Chilcot inquiry: Will Tony Blair be charged with war crimes?

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Former prime minister hits back at Chilcot criticism, but detractors press for criminal prosecution

Several MPs have called for former prime minister Tony Blair to face criminal charges after the Chilcot report criticised him for leading the nation to war based on “flawed intelligence”.
See related
Chilcot Inquiry: British public ‘betrayed’ by further delay
Chilcot inquiry: Iraq war investigation explained

In a statement this afternoon, Blair called the decision to take military action “the hardest, most momentous, most agonising” of his ten years in office and accepted “full responsibility” for the consequences.

However, he stood by the decision to invade and denied several of the committee’s key findings, including that military action could have been delayed.

Outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, protesters chanted “Tony Blair – war criminal” as Sir John Chilcot summarised the committee’s findings. But are there grounds for criminal prosecution?

Crucially, the committee concluded that Blair had exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq – and in doing so, critics say, deliberately misled MPs into voting in favour of the invasion. A note to then-US president George Bush assuring him that Blair was with him “whatever” has also been cited as evidence that Blair “pre-committed” the UK to the war.

Green party leader Caroline Lucas was one of the most outspoken in her criticism, calling Blair a “war criminal” and a liar.
Prime Minister reacts to long awaited Chilcot Inquiry

A group of MPs led by Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond has previously called for the use of the Houses of Parliament’s impeachment powers – last activated in the 19th century – which could see Blair tried before the House of Lords. Theoretically, they would have the power to ban him from ever seeking elected office again and or even send him to prison. However, legal experts are saying that a prosecution is unlikely.

For one thing, despite Sir John Chilcot’s forensic examination of how the Iraq war unfolded, which ran to 2.6 million words, assigning blame to individuals could still prove problematic.

“It remains unclear who should be held responsible: Blair and his advisers or the intelligence services, or a combination of both,” Dr Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester told Al Jazeera.

Even if the evidence to charge Blair individually could be produced, nothing in the Chilcot report accuses him of participating in “war crimes”, as defined by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

Human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC told The Guardian that Blair’s misdeeds could be classed as “crimes of aggression”, a category of crime that is still being revised by the ICC and will not be used until next year. Critically, the laws will not be retroactive, meaning that the image of Blair in the dock at The Hague, “however engaging for television, is a legal impossibility”, he said.

The Metropolitan Police Service, which would handle any prosecutions for war crimes, has said that the Chilcot committee has not referred any matters to it for investigation at this time.
Chilcot inquiry summary: Key quotes from the Iraq report

06 July

The war in Iraq was based on “flawed intelligence” and was launched “before peaceful options had been exhausted”, while plans for reconstructing the nation after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were “wholly inadequate”.

These are some of Sir John Chilcot’s conclusions after his inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq – a report finally released this morning after seven years in the making.

Comprising 2.6 million words divided into 12 volumes, the final report is twice the length of Marcel Proust’s tome In Search of Lost Time and is expected to make headline news around the world, particularly in the Middle East.

The US-led coalition’s invasion of Iraq is recognised to have been a major contributing factor to the destabilisation of the region and the rise of insurgent groups to fill the subsequent power vacuum, including Islamic State.

Terrorism, corruption and sectarian violence means the Iraqi people “have not had a proper day of peace since the old regime fell” notes the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Despite their former leader’s part in appalling human rights violations, including the execution of hundreds of thousands of his own people, many Iraqis are openly nostalgic for the era of Saddam Hussein.

“We have one thousand Saddams now,” one Iraqi told Bowen. “It wasn’t like this under Saddam. There was a system. There were ways. We didn’t like him, but he was better than those people.”

Anti-war protesters gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London as Chilcot gave an overview of the long-awaited report.

Here are the key takeaways from his summary:
On justification for war

“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.”

“The circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.”

“Military action in Iraq might have been necessary at some point but in March 2003, there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.”
On weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)

“The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”

“The Joint Intelligence Committee should have made clear to Mr [Tony] Blair that the assessed intelligence had not established ‘beyond doubt’ either that Iraq had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued.”

“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments. They were not challenged and they should have been.”
Post-invasion

“Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.”

