'Wreaking havoc abroad comes home eventually' - Reg Keys on Blair, War and Justice
Chris Nineham interviews the Military Families Against the War campaigner
Q: What was your first reaction when The Chilcot Report came out?
We had waited a long time for this and when we arrived at the QE2 Centre we were apprehensive. We were worried it would be another whitewash like the Butler and Hutton reports before. We had waited a long time, in 2009 we were told it would be 2 years at most, and we ended up waiting seven years. But when Sir John gave us the statement we felt it was damning, just Sir John’s statement, let alone the 150-page summary. So my immediate feeling was one of relief, it had taken so long but it had been worth waiting for. It felt like to me it had been a seven-year trial, and if you like, Sir John was the judge and the other panel members were the jury and there had been a unanimous decision; guilty as charged. There wasn’t a positive thing in it as regards Tony Blair and the others who had pedalled this deceit. So my feeling was definitely one of relief.
Q: Do you think the campaigning that you have been involved in has made a difference to the outcome?
Certainly. It’s been thirteen years since my son Tom was killed but I really became involved in 2005 when I went up to Sedgefield to challenge Tony Blair in the general election that year. Up to that time, it had been a voyage of discovery, getting to the truth. But once the truth had bubbled to the surface that I became motivated to seek justice. I don’t think that, without the pressure from the family groups, Gordon Brown would have instigated this enquiry. He would have said ‘you have had the Hutton inquiry - that is enough’. It was because of continuing pressure from the families and the fact that little snippets of truth were continuing to come out that there was political will for this inquiry. If we had all quietly gone away it would never have happened.
Q: What about the impact of Chilcot on foreign policy today and in the future?
People are not prepared to sit back and take things for granted any more. People no longer feel that the politicians know what they are doing and that they are all experts who get it right first time. I think that foreign policy has been tempered with caution. The reason why we haven’t gone in all guns blazing in Syria is because of the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan where senior decision makers got it so wrong. They need to realise that intervening and meddling in the Middle East will have consequences, it will exacerbate anti-western feeling. Very few people realise that those fifty-two people who died on the streets of London in the London bombings could also be regarded as victims of Iraq. Those evil, chilling messages from the bombers said ‘if you bomb us we will bomb you, we will bring the violence you have brought us back to your streets’. So those people too were victims of Blair’s policy in Iraq.
What we do in these places will eventually come back to bite us, we can’t go into foreign countries all the time wreaking havoc and bloodshed without it coming to our own shores eventually. So the actions of the families and the public has helped make our politicians consider seriously going into these countries. I can recall the words of John Reid who was briefly Defence Minister. He said ‘we are only going into Afghanistan for two to three years and we will come out without a shot being fired’. And look what happened in Afghanistan. We never won in either country, we came out having failed. We gave up, just like Russia did before in Afghanistan.
Q: What are the next steps for the campaign after Chilcot?
We have reached our initial financial target. We have enough money for a team of lawyers to do a ‘full forensic examination’ of the whole of the report. What they are looking for is what they call ‘malfeisance’. We are looking at the feasibility, if appropriate, of bringing the key players that took us into the war to justice. So if there is a case there it will go forward.
Q: What for you is the significance of bringing Blair and others to justice?
I am a victim of Blair. I lost my son who was deceived and lied to. The oath of allegiance to Queen and Country was betrayed. He didn’t die defending his country, because this country was never under threat from Iraq, he died serving his country. My wife went into meltdown and a severe depression and eventually passed away because of Tom’s death. The final three years of my mother’s life were just total misery. She never went to bed she just slept in a chair because she was depressed. So that man has cost me dear. It would be a catharsis and blessing if he was held accountable and brought to book.
I would never have regarded myself as anti-war, had I been a pacifist I wouldn’t have signed off my two young sons to join the army. But where I am coming from, if a country goes to war it has to be the last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted and in total self-defence. Then it may, it just may - with a very big question mark - be justified. But these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the last resort, not the last possible steps as Chilcot has underlined. All peaceful options had not been exhausted.
Now I am under no illusions, Blair has cabinet indemnity. He will never have to pay a penny; he will never have to pay any costs. But as I have said before he has been found guilty in my opinion by Chilcot, he has been found guilty in the court of public opinion, he now has to be found guilty in a court of law. That will be enough.
Reg Keys will be speaking at the 15 Years of War: Time to Stop Conference on 8th October. Tickets available below.