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Aggression Rights & Trials of Villains
T he U.S. and British invasion and occupation of Iraq was carried out in straightforward violation of the UN Charter’s prohibition of aggression and therefore constituted what the Nuremberg Court and its U.S. representative, Robert Jackson, termed the “supreme crime.” The justification given was the imminent threat to U.S. and British (and the world’s) “national security” posed by Saddam Hussein’s illicit possession of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD). The threat was so urgent that the leaders of the Free World could not accept the risk of waiting for UN inspectors to finish their search for these weapons. It is now very clear, and was actually evident before the invasion, that the weapons didn’t exist and that the claim of this threat was a crude cover for a less appetizing agenda. But the miracle of the Free Press is that the post-invasion failure to uncover any WMD whatsoever, which made the invasion not only a “supreme crime” but also one based on a big lie, didn’t faze its members at all. They continued to provide apologetics for the invasion-occupation, celebrate its little triumphs, and gloss over or ignore its numerous crimes. Bush public relations stunts like his landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to announce “mission accomplished” and his turkey gambit with the troops in Iraq were treated, not as PR-stunts, but as front-page news of high importance.
The liberals also adapted nicely to the aggression-occupation. While quite a few had opposed the attack, especially without UN sanction, once it had occurred it became a fait accompli that they had no trouble accepting, arguing that it was now important for the occupation to be successful. For Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings, liberals who are concerned over the welfare of Iraqis should “start to distinguish between their dislike of Bush and their recognition that the mission must succeed.” George Packer says, “You can object to no bid contracts, you can object to cronyism and waste as I do, without undermining the basic understanding that we are committed to this and we have an enormous obligation to the Iraqis.” Obviously O’Hanlon and Packer would not have said about Saddam Hussein’s invasion-occupation of Kuwait in 1990 that it should be taken as a given and that we must hope that his “mission” succeeds. No, he did not have benevolent intentions toward the victims of his aggression as Bush, Cheney and Wolfowitz do, by patriotic premise. (Packer only sees cronyism and no bid contracts—not killing, ruthless pacification, plans for bases and projecting power, oil control interests, or links to Israeli aims.) This form of apologetic is only offered when the United States or one of its allies or clients commits a blatant aggression. Besides being an apologia for aggression and a misreading of the purpose of the “mission,” O’Hanlon’s and Packer’s argument has a further fatal flaw, namely that if the occupation is successful this will encourage further aggressions, which is certainly a point they would make if explaining why Saddam had to be ousted from Kuwait.
The capture of Saddam Hussein was also treated as a first order triumph that would at least enhance Bush’s prestige and election prospects and was often presented as justifying the attack (as in the case of Samantha Power, a New York Times favorite, writing in the New Republic (“Unpunishable,” December 29, 2003-January 12, 2004). All this was done in a celebratory mode—“We got him!”—fitting in a media that treats invasions, wars, and mass killing in frames closely modeled after their entertainment stories of cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. The fact that his criminal act justifying the attack, Saddam’s defiant possession of WMD, was fabricated by the Bushies and therefore inoperative should have raised a question in a minimally honest media of why the “coalition” could even legitimately make him a war prisoner. But in the actual existing media, although there were occasional but rare expressions of doubt that his capture justified the attack, such a question didn’t arise. The media had participated in a demonization process, along with a quiet transfer of the aim of the attack to “liberation,” so having established that Saddam was a very bad man, the small matter of illegality and the Big Lie was disappeared.
Globally the U.S.-British right to commit aggression and take the fruits of their aggression has also been affirmed by real world actions on the part of the UN and “international community,” although taking these fruits has so far proved to be somewhat arduous. The October 16 Security Council Resolution 1511, approved unanimously, accepted the “authority” of the U.S. “Coalition Provisional Authority” (i.e., Bremer) and even urged member states “to contribute assistance under the United Nations Mandate, including military forces,” while insisting on nothing on the part of the aggressors, although boldly “requesting” that they “report” on “progress” and that they turn over power to the Iraqis “as soon as practicable.” (It should be noted that these “coalition”-supportive actions by the UN and world’s leaders have no necessary connection to the preferences of the world’s peoples.) Just as the UN and world leaders helped the “coalition” with the inspections gambit before the invasion, and then did nothing to oppose the open aggression by means of sanctions or threats, so after the invasion they accommodated nicely to the interests and pressures of superior power. Coalition members and their clients are exempt, obviously by virtue of power alone, with justice irrelevant. The United States can commit aggression against country after country—most recently, Panama, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq—and its client Israel, a tail that wags the dog, can engage in ethnic cleansing over decades in violation of international law and UN resolutions, with complete impunity.
The Aggressor “Coalition”
T he fixing of war criminality and pursuit of war criminals via tribunals has reached grotesque levels of biased selectivity. Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic were U.S. and British targets, hence are eminently eligible for tribunal jurisdiction and trials, but Pinochet, Suharto, and Ariel Sharon—the butcher of Qibya, Sabra and Shatila, and manager of the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Palestine— are exempt, with Sharon an honored statesperson, a “man of peace” according to George Bush.
