Tony Blair, you are responsible for the mass murder of Iraqi civilians after taking our country into an illegal war, says London barman in latest attempt at a citizen's arrest.
One is an internationally renowned statesman; the other was a barman working at one of east London’s hippest restaurants. But it was the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who came out on top in an unusual clash on Friday. He managed to use his years of verbal dexterity – some would put it less politely – to talk himself out of what could have been a humiliating situation: a citizen’s arrest.
Mr Blair is followed to almost every public engagement by protesters who blame him for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Iraq war and its aftermath.
The website arrestblair.org offers a bounty of about £2,150, or about a quarter of their total funds to anyone who can “arrest” him for crimes against peace. So when Twiggy Garcia saw his chance on Friday night, he leapt into action.
The former Labour leader was enjoying an intimate meal with family and friends at the Tramshed restaurant in trendy Shoreditch, where Mr Garcia was working. The venue, owned by the chef and Independent columnist Mark Hix, serves only two main courses – chicken and steak – and has artworks by Damien Hirst on the wall.
Mr Garcia told Vice: “He [Blair] was sitting at the head of a table upstairs with about eight other people eating dinner. I think he was out with his family and a few friends. I went over to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said: “Mr Blair, this is a citizen’s arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq. I am inviting you to accompany me to a police station to answer the charge’.”
Mr Blair responded with a typical “Teflon Tony” performance, trying to engage the barman in a civilised debate about Syria. Mr Garcia said the former premier “kept changing the subject and talking about Syria” and told him: “I think you should be more concerned about Syria.”
Mr Garcia said: “I didn’t expect him to start debating with me. I think he actually believed the lies that were coming out of his mouth.”
But the barman’s time was running out. “One of his sons got up and went to get the plain-clothes security from downstairs. I decided to get out of there sharpish... I quit my job there and then.”
Mr Garcia said he had fantasised for years about “arresting” Mr Blair, who is now a Middle East peace envoy. It was not a plan, he claimed, but “something I have wanted to do for a few years”.
“I had been waiting for the opportunity after seeing the website arrestblair.org and it just so happened we were in the same place at the same time,” he said. “I believe Blair is responsible for the mass murder of Iraqi civilians after taking our country into an illegal war.”
Mr Garcia added that his “heart rate increased” when he discovered Mr Blair’s “eerie presence” in the building and that he feared the politician’s security team might have overheard him asking a colleague: “Should I citizen’s arrest him?”
A spokesman for the former Prime Minister told The Independent: “There is nothing to report here apart from the fact that Mr Blair did offer to discuss the issue – that offer was declined and the individual walked off. Nothing else happened. Everyone is fine and they had a great time.”
Mr Garcia is the fifth person to have tried to arrest Mr Blair. He said: “It will keep people from forgetting he is a war criminal. I hope one day he faces his charges in The Hague. People seem to think those laws only apply to Nazis and African warlords.”
Hong Kong, 14 June 2012, Tom Grundy attempts a citizen's arrest.
Why I'll be rewarding the latest attempt to make a citizen's arrest on Tony Blair
By George Monbiot
Nothing changes without talk; nothing changes through talk alone. Petitions and debates and social media campaigns and even, sometimes, articles in newspapers are essential campaigning tools but, without action, they seldom amount to anything but catharsis. Without risk, there is no inspiration. Without demonstrations of what change looks like, the public imagination fails.
This is why I set up the Arrest Blair website. Everywhere I went, I met people who were furious that Tony Blair should have got away with what, under international law, appears to be clearly defined as mass murder. The crime of aggression ("planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression) was described by the Nuremberg Tribunal as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".
While petty tyrants from weaker nations have been successfully prosecuted for horrific but lesser crimes, the unprovoked invasion of Iraq by Blair and George Bush and the mass killing that followed remains not only unpunished but apparently richly rewarded. Or so Blair's lucrative consultancies and lecture tours organised by the Washington Speakers Bureau appear to suggest.
But this fury was impotent. We agreed that Blair's impunity was an outrage, that it was likely to encourage other leaders of powerful nations to carry out similar great crimes, and that "something must be done". But no one was proposing to, er, do anything.
I recognise that establishing a bounty for attempts to carry off a peaceful citizen's arrest of the former prime minister will not lead automatically to a reconfiguration of global justice, or, for that matter, a long-overdue trial. But it has already succeeded in doing two things: keeping the issue – and the memories of those who have been killed – alive, and sustaining the pressure to ensure that international law binds the powerful as well as the puny.
Arrest Blair collects donations and uses them to build a bounty pot. We pay out a quarter of the money that's in the pot when a successful claim is made. Four people have received the bounty so far, in each case amid a blaze of publicity for an issue that is otherwise largely forgotten.
Twiggy Garcia's attempt last Friday was performed with a certain panache. While Garcia held his shoulder, Blair attempted his long-polished trick of changing the subject: "Shouldn't you be worried about Syria?" Garcia responded that he could "only address things that are within my grasp at any one time". It'll take a day or two to formalise the decision, but his claim seems to meet the criteria.
Once more, what Blair did in Iraq is in the news, 11 years after the event, and the clamour to ensure that such crimes become unthinkable in future has risen again. That is a small but significant contribution to peace.
"This man is a war criminal!" Attempt to arrest Blair at Leveson Inquiry, 28.05.12