"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Monday, November 08, 2004

All the Makings of a War Crime

A US-led attack on the Iraqi Sunni-stronghold will breach the Geneva conventions

11/08/04 "SMH" -- We need to be clear on what is about to happen in the Iraqi city of Falluja, about 64 kilometres west of Baghdad and a key centre of Sunni population in Iraq. This city has for many months held out as a centre of Sunni-based political-military resistance, refusing to accept the authority either of the former US-led occupying authority nor, since July, of the interim Iraqi administration led by the Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi.

Falluja is now to be brought to heel by overwhelming military power. As I write this, the US attack on the city has begun. The message to Falluja from the US armed forces in Iraq and from Allawi was brutally simple: submit now to Baghdad's authority or face attack.

It is still possible that resistance in Falluja will melt away in the face of US attack. While this would be a more optimistic scenario, I think it more likely at this point that the insurgents will fight, because too much is at stake politically for them to accept a bloodless Allawi victory. I look here at the - in my judgement, now more likely - scenario that Falluja insurgents will dig in and defy the invasion force.

What I believe is then likely to be done to Falluja will be a war crime and crime against humanity, morally indefensible by any civilised standard or for that matter, by the Statute of the International Criminal Court (to which, conveniently, neither the US nor Iraqi Government adheres).

This will be no neat, surgical strike. To get the measure of this, think of the Warsaw rising in 1944, or the Russian Army's destruction of the Chechen capital, Grozny. In 1999 this already battered city (of originally 400,000 people) was finally destroyed by massive Russian bombardment. Today, insurgents still fight it out with Russian troops among the ruins.

Eighteen months ago, before the US-led invasion of Iraq, Falluja was a living city of 300,000 people. Now - depopulated of most of its civilians by intimidation and fear - what is left looks like it is about to be blasted out of existence, simply as a demonstration of overwhelming US power in Iraq.

Of course, the US Army has been for weeks "humanely" encouraging women and children to leave the encircled city through checkpoints while there is still time to save their lives.

The Russians did the same before and during the destruction of Grozny. In a few days, as the battle and the flight of civilians expands, there may be tens of thousands of new refugees in tent cities, and tens of thousands of women left without husbands, and children left without fathers.

If this attack goes ahead as appears inevitable, it will obviously breach the laws of war and the Geneva conventions. First, it will grossly exceed proportionality in terms of ends and means. What intended political or military objective could justify so much death, the creation of so many new refugees, and wholesale destruction of homes?

What threat does the city of Falluja pose to the Iraqi state at this point? Allawi has claimed that free elections cannot take place unless Falluja is subdued. What a spurious argument.

The truth is that this city, which has become a symbol of Sunni-Iraqi political resistance to the occupiers, is to be made an example of, to deter others. The message the siege of Falluja sends is brutally simple: resist us and we will destroy you. It is the same message that the Wehrmacht sent in Warsaw in 1944, and the Russian Army in Grozny in 1999.

This attack will also violate the rules of war and the Geneva conventions in having grossly indiscriminate effects on civilians and civilian homes and infrastructure. America's largely untrained in battle but over-armed forces will start their attack "humanely", but as they inevitably take numbers of lethal casualties, their tactics will quickly escalate to indiscriminate bombing and shelling of the city using their WMD armouries.

Eventually, the attackers will flatten the city and kill everyone that still resists in it. Falluja will be the Iraqi people's Masada, and it will sow seeds of deep anti-Western hatred in the Middle East for decades to come.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, understands all this, in pleading for a negotiated solution. And as usual, Washington is summarily ignoring his pleas.

Tony Kevin.
Copyright: Sydney Morning Herald

Aggressive War: Supreme International Crime

Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal. In his report to the State Department, Justice Jackson wrote: "No political or economic situation can justify" the crime of aggression. He also said: "If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us."

Between 10,000 and 15,000 U.S. troops with warplanes and artillery have begun to invade the Iraqi city of Fallujah. To "soften up" the rebels, American forces dropped five 500-pound bombs on "insurgent targets." The Americans destroyed the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the center of town. They stormed and occupied the Fallujah General Hospital, and have not agreed to allow doctors and ambulances go inside the main part of the city to help the wounded, in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The battle of Fallujah promises to be far more shocking and aweful than the bombardment of Baghdad that kicked off Operation "Iraqi Freedom" in April 2003. A senior Marine Corps surgeon warned that casualties will surpass any level seen since the Vietnam War.

There have already been 100,000 "excess" Iraqi deaths since Bush launched his first strike on Iraq 18 months ago - that is, above and beyond those killed by Saddam Hussein, sanctions, U.S. bombings, and disease, all put together, in the 15 months prior to the invasion.

A study published by the Lancet found that the risk of death by violence for Iraqi civilians is now 58 times higher than before Bush began to liberate them in April 2003.

