The Chilcot Report – The Curse of Impunity

In 2000 and 2001 President Mugabe claimed time and again that the then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was plotting to overthrow his regime. The State television reported that a British naval flotilla was deployed in the landlocked Okavango delta in neighbouring Botswana.[i] Former South African president Thabo Mbeki confirmed Mugabe’s claim saying that Blair – citing his “successful” military intervention in Sierra Leone in May 2000 0- had pressured him to join a “regime change” plan to topple Mugabe.

Mbeki’s claim was denied by Blair’s office. Mbeki, however, has maintained his stance. He made reference to the retired British general Lord Guthrie who was then Blair’s chief of the defence staff. In an interview with the UK’s “Independent” (newspaper) on 11 November, 2007 Guthrie admitted that he had a close relationship with Blair who had suggested a plan to invade Zimbabwe but he had advised Blair against it. [ii]

Who was the liar – Blair or Mbeki?  The answer might be obvious from the above narrative, but I ask the question to pose deeper issues about war, genocide and impunity.

The Chilcot Report

On 6 July 2016, the long-awaited Chilcot Report on UK’s involvement in the Iraq War was published.[iii] The report falls short of accusing Blair of lying but it condemned – in no uncertain terms – Blair’s decision to join forces with the United States to invade Iraq. The war against Iraq was a clear violation of international law under the United Nations Charter; the Report says it was “without support for an authorising resolution in the UN Security Council”.[iv]

It is a very long and detailed report of 6,000 pages, but the main points of the Chilcot Report for our purposes  are:

  • That Blair deliberately exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein;

  • That the invasion was planned well before the UK and the USA had exhausted diplomatic options;

  • That the British intelligence produced “flawed information”;

  • That Blair misled the British Parliament on the issue of whether Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”;

  • That in his secret letters to George W. Bush, Blair pledged to the US president: “I will be with you, whatever”. Six days after invasion, he added: “This is the moment when you can define international politics for the next generation: the true post-cold war world order.”

How did Blair respond to this damning Report? This is what Blair said: “I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe”, but went on to insist that his decision to go to war in Iraq was made in “good faith”, and it was made in the best interest of his country.[v]

Question: What does Blair mean by acting in “good faith”?

In business transactions, such as rental franchise or land lease agreements, it is normal to expect that the parties are working on “good faith” which assumes certain ethical principles underlying the following rhetorical questions:

  • Are the parties open and transparent to one another?

  • Have they been honest with the other party?

  • Have they given fair consideration to the other party’s interests?

  • If disputes arise, have they attempted to resolve these either directly with the other party, or through mediation?

You may argue that politics is not business; politics is about power, especially when it comes to global politics. As they say: Diplomacy is the patriotic art of lying for one’s country. If it is in this sense that Blair was saying he was acting in “good faith”, then of course he was not lying in the ordinary usage of the term.  He did after all say that he was acting in the best interests of his country. At the same time the Tony Blair Faith Foundation defines its objective in terms of providing “practical support to counter religious conflict and extremism in order to promote open minded and stable societies.” [vi] Blair is actually balancing on two legs: using the left for his religious faith, and the right for state power. Such a duality is not unknown in real life.

This raises deep ethical as well as philosophical issues from which we cannot escape.

Individual Guilt and Systemic Impunity

In his classic study, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr contrasts the “moral” impulses of individuals with the “immoral” imperatives of social groups such as nation states. Individuals – like Tony Blair – who are caught up “walking on two legs” face a serious moral dilemma.  In fact, Blair – partly because of his personality and partly because of his somewhat complex Christian upbringing (raised within the Anglican Church and later converted Catholicism) – presents an interesting case of a politician caught in the dilemma posed by Niebuhr. Blair is not exactly a humble man; indeed egoistic impulse as an individual reinforced his group egoistic as an English imperialist.  He played God with the lives of Saddam Hussein and Gadaafi (and if he had a chance with the life of Mugabe) because he believed (and said so) that these are “evil” people and the world is better off without them.

The question is: are there two sets of moral codes – one for the individual and the other for the nation? And if so, does the “national” obligation to work for the nation override “individual” moral scruples?

Let me digress a little to illustrate this point. I have been involved in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) literally since its creation. I speak from actual experience of its workings – and without fear of being challenged – I would say that the WTO is a thoroughly undemocratic and corrupt system run under the imperial hegemony of the United States, the EU and Japan.  Of course, the WTO is only one of the trinity – the other two being the World Bank and the IMF.  Under a fiction called “free trade” they have used their “competitive advantage” to destroy the economies of the countries of the South excepting China and to some extent India that have put in place strong protective measures against “free trade” and free outflow of capital.  The collective impact of the neoliberal policies forced on the countries of the South has been calamitous. The massive exodus of millions of people fleeing countries of the South (from the Philippines and Mexico to Somalia) is a product of a global system. The real game players behind this system are the global corporations and what former US president Eisenhower described as the “military-industrial complex”.  These are the real warlords of the imperial system.  They get away with murder; they enjoy what might be called “systemic impunity”. You cannot try a “system” in a court of law.

Can individuals be held responsible for systemic crimes?

If “systems” cannot be tried in a court of law, what about those individuals who run the system? What about those who – in order to protect the interests of their countries – engage in wars that lead to the deaths of millions? In the case of the Iraq war, for example, can Blair be tried in a court of law for crimes committed in the name of his country?  According to a relatively recent survey, the Iraq war and occupation directly and indirectly claimed the lives of about half a million Iraqis from 2003 to 2011.[vii]

Let us examine this question from a historical perspective.

