Lies, damned lies and deadly lies
At best negligence, at worst fraudulence: the case for international legal redress against the persons and governments of Tony Blair and George W Bush is strong, writes Curtis Doebbler*
Everyday it is becoming clearer that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, much less the ability to deploy them at short notice against anyone, especially the United States. Equally, after claiming the invasion of Afghanistan was to capture Osama Bin Laden, not a shred of evidence has been produced that could prove his guilt, much less a living person upon which to pin the allegations.
Instead, the Blair and Bush administrations continue to spin these two massive violations of international law as being merely devoid of "hard" evidence. They are justified nevertheless, they claim, because everyone knows the Taliban and Saddam were bad people. The spin masters sometimes admit to their faulty intelligence, or simply do not address the issue at all. All that is important, they tell us, is the danger of the mysterious enemy, Terrorism. And they smilingly continue their business repeating their mantra that the intentions were good, so who cares about facts?
Do these leaders really think the people of the world are so dim-witted as to ignore international law and consensus and exonerate them of the illegal and immoral murder of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis just because Blair and Bush believed they were doing the right thing? Do they really think their critics will go away if they just will them to disappear, like some Peter Pan movie? Didn't Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, and a whole host of other villains, believe they were acting correctly as they implemented policies that killed people? Have we forgotten their deeds? Weren't these the exact type of actions that the Charter of the United Nations was supposed to prevent?
Whether they believed they were right or wrong has only marginal importance. In international law and international morality intention has only a minimal role to play. Even where it does play a role, it can be determined by actions. In both the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq the actions are indicting. The actions of both the British and the Americans point to either conscious lying or gross negligence that led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, and destroyed these two countries beyond recognition. These are serious crimes and need to be taken much more seriously than they have been to date. Even the most cursory review of the evidence and allegations that are in the public domain indicate the seriousness of the situation.
We already know that Britain's Blair government circulated false evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. At worst this was done to lie to people, and at best it was the result of the negligence of government intelligence gathering. Whatever the reasons or cause, the mistake was made by the Blair government and it led to an attack on Iraq that conclusively killed hundreds if not thousands. This government is indistinguishable from its intelligence collecting agencies and the prime minister is responsible for the errors committed on his watch.
Moreover, we know very clearly that the attacks on both Afghanistan and Iraq were contrary to international law. This is the view of the overwhelming majority of the community of international legal experts. That the British government ignored these views in favour of touting the views of a minority of legal experts raises serious questions about government knowledge that it was clearly disregarding law, and its intention in doing so. It makes little difference if the government thought the regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq were bad, even evil. What matters is that it did not follow the rules that have been prescribed by international law for acting against such regimes. And, as importantly, it avoided these rules by either lies or faulty evidence. It really makes little difference which one, but morally perhaps the difference does carry weight.
If the government lied, something the Hutton Commission did not even investigate, then it not only violated the law, but it did so intentionally. Such an intentional disrespect for the law is extremely serious. It means that government is of men and not law. It sets social development back to its state before the early 1900s when states agreed to stop using force as an instrument of foreign policy. It means that the British government no longer respects the will and concerns of its people. It means that the British government no longer respects, either, the lives of people elsewhere in the world. Such tyrannical rule is worse than the form of government proposed by the regimes it removed, playing right into the hands of those who argue that force must be used against imperialistic powers to free the rest of the world from their hegemonial designs. This is a real international threat to peace and security.
If, however, the British government was not lying then at best it was incompetent at the business of government. While this incompetence would make some questions of the harm done the business of the British people, others remain questions of international peace and security relevant to all.
The situation as it concerns Afghanistan is not much different. International law unequivocally provides that you cannot attack another state because it refuses to turn over even the world's most deadly criminal. Legal experts told Blair this very clearly. He either did not care or relied upon his own belief that he was right -- despite being relatively ignorant of international law -- and that legal experts were wrong. Moreover, Blair supported Bush's allegation that Osama Bin Laden was behind the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. Despite stating on public television that they had evidence, it has still not been shown to the public. In fact, it is safe to say that they had no evidence. In my own efforts to get the Taliban government to raise the issue of handing over Osama Bin Laden with the International Court Justice, I saw what evidence the allies allegedly had. There was no evidence of the involvement of Osama Bin Laden in the planning of the 11 September 2001 attacks. All the evidence either consisted of statements made after the attacks (when a federal building was bombed in Oklahoma killing hundreds, more than 300 people claimed initial responsibility), or merely speculative or hearsay evidence. None of this evidence is sufficient for a conviction in a court of law.
What the law is concerned with is the responsibility of both the state, and the individuals who lead it, in conducting wars that take tens of thousands of lives without having first thoroughly scrutinised and publicly displayed the evidence for starting these wars. If the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation has the integrity to resign for not having taken adequate steps to check his journalist's stories, certainly British Prime Minister Tony Blair should not only resign because of his support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but he should also face serious criminal charges.