“The scale of the UK effort in post-conflict Iraq never matched the scale of the challenge. Whitehall departments and their ministers failed to put collective weight behind the task.”

“Ministers were aware of the inadequacy of US plans and concerned about the inability to exert significant influence on US planning… The failures in the planning and preparations continued to have an effect after the invasion.”
Tony Blair

“Mr Blair had been warned… that military action would increase the threat from Al Qaeda to the UK and to UK interests. He had also been warned that an invasion might lead to Iraq’s weapons and capabilities being transferred into the hands of terrorists.”

“Mr Blair told the inquiry that the difficulties encountered in Iraq after the invasion could not have been known in advance. We do not agree that hindsight is required. The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
Chilcot inquiry ‘will not shy away from criticisms’

6 July

Sir John Chilcot says his long-awaited report into the Iraq war will not downplay the actions and judgement of key players in the lead-up to the conflict.

“I made very clear right at the start of the inquiry that if we came across decisions or behaviour which deserved criticism then we wouldn’t shy away from making it,” he said.

“And, indeed, there have been more than a few instances where we are bound to do that.”

Senior figures from Labour and the Scottish National Party have pre-empted the contents of the report, calling for former prime minister Tony Blair to be impeached or face prosecution for alleged war crimes.

However, writing in The Guardian, Geoffrey Robertson QC says that despite the circumstances surrounding the conflict, prosecuting Blair is a “legal impossibility”.

“There is little doubt that the US/UK invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq in 2003 was an unlawful breach of the UN charter, which permits such force only in self-defence,” Robertson said. “But a breach of the charter does not mean that those who lead it are guilty of a war crime.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said that the choices of Blair and former US president George W Bush have “created a failed state which continues to be the source of extremism and instability across the Middle East”.

The report, which is six years overdue and runs to 12 volumes totalling 2.6 million words, has been handed to Prime Minister David Cameron and will be publicly available later today on the Iraq Inquiry website.
Chilcot inquiry: Will Tony Blair face any consequences?

5 July

With the long-awaited Chilcot report finally published tomorrow, there are growing calls for former prime minister Tony Blair to face legal action over his role in the Iraq war.
See related
Chilcot Inquiry: British public ‘betrayed’ by further delay
Chilcot inquiry: Iraq war investigation explained

The inquiry, established nearly seven years ago to investigate Britain’s involvement in the US-led invasion, has suffered countless delays.

It is expected to conclude that Blair’s government misled the public over the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “before launching what many people still believe was an illegal war”, says the Daily Telegraph.
What is being proposed?

Former first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond is leading a cross-party group of politicians calling for “a judicial or political reckoning” for the former Labour leader’s role in the war.

The MPs are expected to use an ancient law that would ensure Blair is never able to seek office again if he is blamed in the report.

If a majority support the impeachment attempt, a sentence can be passed which could even – in theory, at least – involve Blair being sent to prison, says The Guardian.
So is Blair likely to go to jail?

No. “The likelihood of Blair being tried for war crimes remains remote,” adds the paper. MPs have said the attempt “will be symbolic” and is unlikely to result in imprisonment.

The International Criminal Court has already ruled out prosecuting Blair, saying the decision to invade Iraq falls outside its jurisdiction.

It has, however, launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that British soldiers tortured and abused Iraqis and said it would take the Chilcot findings into account.

Blair could still face legal action from the families of the British soldiers who died in the conflict, says the Telegraph. They could sue the former PM for “misfeasance in public office”.

“It’s a little premature to be talking about prosecutions,” said Matthew Jury, the managing partner of McCue & Partners, which represents some of the bereaved relatives.

“However, if it is determined that government officials have acted unlawfully, the families will consider taking whatever action is appropriate and necessary.”
Chilcot inquiry: Tony Blair prepares his defence

7 June

Tony Blair is expected to urge critics to consider the consequences for stability in the Middle East had Saddam Hussein remained in power as he defends his decision to take Britain to war with Iraq.

In the wake of the release of the long-awaited Chilcot inquiry report, friends of the former prime minister believe he will argue that the cause of long-term bloodshed in Iraq was down to intervention by Iran and al-Qaeda rather than failures in strategic planning, The Guardian reports.

