there” are imagined to be governed by a different set of ethical and legal principles than “over here”. This post-colonial gesture note only reproduces difference, but also undoes the rights-based achievements of the post-colonial era. Gregory suggests that “it is this asymmetry—accepting the privilege of contemplating ‘the other’ without acknowledging the gaze in return… that marks this as a colonial gesture of extraordinary contemporary resonance.”

More recently, Western eyes have watched the unfolding of the Arab uprisings, inspired by ordinary people mobilising in the streets to bravely demand an end to decades of dictatorship in order to make way for the rule of law and democracy. But while the revolutionary uprisings captured the Western imagination, even this was not enough to disrupt that colonial gaze and collapse the constructed difference that Gregory speaks of, as the West has been largely silent ever since Egypt’s democracy was crushed and the Egyptian people were terrorised by a military coup.

Those fighting to restore their democracy in Egypt are now demanding that the time has come for the international community to finally acknowledge their gaze. Oppressed by a military regime that is armed and supported by Western countries, Egyptians are now calling upon the international community to actively support their democratic struggle and to help them hold the military coup regime accountable for its crimes against humanity.

Before the press conference convened, Mansfield, who has worked on numerous international civil rights struggles for more than four decades, and who recently sat as a juror for the Russell Tribunal for Palestine, spoke at length with MEMO about this effort.

Outraged by our collective silence, Mansfield pointedly asked why “nobody’s making the point that President Mohamed Morsi is actually making himself,” which is that “he’s been deposed by a military coup.” He also stressed that the case against the perpetrators of the Egyptian coup is important because “the Middle East is a crucible for what is going on” in the world.

Mansfield explained to MEMO that using international jurisdiction to seek justice in Egypt is not without precedent. He cited other cases that “demonstrate the need to enforce international law” elaborating that, “One that I quite like using is one that the Israelis did. The Israelis, you may remember, in 1961 retrieved Adolf Eichmann, a war criminal, from South America and took him back to Jerusalem for trial on the basis that nobody else was going to do it.”

Since Eichmann had committed war crimes for which he would not have faced justice otherwise, Israel was indeed entitled to try him. Of course, many, including the Jewish scholar Hannah Arendt, critiqued Israel for trying Eichmann in the name of Jewish suffering rather than in the name of all. As critical theorist Judith Butler has observed “the destruction and displacement of whole populations was an attack not only on those specific groups, but on humanity itself.”

During Saturday’s press conference, Professor Falk also remarked that as citizens of conscience in the modern era, “it’s not just a matter of deferring to governments and states as the implementers of the rule of law. If we really believe in the premises of democratic society, we all have that right and obligation” to speak out against those who commit crimes against humanity, “because this is not a territorial crime; it’s a crime against people. And in a certain, very fundamental sense, we are all humans before we are nationals of any state, or we belong to any religion or ethnicity. Our humanity calls for a response to outrages of this dimension, this scale.”

Of course, Mansfield agrees on the ethical imperative here, but he also adds a practical layer by insisting that, “we all have an interest, a vested interest, in ensuring self-determination for the peoples in the Middle East, including Palestine and Egypt.”

Anybody who doubts this self-interest needs look no further than his or her own shores. In the UK, Mansfield pointed to the police’s efforts to spy on students at Cambridge University, as recently uncovered by the Guardian. In the US, there is the continued expansion of the Patriot Act, as well as the mass surveillance of Muslim Americans, which journalist Trevor Aaronson claims has resulted in the FBI’s manufacture of terrorists simply to justify the infringement of civil liberties.

And while Dr Dardery poignantly stated that, “Egypt is at the crossroads,” he too added that, “What is happening in Egypt now has serious ramifications on the future [of us all]. What type of future do we want? Do we want a future of war of all against all? Or do we want a future of democracy, rule of law and human rights?”

I asked Mansfield how his own past experiences shape the way that he sees the struggle for justice and democracy in Egypt, and he replied that, “I’ve recognised that fighting in court, the struggle inside the court to get justice, is only part of a bigger picture. You’re not going to get justice inside the courts unless you’ve created a climate outside the court, even a culture possibly, in which people recognise the rule of law, recognise the need for conventions on human rights, don’t disregard them, and further recognise that it makes a difference in individual, particular lives on the street. And once they realise that these rights are not ethereal, that they are not abstract, and that they are actually important for rights of assembly, speech and association and all that,” people will stop taking their activities for granted and recognise that their freedoms “have only survived because somebody has been bothered to clothe them, if you like, in the rights culture.”

