June 21, 2018
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Why I protested Tony Blair’s commencement speech at Colby

John Clarke Russ | BDN
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Lawrence Reichard
By Lawrence Reichard, Special to the BDN

As recorded in the May 21 Bangor Daily News, on May 20, I was arrested for yelling at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during his commencement address at Colby College in Waterville.

Since then, some have expressed disapproval of my disrupting Colby’s graduation. I understand and sympathize with this. At first glance this would appear to be a disrespectful, inconsiderate act. But let’s take a closer look.

Like former President George W. Bush, Tony Blair led his country into an unnecessary, illegal and immoral war under false pretenses — that is to say lies. Like Bush, Blair said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and therefore war was necessary. But Blair knew — or at a minimum should have known — this was a lie.

According to an article in The Lancet, a prestigious medical journal, by 2006 the Iraq war had already killed an estimated 654,965 Iraqis. That’s 2.5 percent of the Iraqi population. In this country that would be 8 million people. The war has killed 4,486 American soldiers and 179 British

soldiers. The war has wounded 33,184 U.S. soldiers. A close relative of a friend from Penobscot came back from Iraq paralyzed from the neck down, and with serious and permanent brain damage, unable to so much as feed himself. This is the legacy of Mr. Blair’s war.

But the war did much more. The long-term financial costs of the war — including treating the wounded — are now estimated to be as much as three trillion dollars. This represents a vast squandering of national wealth that could go to vital services such as education, health care, jobs, housing and transportation. The denial of these services will cause additional, and considerable, suffering on both sides of the Atlantic.

The war also caused extensive environmental damage that will cause suffering in Iraq for years to come. Our uranium-tipped bullets and munitions now litter the Iraqi landscape, rendering much land unsafe for agriculture or habitation, and already causing elevated levels of cancer. This legacy will be with Iraq for a long, long time.

And Blair bears some of the responsibility for U.S. aggression against Iraq, for Blair’s acquiescence in that aggression gave President Bush international cover for the war, and made it easier for Mr. Bush to sell the war to the U.S. public and indeed to the world.

It was incumbent on Mr. Blair to get his facts straight before agreeing to the Iraq war.

Under international law, codified by treaties to which Great Britain is signer and party, a country cannot attack another unless it is under direct, imminent threat. Clearly this was not the case with Iraq, which posed no threat to the U.S. or Great Britain. Under international law no country has the right to wage pre-emptive war.

But how could Blair know Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction? As the U.S. and Great Britain openly prepared for war against Iraq, Hans Blix, who was investigating charges of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the International Atomic Energy Agency, repeatedly stated there was no evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and that Iraq was cooperating with his investigation. Rather than heed the findings of this internationally respected agency, Blair and Bush chose to misrepresent its findings, claiming that Iraq was not cooperating.

Bush and Blair said Iraq had acquired from Africa yellow cake uranium for the purpose of building weapons of mass destruction. But Joseph Wilson, the U.S. envoy who investigated this claim debunked it in the New York Times. And rather than heed this, the Bush administration outed Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative, thus breaking U.S. law, ending her career and very possibly endangering her life.

Thus one can plainly see that evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had more holes than Swiss cheese. The evidence of this was readily available to any casual newspaper reader.

Under international law Blair is a war criminal. As such he should have been arrested — not praised and celebrated as commencement speaker — in Waterville. He should be tried in the International Court of Justice. And it is the duty of us all to hold Mr. Blair accountable for his crimes.

Lawrence Reichard is a Bangor resident and activist with Occupy Bangor.

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