Alternatives to Political SystemsSociety

A Step Towards the Dock

Editor’s Note: When I’ve put posts like the following up in the past, some people have commented expressing their dissatisfaction for such articles being on a permaculture site (see here and here, for example). But, I make no apologies for putting this material up, as it directly relates to the People Care ethic permaculturists purport to subscribe to. If I put up posts criticising the centralised, unethical decision-making, and world-impacting work of Monsanto, for example, people don’t mind. But it’s strange to me that people don’t want to hear any criticism of, or calls for justice for, the centralised unethical decision-making and world-impacting work of political ‘leaders’ who work outside and above the laws they’re so quick to apply to the people below them, for crimes far less significant. If George Bush didn’t have the support of Tony Blair for his illegal actions, up to a million lives may have been spared. Permaculture principles call for a more decentralised, more participatory political system, and one based on ethics. The situation that gave cause for such articles as the one below, shows the urgent need for such an improved system. I yearn for the day when our ‘leaders’ actually serve humanity, rather than manipulate it for their own purposes. When an African leader does what George Bush and Tony Blair did, it’s categorised as despotism, but leaders of the supposedly ‘civilised’ countries of the UK and the USA are excused for the same. Such injustice directly converts those who have endured the blunt end of it into enemies and even ‘terrorists’. You may not care to see justice done, but I can assure you there are a great many men, women and children in Iraq — people who have lost family members, limbs and livelihoods — who would mourn such callous disinterest.

The prospect of a trial for Tony Blair now starts to look more plausible

by George Monbiot: journalist, author, academic and environmental and political activist, United Kingdom.

For years it seems impregnable, then suddenly the citadel collapses. An ideology, a fact, a regime appears fixed, unshakeable, almost geological. Then an inch of mortar falls, and the stonework begins to slide. Something of this kind happened over the weekend.

When Desmond Tutu wrote that Tony Blair should be treading the path to the Hague, he de-normalised what Blair has done(1). Tutu broke the protocol of power – the implicit accord between those who flit from one grand meeting to another – and named his crime. I expect that Blair will never recover from it.

The offence is known by two names in international law: the crime of aggression and a crime against peace. It is defined by the Nuremberg Principles as the “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression”(2). This means a war fought for a purpose other than self-defence: in other words outwith articles 33 and 51 of the UN Charter(3).

That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable. Blair’s cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His Attorney-General warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN Security Council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.”(4) Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.

His foreign secretary, Jack Straw, told Blair that for the war to be legal, “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.”(5) None of these conditions were met. The Cabinet Office told him “A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”(6)

Without legal justification, the attack on Iraq was an act of mass murder. It caused the deaths of between 100,000 and a million people, and ranks among the greatest crimes the world has ever seen. That Blair and his ministers still saunter among us, gathering money wherever they go, is a withering indictment of a one-sided system of international justice: a system whose hypocrisies Tutu has exposed.

Blair’s diminishing band of apologists cling to two desperate justifications. The first is that the war was automatically authorised by a prior UN resolution: 1441. But when it was discussed in the Security Council, both the US and UK ambassadors insisted that 1441 did not authorise the use of force(7). The UK representative stated that “there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”(8) Two months later, in January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council”(9).

Yet when Blair ran out of options, he and his lieutenants began arguing that 1441 authorised their war. They’re still at it: on Sunday, Lord Falconer tried it out on Radio 4(10). Perhaps he had forgotten that it has been thoroughly discredited.

The second justification, attempted again by Blair this weekend(11), is that there was a moral case for invading Iraq. Yes, there was one. There was also a moral case for not invading Iraq, and this case was stronger.

But a moral case (and who has launched an aggressive war in modern times without claiming to possess one?) does not provide a legal basis. Nor was it the motivation for the attack. In September 2000, before they took office, a project run by future members of the Bush administration – including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – produced a report which said the following: “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”(12) Their purpose, they revealed, was “maintaining American military preeminence”(13). The motivation for deposing Saddam Hussein was no more moral than the motivation for arming and funding him, two decades before(14).

But while the case against Blair is strong, the means are weak. Twenty-nine people have been indicted in the International Criminal Court, and all of them are African(15). (Suspects in the Balkans have been indicted by a different tribunal). There’s a reason for this. Until 2018 at the earliest, the court can prosecute crimes committed during the course of an illegal war, but not the crime of launching that war(16).

