The Chilcot Inquiry rumbles on in London. Every week that passes provides evidence that the Iraq invasion was illegal and there is prima facie evidence that the illegality was such that the war constituted the war crime of waging a war of aggression, which is probably the most serious crime that can be committed. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a result of this war. As far as I know none of the members of the American administration that did the war dance have been invited to London to give evidence to the Inquiry and if they were “summoned” they would give the summons short shrift. Those people have to account to their own governments for their actions, under the existing framework of law, not to the government of another state, even if that state was a close ally in the war. Mr Bush and the American people would regard the any such summons as impudent.In Washington DC Mr Robert Menendez, a senator from the State of New Jersey, has invited the former Justice Secretary of the United Kingdom, the First Minister of Scotland, Mr Alex Salmond, and the Justice Secretary of Scotland, Mr Kenny MacAskill to come to Washington and give evidence and be cross examined about, not a war, but about a decision that was made to release Mr al-Megrahi, a Libyan convicted in Scotland of being involved in the blowing up of an aircraft over Scotland in which 250 people lost their lives.
The contrast is of course what we have come to expect from great and powerful nations. Mr Menendez having failed in his attempt to cross examine former members of another government has now suggested that he will bring his entourage to the United Kingdom to attempt to set up his Inquiry here. Mr Menendez claims that these members of a former government have “stonewalled”, which they have not, they have simply done what any former member of the US government would have done. They have not stonewalled, but simply followed what always happens, I repeat what always happens, in these cases.
The British people whom Mr Menendez wishes to question have already explained that their decision was made on compassionate grounds, but he clearly does not believe them and so the summons. Mr Menendez speaks of pursuing American witnesses with the same vigour has he pursues British witness. Americans who are still officials in the administration can avoid Mr Menendez’s summons; those who have retired will probably have to give evidence to his Inquiry.
He talks rationally and sensibly but his words swerve the most important point in the whole affair. He cannot cross examine members of a government or former members of them.
If there is a need to enquire into the circumstances of Mr al-Megrahi’s release (and there are infinitely more important inquiries to conduct) then that inquiry should be a conducted under international law by an independent tribunal with powers to enforce the giving of evidence. Mr Menendez would get the answers that he wants if he lobbies for a change in the law to enable such a Tribunal to be set up and to be given powers that over ride American law. I cannot see the United States ever doing that, while they remain the world’s most powerful nation.