What if all war criminals were treated the same?
One month before the start of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the UN Security Council and presented the case for war. “My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources,” Powell told the world community on February 5, 2003.
He then made a convincing presentation of alleged top-secret satellite imagery, intercepted telephone conversations and eyewitness descriptions of “biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails” which purported to prove that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction. Powell’s presentation was a domestic propaganda coup. It swayed American and British public opinion and laid the foundation for preemptive, unilateral war by George Bush and Tony Blair.
We now know that the primary evidence America and Britain used to justify preemptive war – a war that has killed over 150,000 innocents, displaced a million more and forever contaminated the country with birth-defect-causing depleted uranium – was based on fabricated information. In 2011, Powell’s “solid source,” an unremorseful Rafid al-Janabi, publicly admitted that he made up the story about mobile biological weapons labs a decade earlier. The intelligence agencies who interviewed him at the time knew he was lying, al-Janabi also claimed. Only later when a justification for war was desperately needed did his fantasies reappear as “facts.” Documentary evidence supports the conclusion that Bush and Blair knew at the time of Powell’s speech that claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were fabricated. A memo from a top-secret 2002 meeting between Blair and British military-intelligence officials reports that “intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy” of regime change “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.”
This is where most analysis of the Iraq War ends: with a “stuff happens” shrug of the shoulders or, at best, a few words of empty condolence for those who have died because of this war based on lies. But now a global movement is afoot to go further: to judge Bush and Blair by the same regime of international law that they used to justify their preemptive war.
In November of 2011 and May of 2012, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, an tribunal founded by Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, tried George Bush, Tony Blair, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their US legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo in absentia. Bush and Blair were accused of violating the Nuremberg Principles by committing “crimes against peace” – waging a war in violation of the United Nations Charter and international law. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their legal advisers were also separately accused of “war crimes” and the “crime of torture.”
Asserting the right of universal jurisdiction, an international legal principle that grants any state the right to prosecute individuals who commit crimes which affect all of humanity, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal followed strict legal norms and rules of evidence. All parties were provided with capable defense attorneys and the prosecution relied on eyewitness and documentary testimony.
After four days of legal proceedings in November the Tribunal issued a unanimous verdict finding both George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of “crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War” based on evidence that they knew the justification for the Iraq War was fabricated.
In May, the Tribunal returned to take up the charge of torture. After hearing testimony from several individuals tortured by the US military while detained without trial – including Moazzam Begg who was told that his wife was being tortured in an adjoining cell and then was forced to listen to a woman screaming; Rhuhel Ahmed who was injected with hallucinatory drugs and subjected to 45 days of sleep deprivation; and Abbas Abid whose fingernails were removed with pliers – the five judge Tribunal unanimously delivered another guilty verdict against Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. Evidence presented at the Tribunals is now being sent to the International Criminal Court.
The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal does not yet have the ability to enforce its verdict against Bush and Blair but it does open the door to further Tribunals around the world which will eventually have that power.
We are today one step closer to a just world where international war criminals are ruthlessly hunted, arrested and prosecuted no matter which country they are from. Bush and Blair be warned: there is no statute of limitations for war crimes.