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MI5 Chief told Blair that Iraq posed no threat – evidence for accountability

12 Aug

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Britain’s former director of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller (from 2002 to 2007), in her testimony to Britain’s Chilcot Inquiry panel, “harshly criticized the 2003 invasion of Iraq” (MI5 is Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, which is similar to the FBI in the United States). According to the article, MI5 “warned that Saddam Hussein had no known links to Al Qaeda, that Iraq posed little threat, and that some in a generation of British Muslims had been radicalized by the action”. This is a serious blow to the Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq.

The Real News Network’s Paul Jay interviewed foreign affairs columnist Eric Margolis about the significance of the former MI5 director’s testimony. I posted the clip below.

This part of the interview, I think, is important to pay attention to.

JAY: Eric, tell us more about the testimony that took place during the inquiry.

MARGOLIS: The testimony is shocking and explosive, but nobody in the States wants to be shocked or hear explosions. The head of MI5, who knows more than anybody else—except for MI6, foreign intelligence—what was going on, has dismissed all of the claims made by the Bush administration and by British Prime Minister Blair, all the claims to justify invading Iraq. They were lies—that’s what she really said. And amazingly, the American media has paid very little attention to her astounding testimony. Other witnesses at the Chilcot investigation that’s reviewing the reasons for Britain going into the war against Iraq have also painted a very negative picture of the government, of its decisions. And what we see is a fabric of illegality, of violation of international law, and just downright lying our way into the war.

JAY: This has been at the very core of the Republican defense of the Iraq War, but not only the Republican; there were a lot of Democrats that voted in various ways to support the war. And the mantra of all of them has been, well, we weren’t the only ones that were fooled; all the other intelligence agencies thought the same thing we did. So her testimony should just be—as you say, exploded the whole mythology of the Americans for why they’re there. Yet even the Democrats don’t seem to be running with this, which should be a way to bury their opposition.

MARGOLIS: Well, so many of these Democrats voted for the war based on lies and patriotic jingoism, so they want to forget about it. But, you know, this claim by Republicans, “Well, all the other intelligence agencies said that Saddam is a threat,” is also another lie, because what the US intelligence does, it has routine intelligence-sharing procedures with other Western—all NATO intelligence agencies. And these fake stories about Iraq’s deadly weapons were planted in the US intelligence system, probably through some Middle Eastern sources who wanted to see the war happening. The Americans then transferred this false information over to allied intelligence agencies. And then the president and his people had the chutzpah to say, well, look, they all believed it too. Well, what they were believing were phony American stories that had been passed to them. This was in no way evidence.

Margolis and Jay highlight two important issues. One, is the claim that intelligence agencies and “informed people” around the world said Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, which is supposed to make the decision to invade Iraq seem reasonable. Manningham-Buller’s testimony (testimony from the former director of British domestic intelligence, mind you) completely contradicts and obliterates this claim. In addition, the Downing Street memo, a note of a secret July 23, 2002 meeting of senior British government officials discussing the build-up to war in Iraq, is another piece of evidence that damages this claim. According to the memo:

“There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjuction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

As this memo shows, the Bush administration, from the beginning, wanted to invade Iraq and was willing to twist — or “fix” — “intelligence and facts” to justify the intended policy. This “fixing” churned out complete lies to justify a massive human atrocity.

The second issues is that of illegality.  I’ve said many times before (such as here, here, and here) that the invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression, which is a “supreme international crime”, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal. The invasion of Iraq was not approved by the United Nations Security Council nor was it waged in self-defence against an imminent threat. Therefore, the invasion was an unlawful use of force and an act of aggressive war. This violates Principle 6 of the Nuremberg Principles and Articles 1 and 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. A few months ago, on June 12, 2010, the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC) met in Kampala, Uganda and finally defined the crime of aggression. Since the ICC’s creation in 1998, the Court had the power to prosecute crimes of aggression. However, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court had no working legal definition of the “crime of aggression”. As of June 12, 2010, the ICC now has a legal definition for the “crime of aggression”, which is largely based on UN Resolution 3314. The official legal definition of the “crime of aggression” is (see final resolution in PDF form here):

Article 8 bis Crime of aggression

1. For the purpose of this Statute, “crime of aggression” means the planning, preparation, initiation or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a State, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.

2. For the purpose of paragraph 1, “act of aggression” means the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations. Any of the following acts, regardless of a declaration of war, shall, in accordance with United Nations General Assembly resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 14 December 1974, qualify as an act of aggression:

a) The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof;

b) Bombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State;

c) The blockade of the ports or coasts of a State by the armed forces of another State;

d) An attack by the armed forces of a State on the land, sea or air forces, or marine and air fleets of another State;

e) The use of armed forces of one State which are within the territory of another State with the agreement of the receiving State, in contravention of the conditions provided for in the agreement or any extension of their presence in such territory beyond the termination of the agreement;

f) The action of a State in allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposal of another State, to be used by that other State for perpetrating an act of aggression against a third State;

g) The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein.

Normally, coming up with legal definitions is not the most exciting thing in the world. However, what makes this specific development so important is that with a legal definition of the “crime of aggression”, the ICC now has more teeth than it used to have. The Court can finally move forward to prosecute individuals responsible for committing acts of aggression in international affairs.

Of course, this definition is not without its flaws. For one, the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes of aggression will not take effect until after January 1, 2017. Also, unlike other crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction, the United Nations Security Council has to determine whether an act of aggression occurred and refer it to the ICC. However, if the Security Council fails to act within six months, the Court can exercise its jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the ICC has no jurisdiction over states that are not members (that is, they have not signed and ratified the Rome Statute). The list of non-members is quite large and includes states such as China, India, Russia, the United States and Israel. I posted a picture below (countries that have both signed and ratified the Rome Statute are in green, countries that have signed but not ratified the Rome Statute are in orange, countries that have not signed nor ratified the Rome Statute are in grey).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Also, the new definition applies to states only and not non-state parties. This makes it difficult to prosecute members of non-state entities that commit acts of aggression (read this piece and this piece for further analysis). Despite these flaws, what took place at Kampala was a significant development for international peace and justice.

How does this relate to the war in Iraq and the MI5 Chief’s testimony? Manningham-Buller’s testimony is evidence to prove that the U.S.-led and U.K.-supported invasion of Iraq was an act of aggression, which is a violation of international law. Since Britain is a member of the International Criminal Court, high British government officials, such as former British prime minister Tony Blair, could be prosecuted by the Court (although after 2017). If the U.S. were to become a member, then George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and other high government officials involved in planning and executing the invasion could be prosecuted, as well. Perhaps this is the reason why the U.S. refuses to be a member of the International Criminal Court.

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UPDATE (8/22/2010): John Pilger, an Australian journalist and documentary maker, wrote a great piece in the New Statesman calling for the arrest of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his role in executing the illegal invasion of Iraq. He brings up some of the points I raised in this piece.

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2 responses to “MI5 Chief told Blair that Iraq posed no threat – evidence for accountability

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