He will, however, accept that the planning for the aftermath of the war was inadequate and that more pessimistic assumptions should have been made about the capability of the Iraqi state.

Blair is said to be frustrated by the repeated delays in the production of the two-million word report – described by Sir John Chilcot as “considerable” – and has been meeting with his supporters to discuss his response.

He is not expected to make any speeches before the publication on 6 July, after which he is likely to continue to argue that the Middle East, and therefore the world, is safer for the removal of Hussein.

A senior source who discussed the report with two of its authors told the Sunday Times that Blair “won’t be let off the hook” over claims that he offered British military support to then US president George W Bush a year before the 2003 invasion.

Meanwhile, Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell is reportedly expected to escape serious criticism over the invasion, despite his role in the creation of the infamous “dodgy dossier”.

The dossier, based on faulty intelligence, claimed Hussein had the capabilities to hit British targets in Cyprus within 45 minutes. A report in The Independent notes that unlike Blair, Campbell has not received a letter from the Chilcot inquiry outlining where he will be censured.
Chilcot Inquiry, now longer than War and Peace, ‘out by July’

29 October 2015

The Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War will be published in June or July next year, according to its author Sir John Chilcot.

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, Chilcot said he was now in a position to set out a timetable for its completion.

The text is estimated to be finished in the week beginning 18 April 2016, but the contents will need to be checked by a team of security officials before it is made public.

This is to ensure that it does not inadvertently pose a risk to national security or to anyone’s life, as laid out in Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights, wrote Chilcot.

“The inquiry will obviously seek to ensure no such breach might occur, but I entirely understand that a checking process is necessary and is normal procedure in inquiries which have considered a large volume of sensitive material, as we have,” he said.

Chilcot described the size of the report as “considerable” at two million words in total, four times the length of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Warning that it could therefore take “some weeks” to prepare the report for printing and publication, he said “once national security checking has been completed it should be possible to agree with you a date for publication in June or July 2016”.

The inquiry, which was first launched on 30 July 2009, has seen many delays, causing frustration among politicians and families of soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict.

The mother of Royal Highland Fusilier Gordon Gentle, who was killed at the age of 19 in Basra in 2004, described today’s news as “another let down”. She told the BBC it was “another few months to wait and suffer again”.
Tony Blair ‘launches spin operation’ ahead of Chilcot report

26 October

Tony Blair has been accused of trying to head off criticism of his handling of the Iraq War expected to be published in the long-awaited Chilcot report.

In an interview with CNN due to be aired tonight, the former prime minister said he was sorry that the intelligence received by the British government ahead of the 2003 invasion “was wrong”.

“I also apologise for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime,” Blair told his host Fareed Zakaria.

However, he insisted that toppling the Iraqi government had been the right decision. “I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam [Hussein],” he said.

Asked if he believed that the war in Iraq had led to the rise of Islamic State, Blair replied: “I think there are elements of truth in that.” But he quickly added: “Of course, you can’t say those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”

But for many, Blair’s “apology” fell short. “He says sorry for things he’s already said sorry for; he doesn’t say sorry for the overall decision to go to war,” says the BBC’s Robin Brant.

The former prime minister’s comments come as Sir John Chilcot prepares to outline a timetable for the publication of the long-overdue report – more than six years after his inquiry into the war was first established.

Blair will be aware of the exact criticisms made against him, due to the process of ‘Maxwellisation’ that allows named individuals to respond prior to publication.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is among several politicians who are critical of Blair’s latest comments, accusing him of launching a “spin operation” ahead of the publication of the inquiry’s findings.

“The Blair spin operation begins but the country still awaits the truth,” she tweeted. “The delay to Chilcot report is a scandal.”

Ex-Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said Blair’s comments will do “nothing to change public opinion that his was a major error of judgment”.

Family members of soldiers who died fighting in Iraq have said they are disgusted by Blair’s comments. “I feel revulsion,” Reg Keys, whose son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq in 2003, told the Daily Telegraph.

“I feel that he’s obviously pre-empting the Iraq inquiry’s findings. It’s finger-pointing. He’s blaming intelligence chiefs for giving him the wrong intelligence. He’s not apologising for toppling Saddam.”

Blair’s office has since tried to downplay the significance of the interview, insisting that he has not revealed anything new, the Guardian reports.

