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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Lawyers and the Iraq War

I don’t give a shit about international law.

(Thomas Foley, appointed in 2003 as head of private sector development in Iraq)

At the heart of the British nation is still the horrible, exploitative, violent, colonial past. We’ve never got rid of it. So we go into Iraq and think “these Iraqis, they’re savages. Forget about Iraq being the cradle of civilisation. As a nation, we don’t really care”.

(Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers)

Any resort to war – any kind of war – is a resort to means that are inherently criminal. War inevitably is a course of killings, assaults, deprivations of liberty and destruction of property. An honestly defensive war is, of course, legal and saves those lawfully conducting it from criminality. But inherently criminal acts cannot be defended by showing that those who committed them were engaged in a war, when war itself is illegal. The very minimum legal consequences of the treaties making aggressive war illegal is to strip those who incite or wage them of every defense the law ever gave, and to leave the war-makers subject to judgment by the usually accepted principles of the law of crimes. (Justice Robert H Jackson)

George Monbiot

In May 2008 Monbiot attempted a citizen’s arrest of John Bolton, former Under-Secretary of State in the US State Department, for the crime of aggression. The international criminal law background to this action was that:

  • Principle VI of the Nuremberg Principles states that crimes against peace are punishable as crimes under international law. This includes:

  • Planning, preparation, initiation or waging a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.

  • Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of these acts.

  • Principle VII states that complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity is a crime under international law.

Monbiot alleged the following:

  • Bolton had orchestrated the dismissal of the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who had offered to resolve the dispute over Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and avoid the war.

  • Bolton had helped to promote the false claim that Saddam Hussein had been seeking to procure uranium from Niger as part of a plan to initiate war.

Monbiot’s attempt to arrest Bolton was unsuccessful. He made the following points:

  • His attempt was the most serious action which could be taken by someone who was neither a Law Lord nor a legislator.

  • The British state was prepared to punish petty misdemeanours with vindictive ferocity but it would not legislate against the greatest crime of all.

Monbiot’s case against Blair

A Downing Street memo in July 2002 revealed that the decision to attack Iraq had already been taken by the US.

There were three possible legal bases for the War: self-defence, humanitarian intervention or authorisation by the UN Security Council.

The conditions for a lawful war are:

  • An armed attack upon the state or an imminent attack.

  • The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse or avert the attack must be unavailable.

  • Acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.

In January 2010 Monbiot launched a fund to reward people who attempted to arrest Blair. If the War was illegal, a question which Monbiot regards as the only one which counts, then the War becomes a criminal matter. Monbiot made the following points:

  • Those who commissioned it should be committed for trial.

  • An inquiry in the Netherlands found that the invasion of Iraq had no sound mandate in international law.

  • Without legal justification, the Iraq War was an act of mass murder.

  • The International Criminal Court should be allowed to prosecute the crime of aggression.

  • There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace.

  • No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on.

Monbiot has launched a website,, whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people who attempt a citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister.

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