Yet this was the treat afforded to global audiences when Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, called up former foreign minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni, to pander to her sensibility offended by the British courts, which had earlier issued an arrest warrant for her involvement in possible war crimes related in Gaza. More embarrassingly still, Miliband issued a statement that Britain would look into revising its own laws in order to concede to the Israelis’ indignation:
“The government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again.”
Today, as if to drive home the point, PM Gordon Brown called Livni and told her personally that she is welcome in the UK anytime.
What Foreign Secretary Miliband Should Have Said to Livni
This sycophantic behavior on the part of a country like the UK is shocking. One can easily imagine an alternative, much more respectable response to this Israel’s ruffled feathers, as suggested today in the Guardian:
“I am calling to explain why it would be wrong for me to apologise publicly or privately for the apparent decision by one of this country’s independent judiciary to issue an arrest warrant against you.
I should first explain that the British legal system has a strong tradition of fairness. All people under criminal investigation or criminal charge are entitled to the presumption of innocence: that is, they are presumed innocent unless and until convicted through a fair trial on the criminal standard of proof (that is, beyond reasonable doubt). Therefore, nobody here is saying you have been found guilty of any offence and any comments of this kind would be unacceptable.
It does seem, however, that a judicial decision was taken that there exists a reasonable suspicion that you committed a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is a criminal offence under our Geneva Conventions Act 1957. Of course, I have not seen any of the evidence that a court would have seen when making that decision. This is entirely right and proper: British ministers cannot interfere in such individual judicial decisions, as we must respect our ancient democratic tradition of non-interference with our independent judiciary. I hold the utmost respect for our independent judges.
I am sorry, but I hope you understand that it is not my job as foreign secretary or any part of this government’s job to second-guess a judge’s decision or to interfere with it.”
The author of this suggested response concludes correctly that Miliband’s actual response “implicitly criticise[s] the role of our independent judiciary, and which flies directly in the face of this country’s international legal obligations to “search out and prosecute” all those alleged to have committed war crimes. This sends a message that Britain is in fact a safe haven for suspected torturers and war criminals, especially if they come from a country which is identified as an ally of the United Kingdom.” Indeed.
Is Britain Trying to Protect Its Own War Criminals?
What explains this cowardly British response to the rulings of its own judicial system?
I argue that one powerful motivation was articulated perfectly by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, in the following thinly veiled threat:
“Israel would like to note that both Israel and Britain are in the midst of a joint battle against global terror and that British soldiers are working to defeat it in many arenas in the world.”
British government officials, particularly from Labor, are certain to have taken the hint. As Israel, a foreign country, was demanding changes in the British legal system, Tony Blair was recovering from a few intense sessions with the Chilcot Inquiry, a formal UK government investigation into British involvement in the disastrous Iraq war. This commission has examined, in particular, the conscious lies with which Blair motivated the country, and world, to invade another country that posed no imminent threat to anyone. As he explained in a recent interview in response to a question about whether he would have invaded Iraq even if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, he replied simply, narcissistically: ‘I would still have thought it right to remove [Saddam Hussein].’
This is not only a stunning admission, but one that could come back to haunt Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and their henchmen if universal jurisdiction ever becomes more widespread. It’s one thing to bend international law to your whims. Its quite another to bend your whims to, well, your whims.
The calculus probably running through the heads of Blair’s dear buddy Miliband and co-Laborite Brown is that its perhaps safer to protect your friends, and yourselves, by stamp out pesky claims to international law now while you can.
Britain’s response is far more consistent with this explanation than with its stated desire to be “strategic partners” with an increasingly delegitimized rogue state.