Could Tony Blair face charges for war crimes?

British MP's are calling for the release of a public inquiry about early military involvement in the Iraq War and the conduct of the US and British governments. Are other government officials on either side of the Atlantic at risk of indictment? 

Diane Bondareff/Invision for The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation/AP
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education, Sept. 22, 2014, at Time Warner Center in New York.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair could end up facing charges of crimes against humanity as a result of an inquiry consisting of a plethora of British government documents regarding conduct before, during, and after Britain's military involvement in Iraq.

The evidence condemning Mr. Blair and other British officials could be released in a public inquiry led by Sir John Chilcot as early as February, but it could be delayed until after May’s general election, reports the Guardian. The inquiry ended in 2011 but, according to the Guardian, Prime Minister David Cameron cannot decide to make the report public until it is formally submitted by Mr. Chilcot.

But the information-gathering process has been slowed by the need for investigators to get a response from all parties that the inquiry criticizes. This includes Mr. Blair, the Foreign Office, the intelligence services, and government law offices. 

The Chilcot Inquiry, as it is known, was launched in 2009 at the request of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It sought to examine how the United Kingdom became involved in the lead-up to the invasion, the conduct of the military during the war, and the litany of security problems that Iraq continues to face. The Guardian reported that publication would most likely not occur until after the election, because it will be deemed too politically damaging for Prime Minister Cameron to call on the release beforehand.  The paper noted that negotiations with the US State Department over what could be included in the Chilcot Inquiry also hampered the efforts of investigators.

On Tuesday negotiations ended in the House of Lords over the contents to be released in the public report, and the result could be another stain on the legacy of both American and British leadership in their handling of the war.

Mr. Blair is not the only government official on either side of the Atlantic to have been accused of crimes against humanity. Former Vice President Dick Cheney has also been a part of this conversation for authorizing enhanced interrogation techniques, and many senior Bush Administration officials were convicted of war crimes in absentia in Malaysia for the use of torture and cruelty, a largely symbolic verdict, according to a Huffington Post story from December, 2013.

In the same report, the international volunteer group, Lawyers Against the War, demanded Toronto Police and the Ontario attorney general to arrest Mr. Cheney under Canada’s treaty obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. Lawyers Against the War spokeswoman, Gail Davidson wrote at the time that Mr. Cheney was, “a person suspected on reasonable grounds of authorizing, counseling, aiding, abetting and failing to prevent torture.”

There is a historical precedent of a Western political figure opting out of visiting a foreign country. In 2001 the Brazilian government canceled an invitation for Henry Kissinger to speak in São Paulo because the government could no longer protect his immunity, noted longtime Kissinger foe Christopher Hitchens in a 2002 Slate article.

The retracted invitation stemmed from Mr. Kissinger’s alleged connection to war crimes that occurred during his tenure as US Secretary of State when he and President Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and the subsequent deaths over a million Indochinese, along with his approval of Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, and the suffering at the hands of Chileans under the rule of Augusto Pinochet who was installed in a CIA backed coup, among other offenses.  

If history is to serve as any indicator if Mr. Blair or Mr. Cheney are likely to actually be charged with crimes against humanity, then the answer would be no. The US has not ratified the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court at the Hague, and its political leaders and military members are not, according to the US government, subject to ICC indictments. Although the UK  is a state participant in the statute, all previous cases brought to the Hague have involved developing countries, such as Cambodia and Serbia, and not developed ones.

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