British politicians and officials were nervous about being accused of war crimes, according to documents released as part of the Chilcot report. Tony Blair and Jack Straw knew of warnings about potential breaches of the Geneva and Hague conventions from the government’s own lawyers.
As Sir John Chilcot said, it was not his job to judge the legality of the Iraq war; but the extensive documentation and testimony viewed by the inquiry may well be enough to open up the possibility of prosecution. This evidence is considerably more damning than Chilcot’s “headline” conclusions.
Geoffrey Robertson rightly argued that it is not legally possible to put Tony Blair on trial in the international criminal court for a crime of aggression, because aggression was not included in the Rome statute that established the ICC. Joshua Rozenberg suggested that the focus should therefore be on cases against British soldiers for abuse of detainees. However, there is an alternative route to take Blair and his ministers to the ICC over their war crimes.
Under the Hague and Geneva rules, occupying powers are prohibited from fundamentally transforming the economy and political system of a country. Yet this is exactly what happened: the coalition provisional authority (CPA), through which the UK and US governed, forced through a series of major structural economic reforms, including the removal of product subsidies and protective trade barriers and other tariffs, a flattened tax system in which the richest and the poorest paid the same rate, and economic policies that threw Iraqi industry wide open to foreign investors. It also reformed the political system root and branch, creating a government structure based on sectarian identity, which arguably played a key role in stimulating the violence that continues to this day.
One Foreign and Commonwealth Office lawyer advised Blair in February 2004 that because “the extensive body of CPA legislation dealing with economic reform and governance was of questionable lawfulness … the risk of claims against the UK could not be ruled out”.