Should we be surprised? Though the Nuremberg tribunal described aggression as “the supreme international crime”(17), several powerful states guiltily resisted its adoption. At length, in 2010, they agreed that the court would have jurisdiction over aggression, but not until 2018 or thereafter. Though the offence has been recognised in international law for 67 years, the international criminal court (unlike the Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals, which hear cases from before they were established) will be able to try only crimes of aggression committed beyond that date(18).

The other possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25(19)) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair’s lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking gigs.

That the prospect of prosecution currently looks remote makes it all the more important that the crime is not forgotten. To this end, in 2010 I set up a bounty fund – – to promote peaceful citizens’ arrests of the former prime minister. People contribute to the fund, a quarter of which is paid out to anyone who makes an attempt which meets the rules(20). With our fourth payment last week, we’ve now disbursed over £10,000(21). Our aim is the same as Tutu’s: to de-normalise an act of mass murder, to keep it in the public mind and to maintain the pressure for a prosecution.

That looked, until this weekend, like an almost-impossible prospect. But when the masonry begins to crack, impossible hopes can become first plausible, then inexorable. Blair will now find himself shut out of places where he was once welcome. One day he may find himself shut in.


  2. Principle VI(a)(i).
  4. Matthew Rycroft, 23rd July 2002. To: David Manning. Iraq: Prime Minister’s Meeting, 23 July. S 195 /02.
  5. Jack Straw, 8th March 2002. Iraq: Legal Background. Memo to Tony Blair.
  6. Overseas and Defence Secretariat, Cabinet Office. 8th March 2002. Iraq Options paper – memo from outlining military options for implementing regime change.
  7. John Negroponte, 8th November 2002. Statement to Security Council meeting 4644.
  8. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, 8th November 2002. Statement to Security Council meeting 4644.
  10. On Broadcasting House, Radio 4, 2nd September 2012.
  12. The Project for the New American Century, September 2000. Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century.
  13. As above.
  16. Article 15 bis (2), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
  17. Bruce Broomhall, 2003. International Justice and the International Criminal Court: between sovereignty and the rule of law. Oxford University Press.
  18. Article 15 bis (2), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
  19. Astrid Reisinger Coracini, pers. comm.


  1. Of course, by the legal and moral logic Monbiot outlines John Howard should also be in The Hague. I been hoping since the night of the invasion to see the day that he joined Bush and Blair as defendants in a war crimes case. In sixty-five years I have only ever once cried in shame for what my country had done – it was that night.

  2. Dear Editor [ I wish I could find your name above ] , I am 100% in favour of you publishing articles such as the one above [ George Monbiot on Blair the war criminal ].
    If people don’t like your human & humane position, then they don’t have to read the article. Or they can stop part way through .
    I did a PDC in OCCUPIED Palestine a few years back & there was an ‘attitude’ ( by one P/C person only ) that to speak ill – ” intemperate choice of words” – was unhelpful to the Palestinian cause because it would “get the Israelis off-side .”
    I personally, am all in favour of telling the world how it is for Palestinians to live under a brutal, multi-decade long OCCUPATION.
    So, Ms./Mr. Editor : Continue to “make no apologies for putting this material up, as it directly relates to the People Care ethic permaculturists purport to subscribe to….” WEll done !!
    PS: How about an article on MARDA PERMACULTURE FARM in Palestine ?
    Dear readers : check it out on FaceBook too – the farm as above !

  3. Thanks very much for posting this. It is a very important item and of course belongs to permaculture since it belongs to the ethical environment.

    Sadly, I undertstand that neither Abp Desmond Tutu nor our friend Monbiot is correct.

    The BBC world service had an excellent discussion on this topic a couple of days ago – see World Have Your Say – and invited one of the world’s most distinguished human rights lawyers, Geoffrey Bindman, to comment.

    Bindman says that it is impossible to bring either Blair or Bush to the ICC. They would have to be tried in their own countries and there are the laws in place – aggressive attack, for example –
    to allow this to happen. Who will take them on?

    In spite of the facts, we must salute both Tutu and Monbiot for their courage in speaking out.