There is, of course, no discussion of the need to try the U.S. leaders who killed several million Vietnamese in a major war of aggression and who have killed directly, or via sponsorship and support of the likes of Pinochet et al., further millions of innocents (John Stockwell, former CIA station chief in Angola, estimated that over six million people died in CIA covert actions up to the late 1980s: see his October 1987 lecture “The Secret Wars of the CIA;” see also, William Blum’s Rogue State and Killing Hope ). When we get to the recent Iraq invasion-occupation, there is no hint anywhere in the mainstream that the leaders who just carried out the “supreme crime” in violation of the UN Charter, based on a lie, should be in the dock, along with the approved villain. No, they have all taken it as a premise that the Godfather is not subject to the same rules as anybody else and that he can impose these rules on others even in the course of operations in which he breaks the rules himself, and on a large scale.
The United States has long refused to submit to any international court authority, so that the Bush administration’s repudiation of the International Criminal Court, its threat to use force to prevent any extension of court authority to U.S. personnel, and its coercive diplomatic campaign to get countries to sign Article 98 agreements pledging never to detain U.S. nationals for extradition to the ICC, are in a great tradition. Harry Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson referred to international law as “a crock,” and Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was also clear that this country would operate unilaterally when its objectives were not achievable via multilateral and presumably legal authority. (The NATO war against Yugoslavia was in violation of the UN Charter, setting a convenient precedent for George Bush.) The mainstream media have normalized this Godfatherly behavior as at worst regrettable, but often understandable given the Godfather’s generous willingness to serve the world as police and a force for justice and stability.
The Bush reason for refusing to join or cooperate with the ICC is the threat that it might produce “politically motivated prosecutions.” Translated into single-speak, the problem is that the United States might not fully control the ICC—“politicized” has long been used to mean failing to adhere to our political agenda. This was a key word in service when the Reagan administration pulled this country out of UNESCO in 1984—at which time the Reaganites could not control UNESCO, so that it was “politicized,” whereas in the years of U.S. domination it was not.
Updating this, the Yugoslavia Tribunal is not “politicized” because the United States controls its agenda and, amazingly, most U.S. liberals and left swallow this and consider that tribunal to be dispensing justice. In large part this has happened because the demonization process—the long and intensive diet of selective information and even fabrications, many now fully institutionalized, and the ludicrously uncritical treatment of the Tribunal at work—have been remarkably successful. The fact that the Tribunal is funded by the NATO powers, that Albright vetted each prosecutor, that its violation of supposed Western judicial principles has been across- the-board, and that it has followed a NATO-supportive agenda and served as a NATO propaganda arm without stint, hasn’t registered in the West.
For example, it has used indictments as a political instrument with the assumption of guilt-before-trial as a fundamental Tribunal process, in violation of a basic Western principle. The most notorious case took place in the midst of the 78-day bombing of Yugoslavia in May 1999 when NATO began to bomb Yugoslav civilian sites in order to force a quick surrender. This targeting was in clear violation of international law and it produced growing world criticism. This called for a public relations and propaganda response. This was provided by Tribunal prosecutor Louise Arbour, who hastily put together an indictment of Milosevic in May 1999, based on information supplied by U.S. intelligence, but unverified by the Tribunal. This was immediately cited by Albright and James Rubin as showing the justice of the NATO cause and it deflected attention from the bombing and de facto war crimes of NATO. This is the ultimate corruption of a supposedly legal and judicial enterprise, with PR support that actually helped cover over literal war crimes of the Tribunal’s principals.
Naturally the mainstream media never noticed the corruption and neither did liberals and much of the left. None of these could also see, report, or grasp the significance of the remarkable double standard that was operative day-by-day in the work of the Tribunal. For example, Milosevic’s indictment on May 22, 1999 was based almost entirely on the alleged killing of 385 Kosovo Albanians after the bombing war had started. There was no evidence presented that these killings were his direct responsibility, but throughout the work of the Tribunal any killings by Serb subordinates were automatically found to be the responsibility of top leaders. This principle was never applied to killings by Croatians, Bosnian Muslims, or the U.S. Air Force.
In contrast with the hasty, but PR-serviceable indictment of Milosevic in May 1999, it took Arbour’s successor Carla Del Ponte and her staff many months to respond to a huge and detailed petition asking that NATO be indicted for killing many hundreds of Serb civilians in its deliberate bombing of civilian sites. Eventually, Del Ponte declined even to open an official investigation of this charge because her office found that 500 civilian deaths directly attributable to NATO were too few to be worth bothering with— “there is simply no evidence of the necessary crime base for charges of genocide or crimes against humanity.” So for Milosevic, an unverified 385 killings is a sufficient crime base for an indictment, but for NATO, 500 is too slight to even support an investigation.
