Must We Forget U.S. History to Prosecute Bush and Cheney?
By Fred Nagel
War Crimes Times, March 2009
The last eight years have taught the American people a lot about about war crimes. As we have witnessed our country's invasions and occupations in the Middle East, we have turned to legal and moral principals from outside our own political system for guidance. The actions of our president and our Congress have so betrayed us, that we have explored the Geneva Conventions, The Nuremberg Principles, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Perhaps it is the Internet that has given us so many particulars of US wartime atrocities. We can now watch the heartbreaking admissions of our own Iraq War veterans as given during their 2008 Winter Soldier Testimony in DC. Perhaps it is the slippery nature of those digital photos from Abu Ghraib prison. Uploaded once, those images of beaten men on dog leashes are on all our computer screens, on all the world's computer screens. And they represent not only the barbarism of America's military power, but also the abrogation of our vaunted Constitution and rule of law.
So we seek to understand how our political system with its fine checks and balances could lead us to this. How our political parties could sign on to illegal and immoral military assaults against foreign countries. How politicians in the "opposing" party, like Nancy Pelosi, could approve the use of tortures like water-boarding.
There are two major impediments to understanding our country's descent into committing war crimes. The first is the Democratic Party itself. We must remember that was very little opposition to the invasion of Iraq from Democratic leaders. Senator Hillary Clinton, Obama's selection for secretary of state, said she was "fooled" by inaccurate information about weapons of mass destruction. But anyone following the debate closely could not have been fooled. Chief United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter had been casting doubts on Iraq's WMD's since the 1990's, when this same excuse was being used by President Clinton for the military blockade of Iraq.
It was not until the success of Howard Dean running against the war that the Democrats were suddenly converted to the party of peace. John Kerry, who became the Democratic nominee that year, referred to himself as the "real" peace candidate. This despite the fact that he too had accepted the WMD rational for the invasion.
BLOCK QUOTE "I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat, and a grave threat, to our security and that of our allies in the Persian Gulf region."
In truth, the Democratic Party did very little to stop the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. And it has voted to fund these occupations time and time again, even after it took control of Congress in January 2007. It has even failed to demand a significant debate. Yet, Obama ran and won in part because the large numbers of peace activists supporting him. If he now extends the length of the Iraq occupation and increases troop levels in Afghanistan, we as citizens must come to grips with our first realization about US war crimes. They are the crimes of both parties, joined together in the belief that America has a right to slaughter millions in the pursuit of corporate profits and geopolitical advantage.
The involvement of both political parties in war crimes brings us to the second hurdle in understanding our country's descent. Just when did America start committing war crimes? Was it under George W. Bush with his Middle East invasions, or was it under Bill Clinton with his bombings of Iraq and Yugoslavia? Or was it Ronald Reagan attacking Nicaragua and invading Granada? President Carter armed and funded the Indonesian military for its genocidal assault on East Timor, an invasion that President Ford gave permission for. President Nixon secretly bombed the neutral country of Cambodia, while presiding over the killing of two to three million Vietnamese. It was a criminal occupation, pursued in varying degrees of intensity by his three predecessors.
Are we to accept William Blum's definition (in "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower") of when things started to go wrong? He cites the US involvement in the Chinese civil war from 1945 to 1948. Perhaps we are to agree with Stephen Kinzer's conclusion (in "Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq") that the 1893 invasion of what is now our fiftieth state was the beginning. In 1902, Mark Twain denounced the "water cure" torture being used to make Filipinos confess during the US occupation of that country. In fact, it doesn't take much reading of American history to understand that Bush and company were only the most recent war criminals in a long line of invaders, occupiers and torturers.
So why single out Bush and his murderous regime for prosecution? Do we have to cover up Democratic complicity in war crimes to make a compelling case? And must we simply forget US imperialism over the last 100 years?
Perhaps the answer lies in the Bush administration's blatant disregard for even the pretense of following the US Constitution or international law. Far from hiding his war crimes, Bush claimed the right to commit them: America's first imperial presidency. As Arundhati Roy described Bush:
BLOCK QUOTE "He has achieved what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire."
Simply put, if we the people can't resist this recent and most blatant manifestation of war crimes by the leaders of our country, there is very little hope of restoring democracy and the rule of law. The prosecution of Bush and Cheney is our best chance for changing the direction of America. It may also be our last.
Fred Nagel is a filmmaker and political activist. He is a US Veteran who devotes his time to a radio show, peace organizing, and Palestinian rights.
Rhinebeck, NY 12572