Bush's war on Iraq is a war of aggression. "Aggression is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this definition," according to General Assembly Resolution 3314, passed in the wake of Vietnam.

The only two situations where the UN Charter permits the use of armed force against another state is in self-defense, or when authorized by the Security Council. Iraq had not invaded the U.S., or any other country, Iraq did not constitute an imminent threat to any country, and the Security Council never sanctioned Bush's war. Bush and the officials in his administration are committing the crime of aggression.

Virtually every Western democracy has ratified the treaty of the International Criminal Court, except the United States. Bush knows that the Court will prosecute leaders for the crime of aggression. Mindful that he and his officials could become defendants, Bush renounced the Court, and extracted bilateral immunity agreements from more than 80 countries.

This year, however, Bush unsuccessfully sought to ram through the Security Council an immunity resolution that would exempt U.S. personnel from the Court's jurisdiction. But shortly after the photographs of U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners emerged, the Council refused to put its imprimatur on preferential treatment for the United States.

Bush knows that the Court will also punish war crimes. Pursuant to policies promulgated by Bush and Rumsfeld, U.S. forces have engaged in widespread torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Bush admitted in his 2003 State of the Union address that he had sanctioned summary executions of suspected terrorists.

Torture, inhuman treatment, and willful killing are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, treaties ratified by the United States. Grave breaches of Geneva are considered war crimes under our federal War Crimes Act of 1996. American nationals who commit war crimes abroad can receive life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be held liable if he knew or should have known his inferiors were committing war crimes and he failed to prevent or stop them.

The first U.S. attack on Fallujah, last April, killed 900-1000 people, mostly noncombatants. It was conducted in retaliation for the killing and mutilation of the bodies of four Blackwater Security Consulting mercenaries. Collective punishment against an occupied population for offenses committed by others also violates the Geneva Conventions.

Bush has sought to cover his crimes by putting an Iraqi face on his brutal war. The New York Times reported: "Thousands of Iraqi troops have moved into position with their American counterparts and are expected to take part ... American soldiers are to do most of the fighting on the way in, clearing the way for the Iraqi security forces to take control once the insurgents are defeated. With this method, Iraqi and American leaders hope for the best of both worlds: American muscle and an Iraqi face."

If Bush were a student of history, he would realize that Iraqization, like Vietnamization, will fail to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Working hand-in-glove with the U.S. government, interim puppet prime minister Iyad Allawi helped to soften up the rebels by declaring martial law throughout most of Iraq. His authority came from legislation the human rights minister characterized as "very similar to the Patriot Act of the United States." It enables Allawi to conduct extensive surveillance, impose cordons and curfews, limit freedom of movement and association, and freeze bank accounts and seize assets.

"Iraqi confidence in the interim government has plummeted in recent months as the insurgency in Falluja and elsewhere has gained in strength and lethality," according to The New York Times.

And although foreign Islamic extremists have joined the fight, most resisting the American occupation are Iraqi. "Didn't the Americans bring with them the British and the Italians?" asked Suhail al Abdali. "Well, we have multinational forces, too," he said wryly. Then al Abdali added, "They will pay the price with the blood of American sons who came to occupy Iraq. They won't take Fallujah unless they fight street to street, house to house."

Twenty-six prominent Saudi scholars and preachers wrote in an open letter to the Iraqi people: "The U.S. forces are still destroying towns on the heads of their people and killing women and children. What's going on in Iraq is a result of the big crime of America's occupation of Iraq." They stressed that armed attacks by militant Iraqi groups on U.S. troops and their allies in Iraq represent "legitimate resistance."

"The attack on Fallujah is an illegal and illegitimate action against civilians and innocent people," said the Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential Sunni clerics group. "We denounce this operation which will have a grave consequence on the situation in Iraq," declared spokesman Mohammed Bashar al-Faidhi.

Baghdad University political science professor Salman al-Jumaili warns, "What happens in Fallujah will spread out across other Sunni cities, including Baghdad." Al-Jumaili expects the Fallujah offensive will spin out of control, with fighting hop-scotching from one town to the next.

A senior U.S. diplomat agrees. "I would never tell you that violence in Sunni areas won't get worse when you open up a battle," he told the Los Angeles Times, on condition of anonymity.

Following the Holocaust, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg called the waging of aggressive war "essentially an evil thing . . . to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Bush's aggressive war against the people of Iraq promises to kill many more American soldiers and untold numbers of Iraqis. Nuremberg prosecutor Justice Jackson labeled the crime of aggression "the greatest menace of our times." More than 50 years later, his words still ring true.

Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

Screams Will Not Be Heard

This is an information age, but it will be months before we learn the truth about the assault on Falluja

With fitting irony, one of the camps used by the US marines waiting for the assault on Falluja was formerly a Ba'ath party retreat occasionally used by Saddam Hussein's sons. Dreamland, as it was known, has an island in the middle of an artificial lake fringed by palms.
Now the camp's dream-like unreality is distorting every news report filed on the preparations for the onslaught on Falluja. We don't know, and won't know, anything about what happens in the next few days except for what the US military authorities choose to let us know. It's long since been too dangerous for journalists to move around unless they are embedded with the US forces. There is almost no contact left with civilians still in Falluja, the only information is from those who have left.

This is how the fantasy runs: a city the size of Brighton is now only ever referred to as a "militants' stronghold" or "insurgents' redoubt". The city is being "softened up" with precision attacks from the air. Pacifying Falluja has become the key to stabilising the country ahead of the January elections. The "final assault" is imminent, in which the foreigners who have infiltrated the almost deserted Iraqi city with their extremist Islam will be "cleared", "rooted out" or "crushed". Or, as one marine put it: "We will win the hearts and minds of Falluja by ridding the city of insurgents. We're doing that by patrolling the streets and killing the enemy."

These are the questionable assumptions and make-believe which are now all that the embedded journalists with the US forces know to report. Every night, the tone gets a little more breathless and excited as the propaganda operation to gear the troops up for battle coopts the reporters into its collective psychology.

There's a repulsive asymmetry of war here: not the much remarked upon asymmetry of the few thousand insurgents holed up in Falluja vastly outnumbered by the US, but the asymmetry of information. In an age of instant communication, we will have to wait months, if not years, to hear of what happens inside Falluja in the next few days. The media representation of this war will be from a distance: shots of the city skyline illuminated by the flashes of bomb blasts, the dull crump of explosions. What will be left to our imagination is the terror of children crouching behind mud walls; the agony of those crushed under falling masonry; the frantic efforts to save lives in makeshift operating theatres with no electricity and few supplies. We will be the ones left to fill in the blanks, drawing on the reporting of past wars inflicted on cities such as Sarajevo and Grozny.
The silence from Falluja marks a new and agonising departure in the shape of 21st-century war. The horrifying shift in the last century was how, increasingly, war was waged against civilians: their proportion of the death toll rose from 50% to 90%. It prompted the development of a form of war-reporting, exemplified by Bosnia, which was not about the technology and hardware, but about human suffering, and which fuelled public outrage. No longer. The reporting of Falluja has lapsed back into the military machismo of an earlier age. This war against the defenceless will go unreported.

The reality is that a city can never be adequately described as a "militants' stronghold". It's a label designed to stiffen the heart of a soldier, but it is blinding us, the democracies that have inflicted this war, to the consequences of our actions. Falluja is still home to thousands of civilians. The numbers who have fled the prospective assault vary, but there could be 100,000 or more still in their homes. Typically, as in any war, those who don't get out of the way are a mixture of the most vulnerable - the elderly, the poor, the sick; the unlucky, who left it too late to get away; and the insanely brave, such as medical staff.

Nor does it seem possible that reporters still use the terms "softening up" or "precision" bombing. They achieve neither softening nor precision, as Falluja well knew long before George W Bush arrived in the White House. In the first Gulf war, an RAF laser-guided bomb intended for the city's bridge went astray and landed in a crowded market, killing up to 150. Last year, the killing of 15 civilians shortly after the US arrived in the city ensured that Falluja became a case study in how to win a war but lose the occupation. A catalogue of catastrophic blunders has transformed a relatively calm city with a strongly pro-US mayor into a battleground.

One last piece of fantasy is that there is unlikely to be anything "final" about this assault. Already military analysts acknowledge that a US victory in Falluja could have little effect on the spreading incidence of violence across Iraq. What the insurgents have already shown is that they are highly decentralised, and yet the quick copying of terrorist techniques indicates some degree of cooperation. Hopes of a peace seem remote; the future looks set for a chronic, intermittent civil war. By the time the bulldozers have ploughed their way through the centre of Falluja, attention could have shifted to another "final assault" on another "militant stronghold", as another city of homes, shops and children's playgrounds morphs into a battleground.

The recent comment of one Falluja resident is strikingly poignant: "Why," she asked wearily, "don't they go and fight in a desert away from houses and people?" Why indeed? Twentieth-century warfare ensured a remarkable historical inversion. Once the city had been the place of safety to retreat to in a time of war, the place of civilisation against the barbarian wilderness; but the invention of aerial bombardment turned the city into a target, a place of terror.

What is so disturbing is that much of the violence meted out to cities in the past 60-odd years has rarely had a strategic purpose - for example, the infamous bombing of Dresden. Nor is it effective in undermining morale or motivation; while the violence destroys physical and economic capital, it usually generates social capital - for example, the Blitz spirit or the solidarity of New Yorkers in the wake of 9/11 - and in Chechnya served only to establish a precarious peace in a destroyed Grozny and fuel a desperate, violent resistance.