If Blair is an international criminal, the case against George W Bush and the American government is even more convincing. It is the Bush administration that initiated the aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. These actions were both internationally immoral and illegal.
They were immoral because other alternatives existed to resolve the disputes without the illegal use of force taking so many innocent lives. In the case of Afghanistan both legal and political means existed. Had the United States wanted, it could have worked through the United Nations. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September the UN was more than ready to cooperate to catch the culprits. It was the United States that chose to ignore the world body and international consensus.
Moreover, legal means existed. The Taliban government had expressly agreed to abide by an independent judicial determination. Furthermore, there was even a treaty to which both the United States and Afghanistan were party that prescribed means for resolving disputes such as those which arose over how to deal with the alleged perpetrators of the 11 September attacks. This author was even involved in an effort to use this treaty to resolve the dispute; an effort that was cut short when the United States bombed an Afghan foreign ministry building in Kandahar in November 2001, not only killing several foreign ministry officials, but expressing the opinion juris that foreign ministries were legitimate military targets. Arrogantly, the Bush administration repeatedly held itself above the law. It decided that it was the judge, jury and executioner of the Afghan people and ignored pleas for evidence. In doing so it violated the most basic proscription of the use of force that is found under international law: it used wanton aggression against another state that had sought to resolve the dispute peacefully.
An important part of the Bush administration's ability to ignore the law was its claim that it had proof that Osama Bin Laden had both carried out the attacks and was in Afghanistan. No proof of either of these claims has ever been produced. In its recent claims that it requested Osama Bin Laden's extradition, the American government conveniently omits the fact that the main reason the Taliban did not respond was because the US failed to provide adequate proof for Osama Bin Laden's guilt of any crime. Perhaps in a trial of American President George W Bush or British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their crimes against humanity such proof might be forthcoming, but in lieu of such a trial it seems unlikely that we, the people of the world -- and especially the people of Afghanistan -- will ever know whether the reasons given for killing thousands of Afghans and destroying their country were pure lies or merely unconscionable errors of judgement.
The circumstances concerning US aggression against Iraq are even more striking. What little information has leaked into the public domain indicates that either the US government was consciously lying to the American people or at best was acting based on seriously flawed evidence. Neither excuse stands up to either legal or moral scrutiny. If Bush was lying when he claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and the means to deploy them, then he misled the American people into war. This war has caused the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of American soldiers. Over the next few years the casualties will continue to rise on both sides due to the destruction caused by the use of depleted uranium in the massive bombardment of the country, and the efforts of a small number of brave Iraqis to free their country -- as international law entitles them to do -- from foreign occupying forces.
Even if the spin-doctors' best scenario was true, that George W Bush and the American intelligence community were incompetently negligent, the legal and moral situation is changed very little. How could a president lead his country into war on mere speculation? How could he imagine that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction when the UN had found none? Shouldn't this have raised enough doubt in favour of sparing Iraqi lives and of continuing attempts at a peaceful settlement? If the answer lies not in the arrogance of mere lies, then it resides in the failure to care about the truth. Such reckless disregard is both morally reprehensible and internationally illegal. If the most powerful nation in the world does not care about the truth, or is too impatient to wait for it, what message does this send to the rest of the world? Aren't the more than three billion people who are losing billions of life years each year not entitled to use all necessary means to take back some of the wealth that has been stolen -- and continues to be stolen -- from them by the US and its exploitative allies?
Legally, the answer to many of these questions makes little difference. Whether a state attacks another country after intentionally lying about its reasons for doing so or out of lack of interest in determining just reason in the first place, responsibility remains. What is important is that the aggressor state carried out an attack against another state without first having been subject to an attack, or in fear of an imminent attack. Neither justification has been put forward in any reasonable manner. The only conclusion that can be drawn is thus one of the two suggested above: lies or negligence. And both of these conclusions give rise to state responsibility for violations of international law as well as individual responsibility for crimes against humanity.
From the evidence currently available in the public domain, Bush and Blair, and their respective governments, acted in violation of international law. By ignoring the stipulations of this law, the consensus of the international community and the lack of evidence attendant to the claims they were making, they also acted immorally. These actions cannot be overlooked if the sanctity of international law and morality are to be protected.
Having removed the Afghan government of the Taliban and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government by illegal and immoral means, it is now time that the leaders of the world use the legal means and moral justifications that are at their disposal to remove and punish Tony Blair and George W Bush for their illegal and immoral actions. If our international elites do not clean up their own house the task will be left to the people of the world to take governance back into their own hands. Perhaps the British and Americans, having fought a war over independence, should know best that the failure of governments to abide by the laws that they have set for themselves justifies revolutionary acts against them in the name of the final sovereignty of the people.
* The writer is an international human rights lawyer who has lived or worked in more than 50 countries. He is currently visiting professor of international human rights law at Tashkent State Institute of Law, Uzbekistan.