Two Vancouver legal experts have given a thumbs-up to U.K.-based Guardian columnist George Monbiot’s offer of a bounty for a citizen’s arrest of former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair.
“Well, speaking within the British context, with the British police being in most instances quite respectful of citizen rights—including in most instances not carrying arms—yes, I think it is a brilliant idea,” Michael Byers, the Canada research chair in global politics and international law at UBC, told the Straight by phone. “I wouldn’t want to recommend someone in another country with less historic respect for citizens’ rights to try this, because the police might react excessively. But certainly in the U.K., George Monbiot has thought this out, and the recommendations I think are quite reasonable.”
On the Web site Arrest Blair, Monbiot announces a reward for “a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister”. Monbiot pledged the first 100 pounds (about $170) from his own pocket. By today (January 28), the bounty had grown to 9,432 pounds based on pledges. Monbiot alleges on the site that Blair is responsible for war crimes and should be tried in the International Criminal Court.
To do this, Monbiot adds, citizens should attempt a peaceful and non-violent arrest that, while being largely “symbolic”, will qualify for a reward if it is picked up by a mainstream media outlet. The reward is described as “one quarter of the total pot at the time of application”.
“So yes, I think there is a strong case against Mr. Blair for the crime of aggression,” said Byers, who wrote a 2005 book called War Law on the legality of the Iraq invasion. “The crime of aggression did not make it into the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court because of a lack of agreement among negotiating states, but it is still part of customary international law and exists in the statute books of several countries. So yes, without saying definitively that Blair is guilty, there is a case to be answered. Certainly, from a purely legal perspective, he is open to arrest and prosecution.”
Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson, cofounder of Lawyers Against the War, also thinks the bounty offer is a good idea.
“People certainly respond to the arrest factor,” Davidson said by phone. “For instance [U.S. law professor and international justice advocate] Francis Boyle just filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court last week....He filed a criminal complaint against various people in the Bush administration for extraordinary rendition with the International Criminal Court. He asked for the issuance for international arrest warrants against Bush, Cheney, [then CIA director] George Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, [former U.S. attorney general] Alberto Gonzalez...a whole bunch of people. And because he asked for international arrest warrants, that takes people’s attention.”
On Friday (January 29), Blair will give evidence at the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, which was struck by current U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown last June.
Though Monbiot has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the inquiry in bringing alleged war criminals to justice, Davidson said it too has a role to play as so many people have agreed to give testimony. Davidson also said LAW is trying to submit the same brief to the inquiry that it sent around prior to the 2003 invasion.
“Lawyers Against the War sent a really good legal brief—not a little letter but a legal brief—outlining why the invasion of Iraq would be completely and utterly illegal without another authorizing [UN Security Council] resolution,” Davidson said of the earlier submission. “We sent that to various members of the Blair administration, including Tony Blair and [then U.K. attorney general] Mr. [Lord] Goldsmith. And we sent it to the Bush administration, and so I am going to try and get evidence before the Chilcot commission that we sent that to them, and so they had more notice.”