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Tony Blair and other British ministers are accused of crimes against humanity in prosecuting the war against Iraq in a case lodged with the international criminal court by Greek lawyers yesterday. The Athens Bar Association accuses the government of breaching almost every international treaty and the entire spectrum of human rights in the 47-page complaint.
"The repeated, blatant violations by the United States and Britain of the stipulations of the four 1949 Geneva conventions, the 1954 convention of the Hague as well as the charter of the international criminal court, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity," the lawyers said in a statement.
"[The accused] intended to cause severe psychological distress or major physical or psychological damage to individuals who enjoy the protection of the Geneva conventions."
The association, which has 20,000 members, said the campaign against Iraq was highlighted by attacks on a non-combative population, non-military targets and defenceless towns, villages, settlements and buildings.
The natural environment was also destroyed by air assaults that were disproportionate to the desired military objective, it argued.
The association said it had lodged the suit at the court in the Hague "in correspondence with its institutional role to, amongst other things, safeguard international law".
Should the case go ahead, the association plans to call innumerable international witnesses, including the UN secretary general Kofi Annan, the former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, and the European commission president, Romano Prodi.
The ICC was established last year with the express purpose of trying cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
But the tribunal, which some critics have called a kangaroo court, fearing cases of this very kind, can only act when a country is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute the crimes alleged to have been committed by its citizens.
In addition to Mr Blair, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, and the minister of state for the armed forces, Adam Ingram, are also accused of war crimes.
It is now up to the ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to decide whether there is any substance to the suit.
The complaint, which outlines 110 violations of the criminal code, echoes the widespread anti-war sentiment which gripped Greece before the conflict.
Although the Greek Socialist government quietly supported the invasion, providing air space and a military base on Crete for allied spy and war planes, more than 90% of the Greek population were vehemently opposed to it.
Mr Blair was singled out in particular as the focus of their venom.
After lodging the complaint, the association's president, Dimitris Paxinos, reiterated that there were "good grounds" to sue Mr Blair, irrespective of whether his government had "sexed up" intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to justify the war.
Mr Blair, he said, would have to appear before the court if there was an "indication of guilt" even if, he conceded, it was unlikely that the ICC would summon Mr Blair to testify.
"I don't think that's very likely," he told a local radio station, "but really that does not concern me.
"I see it as my duty to bring the action."
The association, he said, had not brought similar charges against the American president, George Bush, because Washington had still not ratified the treaty which set up the ICC.
Downing Street has repeatedly dismissed the allegation the British government is culpable of war crimes in Iraq.
Upon hearing of the action by the Greek lawyers' group in May, a No 10 spokesman said: "As we have made clear on a number of occasions, the government acted in accordance with international law."
Last night legal experts said that if the court did decide to hear the case it would set a precedent that could "open the floodgates" of similar actions being brought before the tribunal.
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