On May 20, I was arrested for yelling “liar” and “warmonger” at former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as he was addressing the graduating class of Colby College in Waterville, and today at 1 p.m. I will face charges for this in Maine District Court in Waterville.
To say that Tony Blair misled his country into the Iraq war is to greatly understate the case. Blair did much more than mislead — he outright lied. It has been discovered that before the Iraq war started, Blair said he would have his war regardless of whether any evidence of weapons of mass destruction was found in Iraq. Blair then went along with lies such as that of Iraq purchasing enriched “yellow cake” uranium in Niger, the discovery of tubes for WMD purposes and lack of Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspections.
This is no trivial matter. As former President George W. Bush’s biggest war partner, Tony Blair’s complicity in this immoral and enormously costly charade was instrumental in Bush’s effort to construct an international war machine.
And what has been the cost of this war that is still ongoing and still has thousands of U.S. troops and mercenaries on the ground in Iraq? Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians — men, women and children — dead. More than a million Iraqi refugees. More than 4,500 U.S. soldiers killed. More than 35,000 U.S. soldiers wounded. All at a cost of one to three trillion dollars.
And what is the cost of that? Right here in the state of Maine, thousands of low-income families are losing health care, schools are laying off personnel, homeless shelters and food banks are losing funding and many of our roads lie unrepaired. In Britain the government is slashing funds for health care, jobs and badly needed community programs for the poor and unemployed.
Meanwhile Tony Blair trots about the globe hawking books and raking in speakers’ fees — profiting from the misery of his dead and wounded.
The district attorney’s office has told me it will likely seek a fine of $150 for my alleged crime. I will not pay this, for I have done nothing wrong. And I will not give my money to a state that squanders its financial resources on a seemingly endless parade of tax cuts for the wealthy, who grow ever richer on the backs of the poor and working people of Maine. Instead I will donate $150 to H.O.M.E. Co-op in Orland, which creates employment for, and provides services to, low-income Mainers.
The district attorney’s office has also told me it would not oppose my doing community service in lieu of a fine. But I will not perform community service as a form of punishment. Those who know me know that I perform community service almost every day. But I will not do so as a form of punishment, as I have done nothing wrong. My only crime is that I did not yell louder.
And so I may go to jail. So be it. There are worse things in the world. I am not afraid of jail. I am much more afraid of the moral and material bankruptcy that inevitably comes from allowing Tony Blair and George W. Bush to freely wander about the countryside celebrating their criminal ways.
Lawrence Reichard is a resident of Bangor and an activist with Occupy Bangor.