This illustrative double standard also points up the fact that a Tribunal with a different purpose could easily have put Clinton, Albright, Wesley Clark, and others in prison using the same kind of evidence that was applied to Milosevic and the numerous Bosnian Serbs serving jail terms. One intriguing feature of the Tribunal’s work is the frequency with which it charges and imprisons its victims on the basis of their direct or indirect role in actions that are general feature of wars and could be applied to every other participant in the war in question. I am convinced that with the kind of huge resources provided to the Tribunal, and of course with parallel political and media support for its efforts, it would have been possible to put large numbers of Bosnian Muslim, Croatian, and NATO leaders in jail for long prison terms. Serb victims on steady parade—and there were many thousands in both Serbia and Bosnia—would have helped demonize the folks that injured them. Bosnian Muslim, Croatian, and NATO witnesses—either angry with their leaders, or seeking publicity or bribed or induced to say the right things in exchange for plea bargain sentence reductions—would show that these leaders all planned to kill or failed to constrain their subordinates. In fact, even public statements could be mobilized to make the point, as with several NATO leaders’ admissions that the bombing of Serb civilians was deliberate in order to make them scream and surrender. With an altered power structure, these would be the basis of a Tribunal charge of “genocide.”
It was eerie to read in early December 2003, that Bosnian Serb General Stanislav Galic was sentenced to 20 years for his role in the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, because he deliberately targeted civilians—“men and women of all ages…were killed in their hundreds and wounded in their thousands, with the intent to terrorize the entirety of the population,” said Tribunal Judge Alphons Orie of the Netherlands. This was done on a vastly larger scale by the United States in Vietnam, where the civilian casualties ran into the millions, with a treatment of civilians even more outrageous than that attributed to Stanislav Galic’s forces, as John Kifner hints at, a little belatedly, in the New York Times (“Report on Brutal Campaign Stirs Memories,” December 28, 2003). Deliberately targeting civilian facilities with the aim of terrorizing, and with large civilian casualties a predictable and acceptable feature of the plan, was also the admitted purpose and effect of the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Even more dramatic in illustrating the double standard swallowed by the international community and liberals is the comparison between the several thousand civilian casualties of the “siege of Sarajevo” with those resulting from the U.S.-British (nominally UN) “siege of Iraq” by sanctions from 1991-2003, which John and Karl Mueller claim killed more civilians than all the weapons of mass destruction in human history (“Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs , May-June 1999). The former is the basis of a Tribunal prosecution with Galic given 20 years in prison; the latter is not even acknowledged to be morally problematic by mainstream and human rights crusaders (it is unmentioned in both Samantha Powers’s “A Problem From Hell: America And the Age of Genocide,” and in a “Forum on Humanitarian Intervention” in the Nation , July 14, 2003).
Creating fear in the population at large, as well as the enemy military, was also an integral feature of the attack on Afghanistan and the invasion-occupation of Iraq. In Iraq, the invasion began with a well-publicized program of “shock and awe” bombing that killed at least as many civilians as were listed in the Milosevic indictment of May 22, 1999, and that was for starters. We read that during the invasion of Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had to personally sign off on any air strike “thought likely to result in the deaths of more than 30 civilians,” and that he approved more than 50 such strikes. Given that thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed or wounded in such strikes—in violation of the Geneva rule that prohibits attacks on civilian sites, except where militarily necessary—can there be any doubt that such a record for Milosevic or one of his top officials would have found its way into a Tribunal indictment?
The U.S. occupation has been notorious for the policy of shooting first and checking things out later, and a generally lavish use of firepower. The policy of force has intensified as the resistance has grown. Dexter Filkins in the New York Times even quotes a U.S. military officer in Iraq describing the new brutal tactics of the occupation as “a heavy dose of fear and violence” (“Tough New Tactics by U.S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns,” December 7, 2003). In October, Human Rights Watch charged that U.S. forces had killed at least 94 civilians in Baghdad since May 1 “in questionable circumstances,” but faced investigation in only 5 cases, encouraging a belief that soldiers can kill with impunity. In December, after the capture of Saddam Hussein, Robert Fisk wrote, “U.S. troops have shot dead at least 18 Iraqis in streets of three major cities in the country. Dramatic videotape from the city of Ramadi 75 miles west of Baghdad showed unarmed supporters of Saddam Hussein being gunned down in semi-darkness as they fled from American troops.” Hussein al-Jaburi, the U.S. imposed regional governor warned the people of Tikrit, “Any demonstration against the government or coalition forces will be fired upon.” In early December, under CPA instructions, Iraq’s Ministry of Health terminated its collection of information on civilians killed.
In its invasion-occupation the “coalition” has used both cluster bombs and depleted uranium in attacks on civilian-rich sites, in violation of the Geneva Convention. But Saddam Hussein alone will be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is a trial that he fully deserves, but justice is only partially and poorly served when it is selective and, in this case, organized by those who have opportunistically supported the criminal in the past and who have carried out crimes of their own that can easily match those of the chosen villain.
Edward S. Herman is an economist, author, and media analyst.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.