From Democracy Now -- George Monbiot: UK Inquiry “Toothless” and “Feeble” in Probing Origins of Iraq War: As the Iraq war continues, Britain
February 17, 2010

From Democracy Now -- George Monbiot: UK Inquiry “Toothless” and “Feeble” in Probing Origins of Iraq War:

As the Iraq war continues, Britain is in the midst of an ongoing public inquiry into the UK’s role in the US-led war in 2003 invasion. The public hearings began in late November and the committee is expected to report its findings by June of this year. We speak to author and columnist George Monbiot, who has begun a campaign encouraging citizen’s arrests of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for crimes against peace in Iraq.

You can watch the entire program at Democracy Now.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Britain and to the ongoing public inquiry into the Britain’s role in the US-led war in Iraq. Chaired by Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry will consider Britain’s role in Iraq from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to military action, the invasion and the aftermath. The public hearings began in late November, and the committee is expected to report its findings by June of this year.

Late last month, amidst angry protests from antiwar activists and the parents of slain British soldiers, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair testified on the origins of the war. He ended his six-hour public testimony by defending the invasion and saying he had no regrets about toppling Saddam Hussein.

TONY BLAIR: I had to take this decision as prime minister, and it was a huge responsibility then, and there’s not a single day that passes by that I don’t reflect and think about that responsibility. And so I should.

But I genuinely believe that if we had left Saddam in power, even with what we know now, we would still have had to have dealt with him, possibly in circumstances where the threat was worse.

In the end, it was divisive, and I’m sorry about that. And I tried my level best to bring people back together again. But if I’m asked whether I believe we are safer, more secure, that Iraq is better, but our own security is better, with Saddam and his two sons out of power and out of office than in office, I believe, indeed, that we are.

JOHN CHILCOT: Have no regrets?

TONY BLAIR: Responsibility, but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein.


TONY BLAIR: I think he was a—

JOHN CHILCOT: Be quiet, please.

TONY BLAIR: I think that he was a monster. I believe he threatened not just the region, but the world. And in the circumstances that we faced then, but I think even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to deal with it, to remove him from office, and I do genuinely believe that the world is safer as a result.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, a few days after former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s testimony, former cabinet member Clare Short said the cabinet was misled into backing the invasion of Iraq and criticized Blair’s stated reasons for launching the invasion.

CLARE SHORT: There was never a meeting that said what’s the problem, what are we trying to achieve, what are our military, diplomatic options. We never had that coherent discussion of what it is that the problem was and what it was that the government was trying to achieve and what our bottom lines were. Never. There was no emergency. No one had attacked anyone. There wasn’t any new WMD. We could have taken more time and done it right.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Clare Short, who quit over the war.

Well, as the public inquiry into Britain’s role in Iraq continues, so does the war. And I’m joined now by two guests. George Monbiot is a columnist for the British Guardian newspaper, author of a number of books. Earlier this month, he began a campaign encouraging citizen’s arrests of Tony Blair for crimes against peace in Iraq. And we’re joined here in New York by the director and writer of the Oscar-nominated film that’s a satire of the British-American diplomatic wrangling in the lead-up to the war, the very events that the Chilcot inquiry is currently investigating. Armando Iannucci’s film In the Loop takes the view that the case for attacking Iraq was so absurd that it’s perfect fodder for a comedy.

Well, George Monbiot and Armando Iannucci, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! George Monbiot, start off by responding to the Chilcot inquiry. Is it working? What do you think?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, being pulled before the Chilcot inquiry is a bit like being mauled by a sock puppet. They’re toothless. They’re wooly. They’re utterly feeble. It’s a panel of pussycats. And they were deliberately chosen by the government for that very purpose. It’s the prime minister’s office which sets the terms of reference for inquiries in the UK and which chooses the members of the inquiry panel. So it’s rather like someone, a criminal suspect who’s up before the court for murder, for example, who says, “Well, actually, I don’t want to be tried for murder. I’d rather be tried for shoplifting. And I’d like to appoint the judge and the jury for that trial.” It’s a ridiculous process, which would never be tolerated in the United States or, indeed, in any nation which has got a constitution. But in the UK, where we don’t have a written constitution and where there are no practical limits to the prime minister’s power, they can get away with it.

AMY GOODMAN: I think people in the United States might be thinking right now, “Huh. I mean, you’re having this inquiry in Britain; nothing like this is happening in the United States.”

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, that’s true. Of course, that is true. And it’s about time that something did happen. But hopefully it wouldn’t be like this. It would be a proper American inquiry, which has got some teeth, which is not appointed by the very people who were responsible for the thing that’s being inquired into, and where there’s a chance of them actually getting to the truth of the matter, rather than, as they did with Tony Blair, throw out these complete lobs to him, these hospital passes which anybody could catch, where he could just bat them away incredibly easily without breaking into a sweat at all.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of Clare Short’s testimony, not to mention her significance in the lead-up to the war, George Monbiot?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, the problem she’s got, really, is that she didn’t resign until after the war had already begun. And what she should have done was to resign at the same time as Robin Cook. Once the parliamentary decision had been taken, once Blair had said, “There’s no turning back now. We’re going in,” Cook resigned at exactly the right moment and retained his credibility. Short had a difficulty in that she didn’t resign then. She sort of flinched and resigned later, which makes her testimony slightly less powerful than it would otherwise have been.

However, she’s absolutely right to highlight the lack of discussion within Parliament and the lack of discussion within the cabinet and the complete absence of a credible reason for launching the war, which of course makes this a war of aggression, in direct contravention of the United Nations Charter and of other instruments of international law, and which means that it was classified by the Nuremberg tribunal as an instance of the supreme international crime.

AMY GOODMAN: And your website,, what exactly are you proposing, George Monbiot?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, the purpose of the website is to raise money to pay bounties for people who attempt citizen’s arrests of Tony Blair for the charge of a crime against peace or the crime of aggression. It’s the same crime. And so, we’re encouraging people to donate to the site, and then everyone who attempts a citizen’s arrest gets one-quarter of the total pot at the time of their application. The pot currently stands at about 10,000 pounds, after we’ve already paid out or we’re about to pay out 3,000 pounds to the first person to attempt a citizen’s arrest of Mr. Blair, which was at the Chilcot inquiry. A woman called Grace McCann tried it, and she did it in such a way that it qualified for a bounty. And so, the idea is to maintain pressure on Tony Blair until he is officially prosecuted, maintain pressure on the government and on the judicial authorities to prosecute him, and to ensure that nobody forgets this monstrous crime against humanity that he has committed, in which upwards of 100,000, possibly as many as one million people, have died as a result of his illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. George Monbiot is our guest. He’s in Oxford right now. He’s a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, author of a number of books, founded the website. And when we come back, we’re going to play some clips of In the Loop. It’s just been nominated for an Oscar in the adapted screenplay category. And it is a satire of the lead-up to the war. Armando Iannucci, who wrote it and directed the movie, is with us. Stay with us.

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