He further explained: “The over-arching problem here is that, unless there is respect for the rule of law by nation-states who are otherwise acting like terrorists, and I include Israel in this, but obviously Egypt is the same; if, in fact, they are just going to stick their fingers up to all of this, and say we don’t care, carry on, it provides an example to others. Whatever their rationale is, they will be saying to themselves, so what? You know, if states do the same, then why can’t we do that? And so it sets a terrible example and it means that all the hard work that has been put in by lawyers and politicians over centuries to construct a civilised basis for conduct, it’s just undermined in one fell swoop. You just take over, because might is right.”

Mansfield and the others are all making an important point that in today’s world, our rights are always contingent upon others’ rights. While the current framework to ensure our rights may be imperfect, it remains a framework that we have struggled to create, and continually struggle to reform, for strong ethical reasons. And however imperfect, this framework must uphold the rule of law without discrimination or else the whole effort becomes meaningless.

According to Mansfield, “The problem that everybody’s got, is that the key decisions are taken by the UN Security Council, which is dominated by five permanent members, all of whom have the power of veto. And the US, in particular, vetoes regularly, certainly everything to do with Israel, but in all sorts of other spheres, if it thinks it is inimical to their national interest, whatever they are. And I definitely think that the veto has got to go and that the Security Council must be changed.” However Mansfield also stressed that, “On the other hand, bringing pressure to bear shouldn’t stop. So, for example, like when individual governments, such as the UK, approach the Security Council.”

And this is not the only way to act. Mansfield elaborated that, “I think every effort to isolate the Egyptian illegal government and bring pressure to bear to terminate the proceedings against President Morsi at the moment would be useful. So you start with politicians in the Senate and politicians in the UK parliament, and so on. But there has to be, you know, a form of solidarity between all these people who are willing to do it. There has to be.”

There are other cases that inform the international legal effort to seek justice in Egypt, for example the trial in Spain against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, as well as a UK court’s recent effort to arrest Israeli politician Tzipi Livni in relation to her role in the war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza. But while each case is different both legally and politically, Mansfield pointed out that all of these cases are sending out the same message “to people who are potential war criminals, or who are committing crimes against humanity, that you can run, but there is nowhere for you to hide. There is no safe haven, or there shouldn’t be a safe haven, for you.”

As Dr Dardery also warned the coup leaders in Egypt, “We as Egyptian people, we are determined to say clearly and widely, never again. Never again we will allow those who killed us to get away with it.”

While it is imperative that the Egyptian people always remain in control of their own destinies, what the international legal effort to seek justice in Egypt makes very clear is this: whether or not any safe haven exists for those who perpetrate crimes against humanity, including the war criminals in Egypt, depends not only on the will of the Egyptian people, our international bodies and our respective nations, but also on each and every one of us.

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| Bounty hunters search for Tony Blair after latest sightings of UK’s most wanted war criminal 09 July 2013 Robin Beste Tony Blair Watch

Bounty hunters search for Tony Blair after latest sightings of UK’s most wanted war criminal ~ Robin Beste, Tony Blair Watch, Stop the War Coalition.


There are people the world over who are not prepared to wait for history to pass judgement on Blair — they want to see him held to account now for his monumental crimes.
Tony Blair has long had to duck and dive from public view for fear that he would face a citizen’s arrest for his war crimes.There is a price on his head and there have been repeated attempts to feel his collar in the hope that Britain’s most wanted war criminal will be held to account for his part in the mass murder of over one million Iraqis.

Appearing in public anywhere in the world is so risky for Blair that he is never seen in the company of the general public, but restricts his socialising to fellow war criminals, such as George W Bush and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Or despots such as Kazakhstan’s dictator Nazarbayev, who pays Blair  £8.5m a year. Or oil rich states like Kuwait which is reportedly paying him £27m for “advice”. Or bankers like J.P. Morgan which pays him £2.5m a year for “consultation”.

But Tony Blair is becoming increasingly confident about posturing and warmongering in the corporate media. And the media, having played its own disreputable part in promoting the lies which Blair used to take Britain into an illegal and unjustified war, has no reservations about giving him free reign to spout equivalent lies and distortions, this time in urging war against Syria and Iran.

Here he is on the BBC Today programme advocating intervention in Syria, and once again allowed to get away without challenge when stating:

There’s now been more people that have died in Syria in a civil war that shows absolutely no sign of ending than in the entirety of Iraq since 2003.

Blair knows only too well that this is simply not true. And the BBC should not have allowed him to get away with such a blatant distortion. The United Nations estimates that 100,000 have been killed in Syria. This figure includes troops from Syrian forces and rebels killed fighting them and yet this total is presented in the media as if they were all civilian casualties.

