Nothing changes without talk; nothing changes through talk alone. Petitions and debates and social media campaigns and even, sometimes, articles in newspapers are essential campaigning tools but, without action, they seldom amount to anything but catharsis. Without risk, there is no inspiration. Without demonstrations of what change looks like, the public imagination fails.
This is why I set up the Arrest Blair website. Everywhere I went, I met people who were furious that Tony Blair should have got away with what, under international law, appears to be clearly defined as mass murder. The crime of aggression (“planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) was described by the Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.
While petty tyrants from weaker nations have been successfully prosecuted for horrific but lesser crimes, the unprovoked invasion of Iraq by Blair and George Bush and the mass killing that followed remains not only unpunished but apparently richly rewarded. Or so Blair’s lucrative consultancies and lecture tours organised by the Washington Speakers Bureau appear to suggest.
But this fury was impotent. We agreed that Blair’s impunity was an outrage, that it was likely to encourage other leaders of powerful nations to carry out similar great crimes, and that “something must be done”. But no one was proposing to, er, do anything.
I recognise that establishing a bounty for attempts to carry off a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister will not lead automatically to a reconfiguration of global justice, or, for that matter, a long-overdue trial. But it has already succeeded in doing two things: keeping the issue – and the memories of those who have been killed – alive, and sustaining the pressure to ensure that international law binds the powerful as well as the puny.
Arrest Blair collects donations and uses them to build a bounty pot. We pay out a quarter of the money that’s in the pot when a successful claim is made. Four people have received the bounty so far, in each case amid a blaze of publicity for an issue that is otherwise largely forgotten.
Twiggy Garcia’s attempt last Friday was performed with a certain panache. While Garcia held his shoulder, Blair attempted his long-polished trick of changing the subject: “Shouldn’t you be worried about Syria?” Garcia responded that he could “only address things that are within my grasp at any one time”. It’ll take a day or two to formalise the decision, but his claim seems to meet the criteria.
Once more, what Blair did in Iraq is in the news, 11 years after the event, and the clamour to ensure that such crimes become unthinkable in future has risen again. That is a small but significant contribution to peace.
This article first appeared in the Guardian on 21 January 2014.
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