(NEW YORK) MintPress — When the 2012 Discovery Invest Leadership Summit was held in Johannesburg last Thursday, one of the keynote speakers was noticeably absent from the program: South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who withdrew from the conference at the last minute to protest the attendance of former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Earlier in the week, a spokesman for the archbishop said simply that Tutu would not attend because he did not want to share a platform with Blair, but declined to comment further on the issue.
In an essay that was published over the weekend in the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., Tutu explained, “I couldn’t sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie.
“The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history,” he wrote.
Blair’s concern over Baghdad’s ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction had been the main factor behind Britain’s decision to back the war. No significant caches of chemical or biological weapons were ever found in Iraq.
Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and later chaired South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine apartheid-era crimes.
“On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go to the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers’ circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr. Bush’s chief supporter, Mr. Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?” he asked in his essay.
“Obviously Tony Blair is sorry that the archbishop has decided to pull out now from an event that has been fixed for months and where he and the archbishop were never actually sharing a platform,” Blair’s office said in a statement posted on his website.
“As far as Iraq is concerned, they have always disagreed about removing Saddam by force — such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy.”
Casualties of war
Tutu argued that Bush and Blair should face justice. “The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraq Body Count project,” he claimed.
The Iraq Body Count project also found that during the period of British security provision in southeastern Iraq from May 2003 to December 2007, 3,334 violent civilian deaths and 20,099 civilian wounded, were documented and detailed.
It’s website states that “of the post-invasion deaths from May 2003 to December 2007, 193 can at present be directly attributed to the Coalition military, of which 124 have been definitely identified as victims of British military action; some have been or are still the subject of legal action.”
Tutu went on to say, “More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of the last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.
“On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.”
Ongoing controversy in Britain
The Iraq war was bitterly divisive in the U.K. and sparked large public demonstrations, although Blair subsequently won a national election in 2005, albeit with a reduced majority.
Groups have called for a citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister since he left office, with one website going as far as offering a reward to people who attempt to detain him.
In 2010, protesters called for Blair to face war crimes charges as he gave evidence to the Iraq inquiry in London.
The two-year long inquiry examining the buildup to the Iraq war and its conduct has not yet published its final report. The panel took evidence from political leaders including Blair, military chiefs and intelligence officers.
Two previous British studies into aspects of the war cleared Blair’s government of wrongdoing.
“My appeal to Mr. Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it,” wrote Tutu. “You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the U.S., in Syria, in Israel and Iran.
“If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, with an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?”
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