“Tony Blair has always apologised for the intelligence being wrong and for mistakes in planning. He has always also said, and says again here, that he does not however think it was wrong to remove Saddam,” a spokesperson said.
Chilcot inquiry: will leaked Blair memo delay report again?

19 October

A leaked memo suggesting that former prime minister Tony Blair signed up for the Iraq war a year in advance could cause further delay to the Chilcot inquiry, one British diplomat has said.

The note was sent in 2002 from the then US secretary of state Colin Powell to president George W Bush. It promised Blair “will be with us” should the US take military action and that the “UK will follow our lead”.

This contradicts what Blair claimed publicly at the time, when he said he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis, telling voters: “We’re not proposing military action.”

The briefing – which emerged from secret emails on the private server of Hillary Clinton – also hinted that Blair would serve as a front man for pro-invasion arguments in return for being promoted on the international stage by Washington.

Tory backbencher David Davis said it was an “astonishing document”, adding: “This may well be the Iraq ‘smoking gun’ we have all been looking for.” But a spokesman for Blair insisted the disclosures were consistent with what he had said at the time.

Six years since the inquiry was officially launched, at a cost of £10m to the British taxpayer, Sir John Chilcot still hasn’t produced a report into the war. A spokesman for the inquiry said he would not be commenting on the memo so as not to prejudice or pre-empt the report.

Sir Christopher Meyer, who was the British ambassador to the US at the time of the war, said the emergence of the memo could delay the already long-overdue Iraq War report.

He told the Daily Telegraph that, if Chilcot had not seen the memo before, “he will then have to judge what bearing, if any, it has on the conclusions he may be reaching”. So, he added, “it could be a factor for delay”.

Meanwhile, the SNP’s Alex Salmond, who claims the “net is closing around Tony Blair”, says “the Chilcot inquiry has still to be published and these revelations need to be looked at very seriously”.

But the Guardian thinks this development need not slow down the report. It quotes a Chilcot witness saying the memo is unlikely to delay the report because the substance of the Powell memo was “not a big revelation”.
Chilcot inquiry: blame to go ‘beyond Blair’s inner circle’

28 August

The Chilcot report will condemn senior political, military and intelligence officials, as well as Tony Blair, for Britain’s military role in the Iraq war, a source has revealed.

The long-awaited report will apportion blame for the decision to go to war “well beyond Blair” and his inner circle of advisers at Downing Street, The Guardian reports.

Although the former PM is expected to bear the brunt of the criticism, blame will be extended further than previously thought.

Figures are likely to include the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove, chairman of the joint intelligence committee Sir John Scarlett, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon and Clare Short, former International Development Secretary.

Senior officials in the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and Cabinet Office are also likely to face criticism once the six-year-long investigation finally concludes.

“One source said it would suit the former prime minister to see a wide range of targets blamed when it is published,” the newspaper reports.

The inquiry has been plagued by countless delays and the families of the soldiers killed in Iraq are considering taking legal action against Sir John Chilcot unless a deadline for its publication is set.

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been warned not to push forward with a Commons vote on military action against Islamic State in Syria until Chilcot has published his report, The Times says.

“There’s a very practical reason why we need Chilcot soon and that’s Syria,” former shadow home secretary David Davis said.

“We are being told we are to be asked to support increased military intervention there but how can we judge that request if we don’t have the full lessons from Iraq?”
Chilcot inquiry: politicians ‘plotting to discredit’ investigation

20 August

Sources involved in the Chilcot inquiry have accused senior politicians of attempting to discredit the investigation to absolve themselves of any criticism.
See related
Chilcot Inquiry: British public ‘betrayed’ by further delay
Chilcot inquiry: Iraq war investigation explained

The inquiry, set up six years ago to investigate Britain’s military involvement in Iraq, has suffered long delays, with chairman Sir John Chilcot the target of fierce criticism from politicians as well as relatives of the soldiers who died in combat.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon recently urged Chilcot to end the suffering of bereaved families, saying his long-awaited report had “been delayed long enough”.

But a source involved in the inquiry has told The Independent that the attacks against Chilcot and his team are an “absurd, nasty hatchet job” and that most of the claims made “are nonsense.”

