John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, escaped a citizen’s arrest Wednesday night as he addressed an audience in Britain. We speak to George Monbiot, the British activist and columnist who tried to arrest Bolton. Monbiot says Bolton is a war criminal for his role in helping to initiate the US invasion of Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, escaped a citizen’s arrest Wednesday night as he addressed an audience gathered at the Hay Festival in Wales. Security guards blocked the path of columnist and activist George Monbiot, who tried to make the arrest as Bolton left the stage. Monbiot planned the action, because he says Bolton is a war criminal for his role in helping to initiate the invasion of Iraq in 2003 while he served as US undersecretary of state for arms control.
George Monbiot joins us now on the phone from England. He is a widely read columnist for the Guardian of London and the author of numerous books. His latest is Bring On the Apocalypse: Collected Writing. Actually, he joins us now from Wales.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, George Monbiot.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Thanks very much, Amy. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us exactly what happened.
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, I made my intention clear to perform a citizen’s arrest of John Bolton. I wrote a charge sheet detailing exactly the role that he had played in launching a war of aggression in violation of international treaties, which is a clear violation of the Nuremberg Principles. And I took a dossier of evidence down to the local police station. I asked them to act on it. But when they failed to arrest Mr. Bolton, I tried to arrest him myself, and I tried to get up onto the stage as he was leaving it. And I called out, “John Robert Bolton, I am arresting you for the charge of aggression, the crime of aggression, as defined by the Nuremberg Principles.” But I was caught by two very large security guards and pulled out of the venue very quickly.
AMY GOODMAN: How does a citizen’s arrest work?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, under an act of Parliament here, the Serious Organised [Crime and Police] Act, a citizen has the right to arrest anyone that they suspect to be guilty of a crime who would otherwise get away from the scene or escape without being arrested, and to hand that person over to the police. Now, there is a proviso which says that if — you can only act in this way if the police are unable to act to arrest this person. In this particular case, the police were able to act and had chosen not to do so. So, had I succeeded in arresting Mr. Bolton, I would have put myself on the wrong side of the law.
AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton has also been criticized for calling for US strikes on Iran. Earlier this month, the New York Times published an article, based solely on unnamed sources, suggesting the Lebanese group Hezbollah is training Iraqi militants inside Iran. Hours after the article was published, this is what John Bolton had to say on Fox News.
JOHN BOLTON: I think this is a case where the use of military force against a training camp or to show the Iranians we’re simply not going to tolerate this is really the most prudent thing to do, and then the ball would be in Iran’s court to draw the appropriate lesson to stop harming our troops.
JAIME COLBY: Ambassador John Bolton, a good message to end on. Thank you very much.
JOHN BOLTON: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, George Monbiot?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes. Well, John Bolton has the position that any and every country of which he disapproves should be attacked, and then we work out the justification for that attack later. He was one of the signatories of the letter sent by the Project for a New American Century to Bill Clinton in 1998, saying that we should attack Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. And he had one justification then, he had a different justification in 2003, he has a different justification today. It’s very clear that with Bolton, as with Bush, as with Cheney, as with Rumsfeld, the urge to go to war came first, and the justification came second.
Now, when you look at the main instruments of international law, you see very clearly that waging a preemptive war where you are not in an immediate crisis of self-defense is a crime against international law. In fact, the Nuremberg tribunals described it as the supreme international crime. And it was for that crime that most of the Nazi war criminals were convicted. And that is exactly the crime that Bolton has conspired in committing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened to Jose Bustani?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, Jose Bustani is a Brazilian diplomat who was head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And in 2002, Bustani offered a way out of the impasse between Iraq in the United States. He said, OK, Saddam Hussein won’t allow the UNMOVIC inspectors in, primarily because UNSCOM turned out to have been infiltrated by the CIA, and so the successor organization UNMOVIC was viewed with intense suspicion in Iraq. Bustani said, “I can solve this problem for you by bringing Saddam Hussein into the Chemical Weapons Convention and then launching inspections of my own in Iraq, and therefore we could have a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”
Immediately, the United States swung into action against him — the delegation led by John Bolton — and demanded his dismissal as director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, failed at first and then threatened to withhold all its dues and to destroy the organization altogether, whereupon the other nations, led by the United Kingdom, went along with the US delegation and agreed to sack Bustani.
Bustani later took his case to an international labor organization tribunal and was completely exonerated of all the complaints which the US had leveled against him. And the only one which seemed to remain was that he had tried to prevent war from being waged with Iraq. And so, far from seeking a negotiated settlement to the issue of the alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, John Bolton ensured that anyone — Bustani’s attempt to ensure there was a negotiated settlement was, in Bolton’s word, "tanked."
AMY GOODMAN: So, George Monbiot, where you go from here? You didn’t — were not able to arrest John Bolton in Wales. Did he know what you were attempting to do?
GEORGE MONBIOT: Yes, he does. And he’s actually made a public statement concerning it. I would urge anyone who is in a position to do so to try to exercise a citizen’s arrest of any of the primary authors of the Iraq War. And I’m talking about Bush — that makes it very, very difficult, but it’s — there’s a higher chance obviously when he ceases to be president — Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Bolton, and over here in the United Kingdom, Tony Blair and some of his cabinet ministers. And I certainly intend to try to carry out a citizen’s arrest of either Blair or one of the other senior architects of the war here in the United Kingdom.
And what I found from this instance was that even if you don’t succeed in carrying out the citizen’s arrest, you are able to focus a great deal of attention on the issue and to ensure that people do not forget. This is not an ordinary political mistake which was committed in Iraq. This was the supreme international crime, which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Those people were not killed in the ordinary sense; they were murdered. And they were murdered by the authors of that war, who are the greatest mass murderers of the twenty-first century so far.
AMY GOODMAN: George Monbiot, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a columnist for the Guardian of London. His latest book is called Bring On the Apocalypse: Collected Writing.