For all the sound and fury Chilcot Report changes nothing
Findings do not carry any legal weight or compel any criminal proceedings against Blair and his administration
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during a news conference in London on July 6, 2016, following the outcome of the Iraq Inquiry report. STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images
Standing outside the Queen Elizabeth II Centre last Thursday following the launch of the Chilcot report, it was difficult not to think I’d witnessed a grand, but ultimately futile, performance.
Although afforded extensive access to witnesses and confidential documents, a huge budget, and a remarkably flexible timetable, the inquiry into the Iraqi war was not empowered to assess the legality of the 2003 invasion.
The impetus behind the inquiry’s establishment in 2009 was to placate the growing clamour for something to be done rather than to actually punish criminal behaviour. The ultimate impotence of the report should not surprise.
The process was essentially a PR exercise to give the impression of thoroughness, accountability and “lessons learned” without actually punishing those responsible for a profound violation of international law.
The families of the hundreds of thousands of victims who died as a result of this needless war feel their calls for justice remain unanswered.
The findings do not carry any legal weight or compel any criminal proceedings against Blair and his administration.
While people such as Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond rushed from one interview to another on Thursday promising “justice”, it is clear that Blair is as likely to stand trial now as he was before the report was published.
Blair’s defence has always been that he relied in good faith on intelligence that proved to be wrong; the Chilcot report, unfortunately, does not conclusively refute this. In the same studiously diplomatic language used throughout the report, Chilcot merely notes that Blair presented evidence to support the invasion with “a certainty that was not justified”. This amounts to obfuscation.
The report details the extent to which Blair chose to support the US “whatever”, and charts the curious evolution of the UK government’s view on both the necessity and legality of the war towards its final official position which – unsurprisingly – mirrored that of the US.
Given the pre-existing political commitment to align with the US, is it conceivable that Blair mistakenly relied on manifestly dodgy evidence that just happened to cohere with the US’s determination to topple Saddam?
Is it possible that British intelligence services didn’t know that the “evidence” about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was fundamentally flawed?
Likewise, is it plausible that the UK attorney general would voluntarily change his mind on the legality of the war to support the invasion without political pressure being brought to bear?
Beyond just the ultimately ineffectual findings of the Chilcot report, the fact that the architects of the invasion of Iraq are likely to evade international justice highlights the extent to which the current international legal order is heavily politicised, inconsistent and inherently weak.
Previously, special courts have been established to prosecute those responsible for wars in Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda. The establishment of such courts, however, requires the consent of the UN Security Council; as the UK has a permanent seat on the council it would veto any proposal to establish such a court for Iraq (as, indeed, would the US).
We are left, therefore, in a truly bizarre position; although the crime of aggression was described by the Nuremberg tribunal as “the supreme international crime” and the invasion of Iraq was, as noted by the then UN secretary general Kofi Annan, manifestly illegal, the prospects of anyone being tried for their role in perpetrating this crime remain negligible.
The invasion of Iraq was a needless war fought for greed, hubris and ideological zealotry. The millions across the world who rightly demand justice will find little comfort in the Chilcot report’s impotent reproach of those responsible.
Aidan Hehir is reader in international relations at the department of politics and international relations at the University of Westminster