Arresting Blair

His bid for the EU presidency gives us the best chance we’ll ever have.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 26th October 2009

Tony Blair’s bid to become president of the European Union has united the left in revulsion. His enemies argue that he divided Europe by launching an illegal war; he kept the UK out of the eurozone and the Schengen agreement; he is contemptuous of democracy (surely a qualification?); greases up to wealth and power and lets the poor go to hell. He is ruthless, mendacious, slippery and shameless. But never mind all that. I’m backing Blair.

It’s not his undoubted powers of persuasion that have swayed me, nor the motorcade factor which clinched it for David Miliband, who claims that no one else could stop the traffic in Beijing or Washington or Moscow(1)). I have a different interest. You could argue that I’m placing other considerations above the good of the EU. You’d be right, but this hardly distinguishes me from the rest of Blair’s supporters. I contend that his presidency could do more for world peace than any appointment since the Second World War.

Blair has the distinction, which is a source of national pride in some quarters, of being one of the two greatest living mass murderers. That he commissioned a crime of aggression (waging an unprovoked war, described by the Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime”(2)) looks incontestable. I will explain the case in a moment. This crime has caused the deaths, depending on whose estimate you believe, of between 100,000 and one million people(3,4). As there was no legal justification, these people were murdered. But no one has been brought to justice.

Within the UK, there is no means of prosecuting Mr Blair. In 2006 the law lords decided that the international crime of aggression has not been incorporated into domestic law(5). But elsewhere in the world it has been. In 2006 the professor of international law Philippe Sands warned that “Margaret Thatcher avoids certain countries as a result of the sinking of the Belgrano, and Blair would be advised to do likewise.”(6)

Has he? I don’t know. Blair’s diary and most of his meetings are private. He has no need to travel to countries where he might encounter a little legal difficulty. So he goes about his business untroubled. He seldom faces protests, let alone investigating magistrates. His only punishment for the crime of aggression so far is a multimillion-pound book deal, massive speaking fees, posh directorships and an appointment as Middle East peace envoy, which must rank with Henry Kissinger’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize as the supreme crime against satire.

I have spent the past three days trying to discover, from legal experts all over Europe, where the crime of aggression can be prosecuted. The only certain answer is that the situation is unclear. Everyone agrees that within the EU two states, Estonia and Latvia, have incorporated it into domestic law. In most of the others the law remains to be tested. In 2005 the German federal administrative court ruled in favour of an army major who had refused to obey an order in case it implicated him in the Iraq war. The court’s justification was that the war was a crime of aggression(7). A study of the constitutions of western European nations in 1988 found that if there’s a conflict most of them would place customary international law above domestic law, suggesting that a prosecution is possible(8). President Blair would also be obliged to travel to countries outside the EU, including the other states of the former Soviet Union, many of which have now incorporated the crime of aggression. He would have little control over his appointments, and everyone would know when he was coming.

It’s just possible that an investigating magistrate, like Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who issued a warrant for the arrest of General Pinochet, would set the police on him. But our best chance of putting pressure on reluctant authorities lies in a citizen’s arrest. To stimulate this process, I will put up the first £100 of a bounty (to which, if he gets the job, I will ask readers to subscribe) payable to the first person to attempt a non-violent arrest of President Blair. It shouldn’t be hard to raise several thousand pounds. I will help set up a network of national arrest committees, exchanging information and preparing for the great man’s visits. President Blair would have no hiding place: we will be with him wherever he goes.

Here is the case against him. 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.”(9) 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.

This short memo, which should be learnt by heart by every citizen of the United Kingdom, 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.”(10) 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.”(11)

It’s just a matter of getting him in front of a judge. The crazy plan to make this mass murderer president could be the chance that many of us have been waiting for.



2. Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, 9th November 2004. Aggressive War: Supreme International Crime.

3. Iraq Body Count – – estimates around 100,000.

4. Opinion Research Business estimates around one million. (January 2008. Update on Iraqi Casualty Data).

5. House of Lords, 29th March 2006. R v. Jones and Milling. [2006] UKHL 16.


7. Justus Leicht, 27th September 2005. German court declares Iraq war violated international law.

8. Wildhaber and Breitenmoser, 1988. The Relationship Between Customary International Law and Municipal Law in Western European Countries 48 ZaoRV. I have not been able to obtain this study, so this reference is secondhand.

9. Matthew Rycroft, 23rd July 2002. Published in the Sunday Times as: The secret Downing Street memo. 1st May 2005.

10. Jack Straw’s office, 8th March 2005. Memo to Tony Blair.

11. Overseas and Defence Secretariat Cabinet Office, 8th March 2002. Iraq: Options Paper.