Compare this to Iraq, where the most compelling evidence shows that over the past ten years many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died as a result of the Bush-Blair war, with the latest calculations putting the figure above one million

And the slaughter in Iraq continues today. Violence is escalating due to the decade of instability and division that the Bush-Blair intervention caused, with more than 2000 people killed in May 2013, making it the most deadly month in the country since the height of the sectarian war in 2007.

But Blair’s capacity for hypocrisy and sanctimonious self-delusion can still shock when it is as blatant as this comment recently in The Observer (a newspaper that seems particularly enthusiastic about helping Blair’s attempts at political rehabilitation):

I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn’t on its own mean effective government. Today, efficacy is the challenge. When governments don’t deliver, people protest This is a sort of free democratic spirit that operates outside the convention of democracy that elections decide the government.

No occasion here for Blair to remember how he ignored the largest political protest in British history, when — on 15 February 2003 — two million filled London’s streets to oppose his drive to war against Iraq.

And Blair is quite open about the objectives of that war. In the BBC series on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, he stated baldly, “We decided we were going to remake the Middle East”. This was in effect an admission of participating in an international war crime — regime change interventions being illegal — but the BBC let it pass without comment. As Matt Carr wrote, “The BBC let Blair & Co say whatever they wanted without challenging them and never asked a single penetrating question, never offered any real alternatives to what they were saying.”

These days, it is the prospect for war against Syria and Iran that really has Blair’s mouth watering. “Personally,” he says, “I think we should at least consider and consider actively a no-fly zone in Syria.”

As for Iran, he adds, “We can’t afford a nuclear-armed Iran.”

The fact that there is no evidence that Iran has any intention of developing nuclear weapons is of no significance to Blair. Nor does his promotion of more war consider that western military intervention could be even more catastrophic in its regional implications than the Bush-Blair Iraq war.

And of course, no mention by Blair, under his quite ludicrous title of Middle East peace envoy, that there is one country in the Middle East that already has nuclear weapons and which — unlike Iran — refuses to sign the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Unsurprisingly, Israel is — like Blair — chomping at the bit to go to war with Iran.

However much the Observer, the BBC and the rest of the corporate media continues to indulge Blair, he will never escape the stain of his Iraq war crimes. In the words of comedian Mark Steele:

Everywhere Blair goes, the chaos of the war he created follows him. During his latest interview for the BBC, he answered a question about Iraq by saying angrily: “Look, we’ve been through this before.” And he’ll have to go through it again, every day forever.

There are people the world over who are not prepared to wait for history to pass judgement on Blair, and who want to see him held to account now for his monumental crimes, which left one million dead, created over four million refugees and devastated the whole of Iraq.

If you get close enough to Tony Blair to attempt a peaceful citizen’s arrest, you will qualify for the reward which has already been paid a number of times. For details, see http://www.arrestblair.org/

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Blair’s crime ~ arrestblair.org

Tony Blair on tour
Mock-up of the former PM at Iraq’s oilfields by kennard phillipps, reproduced with thanks.

The Iraq war, which started in 2003, has caused the deaths of between 100,000 and one million people, depending on whose estimate you believe. Two men were ultimately responsible for the decision to start it: George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Bush and Blair claim that they were provoked into starting the war by the imminent threat Iraq presented to world peace. They further maintain that the war was legal. A series of leaked documents shows not only that these contentions are untrue, but that Bush and Blair knew they were untrue.

The Downing Street memo, a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The foreign secretary (Jack Straw) then told Mr Blair that “the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.” He suggested that “we should work up a plan” to produce “legal justification for the use of force.” The Attorney-General told the prime minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.” Bush and Blair failed to obtain Security Council authorisation.

In other words the memo reveals that Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression; that the only legal reasons for an attack didn’t apply, and that the war couldn’t be launched without UN authorisation.

The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Mr Blair. In March 2002, as another leaked memo shows, Jack Straw had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war: “i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent; ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable; iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack; what would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.”

A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that “there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

The Charter of the United Nations spells out the conditions that must apply if a war is to have legal justification, as follows:

Article 33

1. The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.
2. The Security Council shall, when it deems necessary, call upon the parties to settle their dispute by such means.

Article 51

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

None of these conditions were met by the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom. They did not seek peaceful means of resolving the dispute. In fact before the war began, Saddam Hussein sought to settle the dispute by diplomatic means, and offered to give Bush and Blair almost everything they wanted. But they refused to discuss any peaceful resolution with him, then lied to their people about the possibilities for diplomacy. At one point, when the Iraqi government offered to let the UN weapons inspectors back in to complete their task, the US State Department  announced that it would go into thwart mode to prevent this from happening.

No armed attack had taken place against a Member of the United Nations, and the UK and US did not need to mount a war of self-defence.

Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder, committed by those who launched it. Tony Blair and George W Bush should be facing trial for commissioning the supreme international crime.

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