He said politicians were “throwing dirt” at the inquiry members in order to depict them as a “load of bumbling incompetents and amateurs whose eventual judgements cannot be trusted.”

The plot to discredit members of the panel in advance is being done for fear that the inquiry’s final report will be highly critical of government institutions, he told the newspaper.

The Independent claims that the panel even considered resigning in protest at the perceived attacks against them, but this idea was “quickly dismissed”.

Relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq last week threatened to take legal action against Chilcot unless he promises to publish the report by the end of the year. Meanwhile, MPs are discussing a parliamentary motion to impose a deadline on the publication of the final findings.

But the source warned against putting pressure on the panel to publish early. “This is an independent inquiry and if forced to publish, only an incomplete report will be delivered,” he said.

The chairman and his panellists continue to insist that the inquiry is making steady progress. “It is not because people are not working hard,” panellist Sir Lawrence Freedman told The Times. “It’s just the process is very long and complicated.”

But such assurances have done little to comfort the relatives of the dead soldiers, the Daily Mail reports. “We want answers and we want them now,” said Reg Keyes, whose son Thomas was killed in Iraq in 2003. “[Chilcot] needs a wakeup call and to understand the depth of feeling here.”
Chilcot inquiry: soldiers’ families may sue over delay

13 August

The families of soldiers killed in the Iraq war are considering legal action against Sir John Chilcot.

The BBC says relatives’ lawyers have written to Chilcot telling him they believe he acted unlawfully in refusing to set a deadline for publishing a report of his six-year inquiry into the conflict.

The letter says unless he promises to publish by the end of the year, the families will take action.

Chilcot has said he wants to publish the report as soon as possible but is constrained by an official policy to allow people who might face criticism in the text to respond.

One of the solicitors representing 29 family members, Matthew Jury, said the long delay was a “black cloud hanging over their heads”, causing them pain and suffering compounded by the passing of time.

He added: “The only way to disperse that cloud, for them to get some degree of closure, is for this report to be published and for them to finally know the truth.”

In June, The Independent reported that David Cameron had told Chilcot the families – and the prime minister himself – were “fast losing patience” with the failure to publish.

Writing in today’s Daily Mail, retired general Sir Michael Rose decries the “endless games of legalistic ping pong whose winners can only be those who bear the blame for the invasion of Iraq and its appalling consequences”.

The policy of letting named individuals respond prior to publication is called ‘Maxwellisation’, named after the late newspaper owner Robert Maxwell who was harshly criticised in a 1969 DTI report and took the government to court.

Rose writes: “It seems to me that in applying the ‘Maxwellisation Process’ so zealously Sir John has disproportionately represented the interests of senior politicians, senior civil servants and senior members of the Armed Forces rather than those of family members who, in my view, have a clear and vastly superior right to know why and for what their loved ones died.”
Chilcot Inquiry: why has the report been delayed yet again?

21 April

The long awaited findings of the inquiry into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War are “unlikely” to be published in 2015, it has been revealed.

“Nobody thinks it will come out this year,” a source close to the Chilcot Inquiry told BBC Newsnight. This was confirmed by another source who said: “Once they had failed to meet the pre-election deadline, they gave up trying to speed things up.”

The Chilcot Inquiry was ordered by former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009 to investigate Britain’s military involvement in Iraq and identify what decisions were made, how they were taken, and what lessons can be learned.

The investigation has experienced countless delays. The committee last heard evidence in February 2011 and promised to report back in “some months”. In January, hopes that the report would be published before May’s general election were dashed, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg calling the delays “extremely frustrating” and “incomprehensible”.

One of the most contentious points of the inquiry was the dispute about whether to publish personal communications between former prime minister Tony Blair and former US president George W Bush. Last year Chilcot said that only the “gist” of the messages could be made public.

The most recent delays are said to be due to the process of Maxwellisation, which gives those criticised in the report the chance to respond before the publication of the report. Newsnight’s defence and diplomatic editor Mark Urban said the process had “become a nightmare”.

“While Sir John [Chilcot] originally intended to give those due to be censured a deadline by which they would have to make representations in their defence, these have apparently been abandoned as the complexity of the process has become clear,” he reports.