I have no time for those, on both the Right and the Left, who
say that church leaders should keep out of politics. But Archbishop
Desmond Tutu's intervention to suggest that Tony Blair and George
Bush should be arraigned at the International Criminal Court (ICC)
in The Hague for war crimes suggests that clerics - however
distinguished in matters at the interstices of morality and
politics - would do well to tread a little more carefully when it
comes to the business of the law.
Dr Tutu called for the prosecutions as he announced that he is
to boycott a conference on leadership, where he was to share a
platform with Mr Blair (News, 31 August). His grounds were that
"the immorality of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on
the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has
destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any
other conflict in history."
Many people were alarmed and affronted by the invasion of Iraq.
I opposed that war, too, and yet I am distinctly uncomfortable
about Dr Tutu's high-octane outrage. I worked out why when I heard
the human-rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC go on the radio to
back the idea.
He was pitted against Mr Blair's former Lord Chancellor, Charles
Falconer. Although Sir Geoffrey was strong on querulous
indignation, he, too, was wobbly on the law. For a start, although
it is now clear that Mr Blair was wrong about his casus belli - the
weapons of mass destruction which proved to be non-existent - there
is no evidence that the then Prime Minister lied, only that he was
badly informed or self-deluded, perhaps even wilfully. And on the
question of legality, as Lord Falconer made clear, it is perfectly
possible to argue that the pre-war UN resolution 1441 gave
sufficient authority to give the invasion legitimate authority.
Most importantly, the war-crimes tribunals in The Hague hear
cases on genocide, atrocity, and crimes against humanity. Sir
Geoffrey's assertion that, in the future, it will also indict wars
of aggression was disingenuous; even if that notion is ratified by
the 30 states that are party to the ICC, it will apply only to
crimes committed a year after the ratification. A lawyer would, of
course, have known that, which is probably why Sir Geoffrey was
eventually forced to concede that there would indeed be difficulty
in proving a case against Mr Blair.
Dr Tutu would have done far better to stick to moral
condemnation - on which grounds he would find plentiful support.
Many, however, would question the one-sided calculus by which he
blames Mr Blair for those people dying today in Iraq at the hands
of sectarian suicide-bombers, but refuses to allow the ex-PM
credit for the lives saved by the removal of Saddam Hussein.
Instead, he has strayed on to legal ice so thin that it will not
bear the weight of his argument. What he has done is to "sex up"
the grounds for legal guilt, every bit as much as the infamous
pre-war dodgy dossier was sexed up.
Some would go further: Canon Giles Fraser has suggested
elsewhere this week that Dr Tutu has violated his Christian
principles in his refusal to sit down and enter into dialogue with
a man with whom he profoundly disagrees. That, after all, was the
principle of both the black/white dialogue that brought South
African apartheid to a peaceful negotiated end, and the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission that sought to heal his nation's
Leadership and morality are indivisible, Dr Tutu has said. But
something can be politically shaky and morally dubious without its
being a war crime. By muddling what is immoral with what is
illegal, the Archbishop has done his position great disservice.