Tony Blair: International War Criminal?

The recent decision by the UK High Court to block an attempt by former Iraqi army chief of staff, General Abdul Wahed Shannan Al Rabbat, to bring a private prosecution against Tony Blair for a crime of aggression has sparked outrage for “protecting elites”.

Mr Blair was accused of committing a crime of aggression by planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq with former American President, George W. Bush, to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The same invasion devastated Iraq and left hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children dead.

General Al Rabbat’s lawyers were intent on overturning a 2006 Supreme Court ruling which held that the crime of aggression is not recognised by English and Welsh law, and furthermore wished to prosecute Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary. Both Straw and Goldsmith were two key ministers at the time of the invasion in 2003.

High Court Judges Lord Thomas and Mr. Justice Ouseley acknowledged that, although the crime of aggression had recently been incorporated into international law, it could not be applied retrospectively.

Acting for General Al Rabbat, Michael Mansfield QC argued that former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, posed no crucial threat to the United Kingdom. He further maintained that the 2003 war was unnecessary; an alternative that should have been reserved only for when all peaceful options had been exhausted.

Moreover, Mr. Mansfield disputed that then UK Attorney General Sir Hartley Shawcross QC had accepted the international crime of “war of aggression” during the 1940s Nuremberg Trials. Britain was one of the prosecuting parties during these trials which were held to bring German war criminals to justice after the atrocities of World War II.

Following WWII, article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations was established to prohibit the use of force against the political independence or territorial integrity of states. Additionally, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) first recognised aggression as an international crime.

These instances aided in reinforcing Mr. Mansfield’s statement that aggression was effectually integrated into English law. As a result, Thomas and Ouseley accepted that there should be measures in place to prosecute crimes of aggression under international law “otherwise the rule of law is undermined.”

However, given the separation of powers, they highlighted that only parliament could decide whether crimes of aggression should be included in domestic law, before adding that there would be considerable difficulties in following through with Mr Blair’s prosecution.

Evidently, it is widely known that the 2003 Iraqi war was one which devastated Iraq, and blatantly violated both international and humanitarian law. Furthermore, the UK High Court’s decision to block General Al Rabbat’s attempt to prosecute Tony Blair is unjustifiable. Allowing criminals to walk free is not righteous; it goes against the very purpose of the law. All victims should have access to justice, and denying that right to the victims of the Iraqi war is wrong.

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.