Assaults on cities serve symbolic purposes: they are set showpieces to demonstrate resolve and inculcate fear. To that end, large numbers of casualties are required: they are not an accidental byproduct but the aim. That was the thinking behind 9/11, and Falluja risks becoming a horrible mirror-image of that atrocity. Only by the shores of that dusty lake in Dreamland would it be possible to believe that the ruination of this city will do anything to enhance the legitimacy of the US occupation and of the Iraqi government it appointed.

Madeleine Bunting
Monday November 8, 2004
The Guardian

'It's the culture, stupid'

James Carville, Bill Clinton's consigliere of 1992, kept the words "It's the economy, stupid!" pinned to his office wall. Substitute "culture" for "economy", and the basis of US President George W Bush's re-election victory becomes obvious. Evangelical Christians compose 40% of the American population, and three-quarters of them probably voted for the incumbent. Voter participation for traditional Democratic constituencies changed little, but the number of evangelical voters surged, just as Bush political adviser Karl Rove predicted. From available data it appears plausible that the increase in evangelical voter participation accounted for all of the president's 3.5-million-vote victory margin.

What brought 4 million more evangelical voters to the polling stations than in the previous presidential election? The US evangelical movement is not by nature political. Families join evangelical churches as a refuge against the septic tide of popular culture that threatens to carry away their children. Evangelical concerns center on family issues, child-rearing and personal values rather than national or global politics.

Liberal commentators blame the evangelical turnout on bigotry, noting that 11 states carried ballot referenda against same-sex marriage. The truth in that observation is misleading.

It is true that the Republicans have made evangelical issues into politics, but it is just as true, and far more important, that the evangelicals have made political issues into religious issues. That is especially true of the Bush administration's response to terrorism. It was the feminists of the 1960s who first stated that the personal was political, although they could not have imagined how this idea would evolve.

The world mis-estimated how Americans would respond to September 11, 2001. In the past, the United States came under attack for what it did; Japan's Pearl Harbor raid responded to a US trade boycott that cut off access to energy and raw materials. On September 11, the US came under attack for what it was. Osama bin Laden's dispute with the US was cultural rather than material. In last week's videotape he cast the airplane attacks as a retaliation for America's support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon 20 years ago. In a lampoon published on November 2 (What Osama might have told America), I attempted to portray his underlying motives. The US barely can live with the freedom of the modern world without destroying itself; the same forces would utterly devastate the Arab world, which lacks the resistance the US has developed over the centuries.

Although Americans have difficulty articulating their response, few are so dim as to misunderstand the message. America's culture is in the judgment seat. Do they deserve the contempt, and even the violence, that the Islamists inflict on them? As they seethe with self-righteous anger against their attackers, do Americans take stock of themselves? The answer evident on November 2 is that many of them did. After September 11, a number of evangelical leaders, including the Reverend Jerry Falwell, claimed that the attacks constituted a divine punishment for America's sins. Silly as it sounded, Falwell's statement concealed an underlying truth. The US provokes the hatred of the Islamic world because the "freedoms" associated with the nether reaches of its entertainment industry are its most visible face to the rest of the world. The US, to most of the world, represents global mobility, but also the breakdown of the family, the collapse of hoary conventions of respect, the trampling of tradition.

First of all, America's tragic encounter with Islam is a confrontation between a modern and a traditional society, in which the traditional society only can lose. That it also is a confrontation between Christianity and Islam, two religions that respond in radically different ways to the fragility of traditional society, makes the confrontation all the more ferocious. Islam looks outward to defend the community, the ummah, against its enemies by conquering and transforming them in its own image. By its nature it is militant rather than self-critical. Christianity demands that the believer look inward to his own sin. Soul-searching after September 11 is what made the personal so political in the US.

The US is in danger of social decay - not as much danger as my Halloween apparition of bin Laden portrayed, but in danger nonetheless. When two-fifths of female university students suffer from anorexia or bulimia, and one-sixth suffer from depression, it is clear that the Witches' Sabbath of sexual experimentation that began during the 1960s has led to widespread misery. Parents cannot raise their children in isolation from violent pornography; young people cannot build their lives in a fraternity party.

It is the hard, grinding reality of American life in the liberal dystopia that makes the "moral issues" so important to voters. Partial-birth abortion and same-sex marriage became critical issues not because evangelical voters are bigots. On the contrary, parents become evangelicals precisely in order to draw a line between their families and the adversary culture. This far, and no more, a majority of Americans said on November 2 on the subject of social experimentation.

Unlike the Europeans, whose demoralization has led to depopulation, Americans still are fighting against the forces of decay that threaten - but do not yet ensure - the ultimate fall of American power. That is the message of November 2.


(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)