Archbishop Desmond Tutu yesterday called for former British prime minister Tony Blair and former US president George W. Bush to be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague as he delivered a damning critique of the devastation caused by the Iraq War.
Tutu, a Nobel peace prizewinner and hero of the anti-apartheid movement, accused the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and said the invasion left the world more destabilized and divided “than any other conflict in history.”
Writing in yesterday’s Observer, Tutu also said the controversial US and UK-led action to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003 created the backdrop for the civil war in Syria and a possible wider Middle East conflict involving Iran.
“The then-leaders of the United States and Great Britain fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand — with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us,” Tutu wrote.
However, it is Tutu’s call for Blair and Bush to face justice in The Hague that is most startling. Claiming that different standards appear to be set for prosecuting African leaders and Western ones, he said the death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own for Blair and Bush to be tried at the ICC.
“On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague,” he said.
The court hears cases on genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. To date, 16 cases have been brought before the court, but only one, that of Thomas Lubanga, a rebel leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been completed. He was sentenced earlier this year to 14 years imprisonment for his part in war crimes in his home country.
Trials under way include those of Serbian general Ratko Mladic and former DRC military commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo. Arrest warrants have also been issued for several suspects, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s second son, Saif.
Tutu’s broadside is evidence of the shadow still cast by Iraq over Blair’s post-prime ministerial career, as he attempts to rehabilitate himself in British public life. A long-time critic of the Iraq War, the archbishop pulled out of a South African conference on leadership last week because Blair, who was paid 2 million rand (US$238,000) for his time, was attending. It is understood that Tutu had agreed to speak without a fee.
In his article, the archbishop argues that as well as the death toll, there has been a heavy moral cost to civilization, with no gain.
“Even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world,” Tutu wrote. “Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?”
Blair and Bush, he said, set an appalling example.
“If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth?” he asked. “If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgment or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?”