Why I hold Blair responsible for Ken Bigley's murder

I point to the Prime Minister alone and not to his Cabinet. Iraq is his personal crusade
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The Independent Online

Mr Blair didn't wield the knife. Yet the Prime Minister is substantially responsible for the gruesome murder of Kenneth Bigley, British citizen, in Iraq. For the needless invasion of the country provided the circumstances in which Mr Bigley lost his life.

In particular, the war created a state of lawlessness. The coalition, led by President Bush and Mr Blair, was unable to prevent anarchy taking the place of the brutal dictatorship. It has thus failed in its first duty towards the people of Iraq and those who visit the country: it cannot provide security. Nothing is possible without it, neither reconstruction (in which Mr Bigley was engaged) nor free elections.

With ignorance and ideology its guiding principles, the coalition failed to comprehend the size of the task that awaited it. Today, hostages can be seized at will, even in the capital. Kidnapping is the new fact of life.

But the chaos in which Iraq is now enveloped isn't an unexpected development, which was scarcely foreseeable at the time the decision to invade was taken. This is a second reason why Mr Blair deserves a substantial portion of the blame. Many of his advisers outlined the difficulties the coalition would face. Every British inquiry into the preparations to go to war, every leaked document has indicated the same thing: the risks were known to the Prime Minister. Mr Blair wilfully disregarded the advice he received.

It wasn't that he understood the dangers but couldn't persuade George Bush. If that was so, there would have been no need for the Prime Minister to have published, as he did, a deliberately misleading dossier on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. A truthful account would itself have served as a warning to the Americans. But no warning was intended. The show had to go on.

This is not the end of the Prime Minister's responsibility. For when Mr Bigley was seized, a further disadvantage of Mr Blair's policy became evident. The Prime Minister was unable to make a convincing plea on grounds of human decency or mercy when contact with Mr Bigley's abductors was finally achieved. The Irish Government could do so on behalf of somebody with Irish family connections, but not Mr Blair. For the coalition leaders have long since stripped themselves of any shred of moral authority.

See it this way. Every time Iraqis are taken from their homes at dead of night and carted off to secret detention centres and held for months, if not years, without their families knowing where they are, the coalition blackens its reputation. Every time a prisoner is sexually humiliated, its reputation sinks lower. Every time torture is employed, it is brought closer to moral equivalence with Saddam Hussein. Every time a prisoner dies during interrogation, it descends to the depths. Mr Blair has willed the ends: he is responsible for the means.

Why was poor Mr Bigley paraded in garments that resembled the way prisoners are clothed in the coalition prison at Guantanamo Bay? To emphasise what many Iraqi citizens see as a parallel between taking hostages on the one hand and holding terrorist suspects for years without charge on the other, to match one humiliation with another. No wonder Mr Bigley's family had to turn to other intermediaries, whether to Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, to Yusuf Islam, formerly the pop star Cat Stevens, or even to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Of course the Bigley family also placed its faith in the British Government; as citizens we are entitled to do that. But what a forlorn hope it was.

I point to the Prime Minister alone and not to his Cabinet. Only in a narrow technical sense has the war in Iraq been a collective responsibility. By every speech that he gives, Mr Blair makes it plain that Iraq has been and remains his personal crusade. The Prime Minister says that he won't negotiate with terrorists, forgetting that he did so in Northern Ireland. He won't ask the Americans to swap Iraqi women prisoners for the life of an Englishman even though the women concerned have long been illegally held without trial. Might the women tell of torture and sexual humiliation if they were released? He reads the report of the Iraq Survey Group which shows that not only did Saddam have no weapons of mass destruction but that he got rid of them long ago and he sends every Labour MP a briefing note which claims that the report reinforces the case for war.

As the death toll rises, the casualties accumulate and Mr Bigley is murdered, Mr Blair remains on his mission, resolute in error.