THERE WAS A VICTORY for victor’s justice yesterday, as the International Criminal Court (ICC) formally abandoned its long-running investigation into alleged UK war crimes in Iraq. The decision, Human Rights Watch argue, will “fuel perceptions of an ugly double standard in justice”. The findings nonetheless make for grim reading and are a reminder of the atrocities committed by the state in the name of British citizens. I wanted to highlight this story today, as it received limited attention in mainstream press outlets.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda never denied there was “reasonable basis to believe that members of the British armed forces committed the war crimes of wilful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence”. She further found evidence that institutional failings contributed to these crimes. And she found that failure to prosecute these numerous crimes was “a result that has deprived the victims of justice”.
But despite these institutional failings, the ICC could not prove that UK authorities blocked investigations or were unwilling to pursue them. On this technicality, the case has collapsed, and once again we have returned to square one, with nobody having been prosecuted for the many outrages committed on Iraq.
Of course, the biggest war crime of all is conspiring to commit a war of aggression. While there is credible evidence, as the ICC concluded, that individual UK troops committed individual atrocities, and nobody should excuse them, those individual war crimes must be contextualised in the lawlessness of the invasion. Lawless indifference to national sovereignty from the top could only inspire lawless indifference to the fate of the people on the ground. It is thus the political perpetrators that truly need prosecuting, for all the chaos imposed on Iraq and its neighbours, to restore any semblance of justice to the international order.
Yet Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell not only walk free, they are welcomed onto liberal platforms such as the Guardian. Liberal America now celebrates George W Bush as a fun loving goofball (“at least he’s not Trump”), and neoconservative officials who helped plot the war are regularly given platforms in US liberal media.
If all is not quite forgiven, they have at least been acclaimed as “lesser evils” compared to their populist successors, despite having plotted, on demonstrably spurious grounds, a war on that may have commanded a death toll over a million.
What happened in 2003 may seem, to some younger readers, a matter of ancient history. Many students entering university were barely born and may not have heard the phrases “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction” or “deployed in forty five minutes”. But the Iraq invasion has shaped the world today and its risks. It has transformed the lives of people across the Middle East, and, by destroying political order, it helped to unleash ISIS on the world (as Blair himself conceded).
It is also worth remembering that, while a minority of British troops committed horrific acts in Iraq, hundreds also died for completely obscure purposes dreamt up by their political masters. Focusing on the individual atrocities was thus always something of a distraction from the true question: abuse of state power by politicians grandstanding on the global stage.