After the end of the Second World War the victorious Allied powers set up special courts at Nuremberg for the trial of some of the most important political and military leaders of the German Third Reich. Twenty-four individuals were indicted and found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  They did not get away with impunity.


Did these unprecedented trials create new precedents? Should the Nuremburg experience also apply to the war criminals in the war in Iraq? There is no simple answer to this question, but the debate following the Chilcot Report has again raised this inescapable issue.  It is an issue that gets confused between its legal-technical aspects and its moral-ethical and human rights issues.

The ICC and its double standards

Created on 17 July 1998 the International Criminal Court (ICC) became effective on 1 July 2002.  Its mandate is to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocidecrimes against humanity, and war crimes. Currently, 124 states  are members of the ICC, and the United Sates is not.

Africans have accused the ICC of double standards.  So far most of the cases at the ICC pertain almost exclusively to Africa – among them Libya, Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), Uganda (the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA), the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Nigeria. Those outside Africa are  other countries of the South – Afghanistan, Colombia, Honduras, and the Republic of Korea. ICC attempts to prosecute Kenyan officials in connection with post-election violence in 2007-2008 has created much controversy.  The government of Kenya has objected to ICC’s involvement.  Recently, the ICC threw out the case against Deputy President William Ruto on grounds of “insufficient evidence”.

Now, with the release of the Chilcot Report the question arises: will we possibly see the first western country brought before the ICC? This is an interesting question because  the ICC has already ruled out putting Blair on trial for war crimes – it seems on a technicality. It says the decision to go to war is outside its remit. It is looking at introducing a “crime of aggression” which would cover illegal invasions but it says that it “has not yet crystallised and in any event, will not apply retroactively”. However, individual soldiers could be prosecuted for war crimes committed in Iraq. The ICC has begun a “preliminary examination” of claims of alleged torture and abuse by British soldiers, after receiving a dossier from human rights lawyers acting for alleged Iraqi victims.

This ruling of the ICC prosecutor’s office has outraged the families of whose children died in Iraq. Roger Bacon, whose son was killed in the war said: “It is outrageous. It is double standards. These soldiers have gone out to do their best for us and here they are being hounded and yet the guy who took them there is not being looked at. That is completely wrong and disgusting.”[viii]

ICC’s cynicism and the Chilcot Report

The ICC’s double standard is indeed “disgusting”. It hides its cynicism behind a legal technicality. Legal rules are important, of course, but overriding these are ethical norms of international relations. These norms are the basis of the United Nations system.  The Preamble of the Charter of the UN system states this:


  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,


Obviously, Chilcot was following the UN Charter’s definition of “good faith”. In one of the clearest expressions against reckless war-mongering, Chilcot introduced the Report with the words:

The main expectation is that …… it will not be possible in future to engage in a military or indeed a diplomatic endeavour on such a scale and of such gravity without really careful challenge and analysis and assessment and collective political judgement being applied to it.[ix]

On 29 September 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 18/6 on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.  It stipulated inter alia that a democratic and equitable international order requires the realization of the right of all peoples to self-determination, the right to development and the right to peace. On 25 September 2014, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate for an additional three years, until 30 April 2018 (A/HRC/RES/27/9).

It is on these higher principles of peace and justice that the UN system is founded, not on the cynical double standards of the ICC.

Blair must stand trial as war criminal

Blair has himself said: “I accept full responsibility without exception and without excuse for taking Britain to war.”[x]

Several Members of the British Parliament, led by SNP leader Alex Salmond, are examining whether Blair can be impeached and forced to account for his actions in front of MPs and peers. A Tory MP, David Davis, said: ‘From the evidence presented to Chilcot, it seems clear that Blair lied to the British people and to Parliament… we must stop presidents and Prime Ministers from casually killing thousands without thought for the consequences. No one can be immune from justice.’ The disastrous conflict – condemned as ‘illegal’ by critics – sowed the seeds for the rise of the Islamic State terror group. Nearly 7,500 Iraqi civilians were killed in the first two months of the war, which also claimed the lives of 179 British servicemen and women. [xi]

The original public call for Blair’s trial as war criminal was made as far back as September 2, 2012 by Bishop Desmond Tutu.  In explaining why he had pulled out of a seminar which Tony Blair was scheduled to attend, he said:

“The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history….

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level”.[xii]

The next day, 3 September, George Monbiot, wrote in the Guardian: “Desmond Tutu has helped us see the true nature of what the former prime minister did to Iraq and increased pressure for a prosecution”.  He went on to explain why Blair had committed a crime:

“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”…. That the invasion of Iraq falls into this category looks indisputable… Blair’s cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. … 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.” None of these conditions were met. … 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.” [xiii]

There is no dialogue between the deaf and the damned. The ICC is deaf and only the Africans and people of the South are damned.

Conclusion: leadership and morality are indivisible.

The hypocrisy and double standard of the International Criminal Court must be exposed. The West took a bold step after the Second World War in the Nuremburg trials. The African Union should now take one more step beyond Nuremburg. Blair must be tried not just for “the crime of aggression and a crime against peace”; he must be tried as a war criminal. To quote one of our wisest leaders – Bishop Tutu:  “Leadership and morality are indivisible”.

@Yash Tandon





[iv] See Point number 7 of the Executive Summary of the Report:













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