The World Tribunal on Iraq, which has roots in the anti-war movement in the West and is intended to collect testimony for legal cases connected with the war, met over three days in Istanbul, Turkey.

The independent panel of academics, writers and activists in its concluding verdict on Monday found the US and UK governments guilty of "planning, preparing, and waging the supreme crime of a war of aggression in contravention of the United Nations Charter and the Nuremberg Principles".

It also found the US-led forces had been "intentionally directing attacks upon civilians and hospitals, medical centres, residential neighbourhoods, electricity stations, and water purification facilities" in violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

The tribunal, which was set up in 2003 after the invasion, includes novelist Arundhati Roy. She opened the final session in Istanbul on 24 June by explaining that the tribunal exists "to examine a vast spectrum of evidence about the motivations and consequences of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq".

Gathering

Speakers such as former UN assistant general secretary Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Hans von Sponec, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation Chairman and former Euro MP Ken Coates and UNESCO Peace Prize winner Richard Falk addressed the tribunal.

Panelists like Arundhati Roy
raised their fists after the verdict

Evidence was presented before a panel of international jurists on a range of issues, from the use of depleted uranium weaponry to conscientious objection, and from the privatisation of the conflict to the war’s standing in international law.

"It was good to hold this final session in Turkey from a symbolic point of view," Falk, the co-coordinator of the panel of advocates, told Aljazeera.net. "It represents a movement of the 'moral compass' away from the Christian West."

Held at the historic Ottoman imperial mint, part of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, about 100 participants from across the globe attended.

One of the objectives of the tribunal, as it has toured the globe, has been to keep the anti-war movement in the West focused. After the enormous demonstrations of February 2003 in Europe and the US against the conflict, the movement experienced a lull once the war and occupation took place.

"There was disillusion and disappointment when the invasion happened anyway," says Falk, a veteran of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US. "People tend to expect a quick fix - but you can't change fixed policies through one dramatic gesture like the mass anti-war demonstrations. With Vietnam, people had the same experience."

Documenting crimes

By collecting the testimony of soldiers, civilians and other witnesses to the conflict, the tribunal also aims to act as a resource for legal cases connected with the war.

"We are here to make concrete records, documents and analysis," says organiser Ayca Cubukcu. "The findings of the WTI are then being taken to the International Criminal Court."

The US and UK are accused of
crimes in the invasion of Iraq

This is being done by a collection of international bar associations, with the Istanbul Bar Association a leading light in the prosecution of the UK government for its part in what the Istanbul lawyers claim is an illegal war.

"We only have the documentation and facility to indict British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the UK foreign secretary," said Kazim Kolcuoglu, president of the Turkish Bar Association. "We'd like to have Bush and Powell in there too, but we can only cite them as witnesses."

The legal documentation is also vital in other areas of the anti-war campaign.

"The evidence we collect can also strengthen the cases of conscientious objectors in the UK and US," adds conference organiser Muge Sokmen.

Establishing truth

The tribunal has its critics.

As a 'court' judging the attack on Iraq and subsequent occupation, there were no speakers to defend the actions of London or Washington. Did this not make the tribunal something of a 'kangaroo court'?

"The tribunal is not set up to discover the truth but to confirm it"

Richard Falk,
co-coordinator of advocates' panel, World Tribunal on Iraq

"I think that comes from a misunderstanding about what the tribunal is," answers Falk. "The tribunal is not set up to discover the truth but to confirm it… The real importance, for example, of the Nuremburg trials at the end of second world war was that they established a record of the Nazi regime and its crimes. When governments and the United Nations are essentially silent over aggression in Iraq, this tribunal is trying to fill that vacuum."

The point is taken up by Cubukcu.

"We know that history is written by the victors," she says. "Our aim here is to write an alternative history."

The big question for participants is what's next.

"We're now thinking about campaigns to enforce the tribunal's decision - such as holding a conference in Baghdad and the US, boycotts of US goods, 'Americans Go Home' protests and so on," Falk said.