A Royal Air Force officer is about to be tried
before a military court for refusing to return to Iraq because the war is illegal.
Kendall-Smith is the first British officer to face criminal charges for
challenging the legality of the invasion and occupation. He is not a conscientious
objector; he has completed two tours in Iraq. When he came home the last time,
he studied the reasons given for attacking Iraq and concluded he was breaking
the law. His position is supported by international lawyers all over the world,
not least by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, who said in September last
year: "The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened
the UN Charter."
The question of legality deeply concerns the British military brass, who sought
Tony Blair's assurance on the eve of the invasion, got it and, as they now know,
were lied to. They are right to worry; Britain is a signatory to the treaty
that set up the International Criminal Court, which draws its codes from the
Geneva Conventions and the 1945 Nuremberg Charter. The latter is clear: "To
initiate a war of aggression
is not only an international crime, it is
the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that
it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
At the Nuremberg trial of the Nazi leadership, counts one and two, "Conspiracy
to wage aggressive war and waging aggressive war," refer to "the common
plan or conspiracy." These are defined in the indictment as "the planning,
preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars
in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances." A
wealth of evidence is now available that George Bush, Blair, and their advisers
did just that. The leaked minutes from the infamous Downing Street meeting in
July 2002 alone reveal that Blair and his war cabinet knew that it was illegal.
The attack that followed, mounted against a defenseless country offering no threat to the U.S.
or Britain, has a precedent in Hitler's invasion of Sudetenland; the lies told
to justify both are eerily similar.
The similarity is also striking in the illegal bombing campaign that preceded
both. Unknown to most people in Britain and America, British and U.S. planes
conducted a ferocious bombing campaign against Iraq in the 10 months prior to
the invasion, hoping this would provoke Saddam Hussein into supplying an excuse
for an invasion. It failed, and killed an unknown number of civilians.
At Nuremberg, counts three and four referred to "War crimes and crimes
against humanity." Here again, there is overwhelming evidence that Blair
and Bush committed "violations of the laws or customs of war" including
of civilian populations of or in occupied territory, murder,
or ill-treatment of prisoners of war."
Two recent examples: the U.S. onslaught near Ramadi this month in which 39
men, women, and children all civilians were killed, and a report
by the United Nations special rapporteur in Iraq who described the Anglo-American
practice of denying food and water to Iraqi civilians in order to force them
to leave their towns and villages as a "flagrant violation" of the
In September, Human Rights Watch released an epic study
that documents the systematic nature of torture by the Americans, and how casual
it is, even enjoyable. This is a sergeant from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne
Division: "On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone
in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC
[prisoners'] tent. In a way it was sport.
One day a sergeant shows up
and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy's
leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal [baseball] bat. He was the
The report describes how the people of Fallujah, the scene of numerous American
atrocities, regard the 82nd Airborne as "the Murdering Maniacs." Reading
it, you realize that the occupying force in Iraq is, as the head of Reuters
said recently, out of control. It is destroying lives in industrial quantities
when compared with the violence of the resistance.
Who will be punished for this? According to Sir Michael Jay, the permanent
undersecretary of state who gave evidence before the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs
Committee on June 24, 2003, "Iraq was on the agenda of each cabinet meeting
in the nine months or so until the conflict broke out in April." How is
it possible that in 20 or more cabinet meetings, ministers did not learn about
Blair's conspiracy with Bush? Or, if they did, how is it possible they were
so comprehensively deceived?
Charles Clarke's position is important because, as the current British Home
Secretary (interior minister), he has proposed a series of totalitarian measures
that emasculate habeas corpus, which is the barrier between a democracy and
a police state. Clarke's proposals pointedly ignore state terrorism and state
crime and, by clear implication, say they require no accountability. Great crimes,
such as invasion and its horrors, can proceed with impunity. This is lawlessness
on a vast scale. Are the people of Britain going to allow this, and those responsible
to escape justice? Flight Lieutenant Kendall-Smith speaks for the rule of law
and humanity and deserves our support.