The Iraq Inquiry fiasco
Blocking full disclosure of information submitted to the UK Chilcot Inquiry will close a window onto the war crimes caused by the US-led invasion of Iraq, writes Salah Nasrawi
A deal announced last week to block essential documents in a British inquiry into the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has come as a great disappointment to Iraqis who had hoped that the inquiry would unveil some of the truth about the war.
Many Iraqis had also expected that the Iraq Inquiry, called the Chilcot Inquiry, would provide enough evidence about the disinformation and lies used by the then British prime minister Tony Blair and US president George W Bush to launch the war for this to be used to take the US and British governments before an international tribunal.
The Iraq Inquiry was commissioned by Blair’s successor as prime minister, Gordon Brown, in 2009 to “identify lessons that can be learned from the Iraq conflict.” One key issue was for the inquiry to settle whether Blair had assured Bush of British support in the war even though he knew that information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction was either false or misleading.
The controversy goes back to Blair’s backing for Bush in the conflict and its aftermath. Blair, who was called “Bush’s poodle” by the British tabloid newspapers, stated in September 2002 that it had been established “beyond doubt” that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction.
Although both Blair and Bush claimed the war on Iraq was necessary to protect the world from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, none of these weapons has ever been found. It is now well established that the invasion had less to do with self-defence than with dominating the oil-rich nation and playing havoc with the Middle East.
The inquiry was initiated in response to criticisms of the British role in the war in which 179 British soldiers were killed and 6,000 wounded. British commentators have billed the Iraq conflict as the worst error in British foreign policy since the disastrous failure of the Suez War on Egypt in 1956.
The decision to withhold details of correspondence, however, has raised concerns that the Chilcot Inquiry has capitulated to the demands of the British and the US governments and confirmed suspicions of a whitewash that will undermine the credibility of the long-anticipated final report.
While the failure to publish the entire correspondence will anger families of the British victims and many in Britain who want to know if they were misled by their prime minister and his administration, many Iraqis will feel they have been denied an opportunity to expose the heinous crimes that have been perpetrated against their country with the knowledge and encouragement of some in the international community.
The disclosure of the roles and responsibilities of those who orchestrated and executed the war could have opened a window of opportunity for Iraqi victims of abuses committed during the war and subsequent occupation to take such crimes to courts in European countries that extend their jurisdiction beyond their territorial limits.
Nine years of US occupation have left Iraq in ruins and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and mass human rights violations. Many international legal experts have argued that abuses by US troops in Iraq and military contractors have been systematic and widespread enough to be taken to the International Criminal Court.
Following the US troop withdrawal in 2011, Iraq has remained a fragile state deeply riven by civil strife. Acts of abuse perpetrated by the Iraqi security forces, rebels and sectarian militias as part of the political conflict are also widely considered to be worthy of prosecution by an international war crimes tribunal.
However, most of the Iraqi victims of the war and occupation have been forgotten, and the post-invasion Iraqi authorities have failed to unearth most of the crimes of the past and bring their perpetrators to justice. The failure to find closure to this issue has triggered a debate on whether the war-wracked nation will now be able to restore peace without meeting demands for justice from the victims and their families.
Some rulings have brought hope for the Iraqi victims of abuses. In July 2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark judgement in the universal application of human rights in a case involving the killings of Iraqi civilians by UK soldiers. The court held that Britain had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in its failure to adequately investigate its soldiers’ abuses in Iraq during the occupation.
Moreover, the British Court of Appeal has agreed to start hearing demands for a public inquiry about grave allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment by British soldiers and interrogators in Iraq. The ruling is important, as the British government will be obliged to accept that human rights law applies to its acts anywhere in the world and that its soldiers are duty-bound to protect civilians.
Also in 2011, a judge in Spain announced plans to question Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and three Iraqi military officers in a probe into the deaths of 34 people at an Iranian exile camp in Iraq. Spain launched an independent probe into the 2009 deaths of the Iranian exiles under the universal justice doctrine which it says allows it to prosecute grave crimes committed in other countries.
Under the Spanish ruling, Al-Maliki will be “automatically summoned” to appear before the court when his term as prime minister ends and his judicial immunity expires. The ruling by the Spanish court is supremely important, and its significance lies in making it clear that Spanish national human rights obligations do not end at the country’s borders.
As expected, the United States, which is not a party to the International Criminal Court or to the Geneva Conventions that provide protection to the civilians under occupation or during military operations, has routinely claimed immunity for its soldiers and sometimes for foreign security guards working in Iraq as well.
Only a few low-ranking American soldiers have faced trials for various crimes in Iraq, and the US judiciary has repeatedly refused to back attempts to have the courts open investigations into potential American war crimes in the country.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court ruled that a group of former detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq would not be able to sue military contractors who had participated in torture and other illegal acts of abuse at the US-run detention facility in 2003 and 2004.
The case of 250 former Abu Ghraib detainees raised the issue of whether private contractors hired by the US military to perform services in a conflict zone may be held accountable for participating in acts of torture and other war crimes.
Evidence from the Chilcot Inquiry had suggested that Blair and his entourage had deceived the British cabinet and public opinion on Iraq by producing “sexed-up” intelligence information to justify the war on Iraq.
However, by now withholding essential information, there is increasing doubt that the Chilcot Inquiry will be able to provide an account of the events that led to the war and identify lessons to guide future British foreign policy decision-making, as is required by its mandate.
It goes without saying that such an outcome will not satisfy the Iraqi families that lost members to this conflict and the thousands of Iraqis who were subjected to vicious mass crimes during the US occupation and its aftermath. The invasion triggered so much horrific and untold calamities, and allowed the atrocities to grow to such a scale, that they have since plagued Iraq with apparently unstoppable abuses.
Even after the occupation ended, the Iraqi authorities failed to resolve a number of high-profile killings and bring the perpetrators to justice, raising fears that impunity is becoming the norm in Iraq. The Iraqi parliament and successive governments have demonstrated their insensitivity towards considering bringing justice to the victims of Saddam’s era and to those of the US-led invasion and sectarian bloodshed that followed.
There has been much talk over the last few years about how the Iraqi people need justice. But in order to have justice, they need first to establish the full account of the truth of the war in order to fight events in court. In this context, the UK Chilcot Inquiry seems to be just another pointless endeavour that is not expected to help those who seek either truth or justice.