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Tony Benn on Tony Blair: “He Will Have to Live ’Til the Day He Dies with the Knowledge that He Is Guilty of a War Crime”

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We speak with former British cabinet minister and MP Tony Benn. He was the longest-serving MP in the history of the British Labour Party, having served for more than half a century. He is now president of the Stop the War Coalition. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn, though, first to Tony Benn, to, well, a person on your side of the pond, Tariq, the former British cabinet minister and MP, longest-serving MP in the history of the British Labour Party, served for more than half a century, now president of the Stop the War Coalition at the age of eighty-five. I asked Tony Benn to talk about the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    TONY BENN: Mr. Blair misled the House of Commons. He told them things which were not true, under instructions from President George W. Bush, and, as a result of that, persuaded the House of Commons to vote for the war. One calculation is that over a million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict. And what was achieved by it? Nothing. So I think he will have to live 'til the day he dies with the knowledge that he was guilty of a war crime and the tragedies, human tragedies, that followed from it.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the former prime minister, Tony Blair, should be charged with war crimes?

    TONY BENN: Well, I am not in favor of the War Crimes Tribunal idea. I mean, I listened to the judgment in 1945 when I was a student. I heard all the judgments coming out of the Nuremberg trial. But now, it's too simple to find one man and hang him. I mean, actually, the responsibility for war is very widely shared. I’ve been converted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the idea of truth and reconciliation. If you bring out the truth, it reconciles people to each other. So I think if there was a tribunal that said war crimes had been committed, I would be in favor of that, but I wouldn’t put Mr. Blair on trial.

    AMY GOODMAN: The hearings that have been held in Britain — we haven’t had them in the United States — on the start of the Iraq war.

    TONY BENN: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: What would you call them?

    TONY BENN: Well, the Chilcot Inquiry, which is the ones going on at the moment, is a sort of academic study of our relations with Iraq. And I think it was a dodgy — dodging the real issue, which was, was it legal to go to war? At the same time, a lot of information has come out of the inquiry, which is obviously true and will clarify the question of war crimes liability. So, in that sense, I think it’s done some good.

    AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on President Obama today?

    TONY BENN: Well, I was very much in favor of President Obama, because anyone against George W. Bush and also the drama of having a black American candidate and so on. I watched his campaign with interest, because he didn’t say, “I can do this,” he said, “We can do this.” And he built up a campaign of support of people who had confidence in themselves. And I think a lot of the things he’s done — the national healthcare improvements that have been made and the approach to the Muslim world, the approach to Russia about nuclear disarmament — have been good, but on the Afghan war, totally wrong. And I don’t know — there’s a lot of right-wing forces at work in the United States, the tea party group and all the people who are trying to get rid of him. And in a way, politics is becoming a much sharper distinction between right and wrong or left and right. And if you hover about in the middle, I think you’re likely to get crushed.

    AMY GOODMAN: What are your thoughts on the tea party, as you look at it from here in Britain?

    TONY BENN: Well, I mean, it is an indication of very deep reserves of extremely right-wing policy and thinking in the United States. And if it were to win support, it would be bad news for everyone in the world, as well as the Americans. But I have great confidence in the American people. I don’t think they will do that. But that’s the danger. It’s a sort of warning. I lived through the 1930s, when we had Hitler and Mussolini, and I know when you see something like this happening, you — it worries you a bit.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why do you see parallels?

    TONY BENN: Why what?

    AMY GOODMAN: How do you see parallels?

    TONY BENN: Well, the extreme right-wing views tend to be — emerge as a sort of innocent and then develop in ways that are not very good.

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re here at a time of the Lib-Dem Party convention.

    TONY BENN: That’s right.

    AMY GOODMAN: You have a Conservative-Lib-Dem, Liberal Democrat, coalition now —-

    TONY BENN: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: —- with Cameron and Nick Clegg. What do you think of your government today?

    TONY BENN: Well, the Conservatives didn’t win a majority, and they have brought the Liberals into a coalition. And they have offered some Liberal leaders seats in the cabinet and so on. And in that way, they have acquired the Liberal Party. They’ve done it, because their main purpose was to make massive cuts in public expenditure. So now the Liberal Party, which did have, in part, quite a radical record in the past, have sold themselves completely for the Conservatives. And I think the coalition government will not last for all that long, but we shall have to see. The main thing is, the cuts are so serious, they’re going to affect the living standards of thousands of people who lose their jobs, lose their homes, lose their benefits, lose their pensions. And that is going to create a very powerful mood of resistance in Britain.

    AMY GOODMAN: What do you think has to happen now?

    TONY BENN: I think there will have to be action in which the trade unions and community groups get together and simply decide they won’t accept what’s proposed.

AMY GOODMAN: The former British cabinet minister and MP Tony Benn, longest-serving MP in the history of the British Labour Party. Now he’s president of the Stop the War Coalition. I spoke to him in London on Sunday.

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