The terrible thing about Jimmy Savile’s serious crimes involving young girls is how many people in senior and influential positions knew about his behaviour and chose to do nothing about it, to turn a blind eye. People who knew him at Radio Luxembourg and Mecca as early as the 1960s, Detective Inspector John Lindsay’s superiors at Thames Valley police during the late 1970s, BBC bosses as early as the 1980s, as well as numerous journalists according to Simon Hoggart. He was just too big, too famous, had done too many “good things” and it would embarass too many people.
And so it is with Tony Blair in the Labour Party amid allegations of lying to the British public over the reason for going to war, of misleading the public about the threat posed by Iraq, of the crime of aggression in starting an illegal war which has lead to the deaths since 2003 of over 110,000 Iraqis and displaced millions. And yet, in public at least, Labour politicians are unwilling to break the party’s taboo on even the possibility that Blair may be guilty of a war crime – the crime of agression.
Not a single Labour MP, for example was willing to support the impeachment of Tony Blair in November 2004 though a number of Tory and Lib Dem MPs did (against the wishes of their parties), and so did members of Plaid Cymru and the SNP.
Tam Dalyell, an honourable man and an opponent of the Iraq war who had called on Tony Bair to resign explained why:
What they have produced is a perfectly serious document that makes a coherent case. But if I and other Labour MPs endorsed it, there would be a terrible row about treachery. One would be labelled as a traitor and have to defend oneself. I don’t mind being called a traitor, but I don’t think it would help much.
The explanation that is suggested therefore for turning a blind eye in this case is the threat of being described as a traitor, and it seems the correct one. It also explains why not a single Labour MP has since signed the petition of the President of the UN General Assembly and the UK Attorney General organised by the Blair War Crimes Foundation.
But it is not a good excuse, and certainly not since Archbishop Desmond Tutu has brought it to international attention. It is no better and excuse than Omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, or the disgraceful misplaced loyalty of the West Yorkshire police who sought to blame the victims of the Hillsborough disaster rather than accept their own culpability.
Although Ed Miliband, to his credit, in one of his first acts as Leader, accepted that Labour was wrong to go to war in Iraq, he also said he wanted to draw a line under it. When Attorney General Dominic Grieve vetoed the release of documents to the Chilcot inquiry in August detailing minutes of Cabinet meetings in the days leading up to the invasion of Iraq, he did so after consulting former Labour ministers and Ed Miliband. We must therefore assume that Ed Miliband, unfortunately, is just as complicit in the cover up that is still taking place in relation to the Chilcot inquiry as was the former Labour cabinet in the cover-up that was the Hutton inquiry.
Whilst Tony Blair and his prominent advisers have already published their self-justifying accounts earning splendid royalties and serialisation fees, and whilst their lawyers will be allowed to pore over Chilcot’s provisional findings to challenge them even before publication, they and Labour’s representatives are still denying Chilcot access to public records in order to protect the accused.
Desmond Tutu argues that different standards are applied to Tony Blair and George W Bush than to African and Asian leaders. “The death toll during and after the Iraq conflict is sufficient on its own,” says Tutu, for them to be made to answer for their actions in the Hague.
Labour politicians are fully aware that allegations of war crimes have been made, that the invasion of Iraq violated the UN charter, and that those who launched it committed the international crime of aggression. We also know that Mr Blair was explicitly warned of the risk of prosecution for this offence by Labour’s very own attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, who wrote in his advice of 7 March 2003:
Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law. It might therefore be argued that international aggression is a crime recognised by the common law which can be prosecuted in the UK courts.”
George Monbiot recently set out very clearly why there is little doubt that the invasion of Iraq was a crime of aggression:
Blair’s cabinet ministers knew it, and told him so. His attorney general warned that there were just three ways in which it could be legally justified: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UN security council authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case.” Blair tried and failed to obtain the third.
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. The Cabinet Office told him: “A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers’ advice, none currently exists.”
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.
Ed Miliband did explain why he wanted to draw a line under Iraq. Before saying:
I do believe we were wrong, wrong to take Britain to war, and we need to be honest about that. Wrong because war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations. America has drawn a line under Iraq and so must we.
he also pointed out that:
Iraq was an issue that divided our party and our country. Many sincerely believed the world faced a real threat. I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest decisions.
It is true that there were many Labour MPs who agonised about their decision before voting, wrongly as I see it, to back Tony Blair’s judgement. They did it in part on the basis of false information and “dodgy dossiers” designed precisely to bounce them into that action. Ed’s desire to unite a party that was divided on the issue is understandable, but it will not be done on the basis of lies and cover-ups. It can only be done on the basis of truth and reconciliation about which Desmond Tutu knows a thing or two. Perhaps we need his assistance.
Many loyal party members left the party over Iraq. Many of those who stayed did so with a heavy heart. Some of those who left have rejoined, persuaded by Ed’s admission. Has anyone thought to write to the others who have not? Have we really put in place structures to ensure that we will never be bounced into such a disastrous crime again?
It is too late for Jimmy Savile to face justice (though not to late for the recognition of injustice to his victims). It is not to late for Tony Blair to face justice. He should do so and Labour should play a part in making sure that happens. No Omertà. No taboo. Truth, justice and reconciliation.