Yvonne Ridley: Why Scotland should issue an arrest warrant for Tony Blair

CommonSpace columnist Yvonne Ridley suggests Scotland should hold former prime minister Tony Blair to account for his role in the Iraq war if UK authorities won't do it

A MAJOR row has erupted in Westminster over whether ordinary soldiers should be dragged through British courts and held to account for alleged war crimes carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Emerging as the squaddies’ champion is none other than former prime minister Tony Blair, who is running to the defence of British soldiers by insisting that they should not be put through the courts or subjected to any kind of judicial witch hunt.

Blair, who has been condemned roundly for committing Britain to a war in Iraq eight months before receiving parliamentary and legal backing, has criticised the actions of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) which was set up to probe allegations laid against the military.

Emerging as the squaddies’ champion is none other than former prime minister Tony Blair, who is running to the defence of British soldiers by insisting that they should not be put through the courts or subjected to any kind of judicial witch hunt.

Cynics might say that he is simply trying to divert attention from his own involvement in both wars, and can only do that by killing off any investigations by Ihat in case its findings come back to haunt him.

This is an important point, as there are still calls for the former PM himself to be investigated for war crimes. And if English courts aren’t prepared to bring him to justice then, as hinted by Alex Salmond, it could happen in Scotland.

Salmond said in July that the "most obvious crime" with which the former Labour leader could be charged was one of organising a "war of aggression" and while the International Criminal Court did not have jurisdiction over that, the issue could be tested in Scotland.

"The domestic courts, at least in England, have chosen not to pursue crimes which were international. Incidentally, that has not been tested in Scotland," he said speaking as the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman.

Read more – 8 key findings from the Chilcot Report and why they matter

Blair has already been excoriated in Sir John Chilcot's blistering report on the Iraq invasion which, after seven years of investigations, held him responsible for misleading the country over his intentions to send British troops into a war alongside their American allies.

The UK’s political, military and intelligence establishments were all heavily implicated for misjudgements and occasional ineptitude by Chilcot; his most stinging criticism, though, was reserved for Blair.

However, to date, no senior officers, commanders or politicians have been held directly accountable in a court of law for the disastrous Iraq and Afghan wars. Professor Noam Chomsky said of the post-9/11 world: "For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit."

Either Britain believes in upholding international law or it doesn't, it is as simple as that. After World War II the Nuremberg principles were established and war crimes were outlined in great detail under international law.

Cynics might say that he is simply trying to divert attention from his own involvement in both wars, and can only do that by killing off any investigations by Ihat in case its findings come back to haunt him.

In case there was any doubt, in 1949 the Geneva Conventions were introduced, giving nation states universal jurisdiction over war crimes. Since then, several international courts have been created and additional categories of war crimes have been introduced. 

Unless British politicians stand by such principles the moral high ground will collapse beneath their feet and Britain will be just another morally bankrupt country, devoid of respect for basic human rights and standards.

Some would argue that we have already reached that stage when examining overseas trade and arms deals with countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel to name but a few.

Whether taxpayer's money is squandered or not remains to be seen, but all accusations against British soldiers must be thoroughly investigated if Britain is to abide by the international laws and conventions that we insist should be upheld by other states.

"Our armed forces gave extraordinary service in both Iraq and Afghanistan," said Blair this weekend, "and this type of investigation simply makes their job harder to do." 

This is an important point, as there are still calls for the former PM himself to be investigated for war crimes.

He may be right, but there is a growing body of opinion that any war crimes investigations make Blair feel uncomfortable as he has yet to be held to account in a court of law for the decisions he alone took over the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

At a meeting with defence chiefs last week, Prime Minister Theresa May said that "every effort" would be made to stop the legal system being abused and thus protect British soldiers from "vexatious" allegations

She knows the uncomfortable truth, though: if justice is not seen to be done in Britain then trials will eventually be heard by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Meanwhile, Salmond has said that Blair faces a day of "judicial or political reckoning" so maybe it’s time for an arrest warrant to be issued in Scotland enabling the former PM to be tried for war crimes in the Scottish courts. 

And if English courts aren’t prepared to bring him to justice then, as hinted by Alex Salmond, it could happen in Scotland.

All the incriminating evidence needed lies in the 2.6 million word report by the Chilcot Inquiry - it would be a shame to waste the £10m of taxpayer’s money the inquiry has cost.

As Salmond said in the summer: "You cannot have a situation where this country blunders into an illegal war with the appalling consequences and at the end of the day there isn't a reckoning. There has to be a judicial or political reckoning for it."

May I suggest someone puts it on the agenda for the SNP’s annual conference? It should play well with the conference theme of welcoming international citizens to Scotland and surely a good message to send out to the world is that Scotland values human rights and has no hiding place in this great nation for war criminals of any stripe. 

If nothing else it will let Blair know that he is no longer welcome to the place of his birth.

Picture courtesy of Andrew Newton

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