  4. Good to see David Hicks is still up and about despite everything that was thrown at him; by his own government!

    It’s a pity that the timid/servile disposition of successive Australian governments–recalling the Balibo Five/East Timor; David Hicks/Mamdouh Habib; and lately Juian Assange/Wikileaks–continues so seemlessly through numerous changes of government. Our ziggANDzagg/LaborAL/one-party-state gives us no democratic choice in these matters. Just like we had no choice over the war in Iraq. In the face of massive public demonstrations against the coming war, our parliament would not debate the issue because it was just hypothetical/speculative–until such time as our participation in the “coalition of the willing” was officially announced–and then we were told debate would be futile because we could not back out of our commitment without ratting on the Australia/US alliance. And we hoped to “bring democracy to the Middle East”?…it would have been nice to have had some at home.

    And now I’ll paste-in what I wrote before I noticed that the earlier comment was from the much-maligned David Hicks:

    Speaking as an Australian, I too am disgusted with Bush and Blair re. the Iraq Invasion. And to our shame we must add self-described “US Deputy Sheriff” John Howard to the list of defendants.

    I note that Tony Blair has tried to rebut Tutu’s criticisms partly on the grounds of getting justice over Saddam Hussein’s nerve gassing of the Kurds…in1987!!!…Jeez Tony, it took a while mate!…why didn’t you speak up about it at the time?…Were you interested in actually DOING something to redress this great crime when Britain had an opportunity during Gulf War Mark I in 1991???. If I were Blair I would be steering well clear of that defence considering all of the following baggage that the West carries on this issue.

    First the Soviets–and then, after Saddam ditched the Soviets–the French, Germans, Italians, British, and US all colluded to supply Iraq with all the key elements of its Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological weapons (those same WMD’s that they later used to justify their second invasion of Iraq). The US administration wanted Hussein to invade Iran to block the growth of Iranian influence in the Middle East which threatened Western oil supplies. Hussein duly invaded Iran in 1980. The US also provided Hussein with intelligence support in the targeting of his chemical and biological WMD attacks on the Iranians. I note that the US vetoed a Security Council resolution that condemned Iraq’s use of WMD’s against the Iranians (and Britain abstained). Of course, they (i.e., the US/Brits) would not have had this problem with the Iranian Islamic revolution if they had not earlier (in 1953) destroyed Iranian democracy and installed the Shah of Iran as their “brutal dictator” puppet to stop the Iranian government from nationalizing the Oil industry. And they now say that the invasion of Iraq was partly to “bring democracy to the Middle East”: George Orwell would be delighted with their mastery of Newspeak–maybe we should redub it “NEWS-speak”.

    I know the internet abounds with allegations of CIA/US conspiracies and that the credibility of these kinds of allegations is highly varied. (Personally I am about as anti-American as the millions of US citizens that are actively critical of the own government’s policies.) But in this case all that I have said above is on the public record; most of it drawn from the occasional lapses of mainstream US newspapers into real investigative journalism. And yet somehow it happens that most mainstream media coverage of Middle East-related News and Current Affairs chooses to forget this history in favour of uncritical rebroadcasting of the delusional spin of Western politicians on this issue who seem to think folks in the Middle East will just forget what has been done to them.

    As long as we in the West continue to forget these sorts of uncomfortable historical facts, we will continue to be surprised at how much we are distrusted and despised in the Middle East and we will encounter a degree of opposition to our interventions that will baffle us.

  5. Greetings Rob Jones ! I have a confession to make : whilst my name is David Hicks , I am not the famous David Hicks . Although come to think of it , on the times I’ve landed in Jordan – & left Jordan , for that matter – on my way to Occupied Palestine, I have one hell of a time passing through immigration into Jordan: hours ! My assumption is that, because Jordan is a wee bit of a client state of the USA, my name pops up on the USA supplied security list of Jordan.

  6. I don’t believe that anyone of the western current or ex leaders will be prosecuted for imposing wars, invasions or ruining smaller countries by force or by economic means.
    For the current model of agresion precedent was tried and mustered in Yugoslavia (or Balkans as many like to say), every international law could be applied if that was in interest of western countries and broken if they did not like it.
    Bombing of Yugoslavia was not approved by security council, that did not stop them, they did not care. The war in Iraq was Yugoslavia magnified hundred fold, they felt nobody can stop them (beside their own citizens, and media controlled that perfectly).

    Powerful countries do what they please it was always like that. Only other powerful countries can sometimes force them to push down their aspirations.
    Hitler, Bush, Clinton, Blair, the list is very long, the play is the same, only actors and scenery is different.

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