Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tony Blair pisses on the rule of law

As if British Prime Minister Tony Blair's reputation hadn't sunk low enough, he has now indulged in a bit of sleaze that had the Guardian saying, "Yesterday will leave stains on Mr Blair that will survive any amount of scrubbing."

Twenty years ago, Margaret Thatcher secured the first of the big arms deals between BAE Systems PLC, Europe's largest weapons maker and a major British employer, and Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, Tony Blair declared a halt to a major criminal investigation into alleged corruption by the arms company and its executives, claiming -- what else? -- it would endanger Britain's national security. Blair's action came just as the UK's Serious Fraud Office appears to have made a significant breakthrough, with investigators about to access key Swiss bank accounts.

BAE and the Saudis had frantically lobbied the Labour government, an effort culminating with the Saudis issuing an ultimatum. In an illustration of how the arms trade can corrupt government, MPs from all parties engaged in a public relations campaign urging termination of the investigation, citing fears that jobs might be lost in their constituencies. One can only imagine how the much more massive U.S. arms industry corrupts the American government. On the bright side, BAE's shares are now rising nicely.

What Blair has done with this one action is staggering. He has shown contempt for the rule of law by putting BAE above the law. He has shown contempt for democracy by arming one of the worst dictatorships in the Middle East, and for women and human rights by arming probably the most misogynistic state anywhere. He has made his opposition to Iran obtaining nuclear arms look hypocritical by providing high-tech weapons to a government led by religious zealots. His justification for the war in Iraq collapses utterly if it hasn't already. Quite a day for old Tony. And one of the shabbiest in recent British history.

However, justice may be down but it isn't out. Even if the British government has abandoned morality, others haven't. Anti-arms trade campaigners have instructed their lawyers to consider legal action against the attorney general. And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development plans to launch an investigation. Britain is, after all, a signatory of the OECD's anti-bribery convention.

We will be hearing more about this little affair.


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