Thursday, March 13, 2008


The British police have started a criminal investigation against former UK prime minister Tony Blair into allegations of Blair's guilt of genocide and war crimes for invading and occupying Iraq, which has lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.Scotland Yard is respoding to complaints of peace activists (Chris Cloverdale, former MI-5 operative Annie Machon and the activist group Make War History). At last they seem to be taken seriously. One of the complaints the police are looking into is the fact that Blair insisted that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the Middle East and the West and that so-called 'rogue states' that sponsored terror had to be confronted.

Apologists for war are as silent as all the graves

March 12 2008

In November of 2002 I was getting a little ahead of myself, and writing about war crimes. The excuse, then and subsequently, was that I was not the only one. The other extenuating circumstance, granted the retrospective justification of five long and horrible years, is simple: every fear was then fulfilled. Worse, foresight required no cleverness on anyone's part.

The list was commonplace. No weapons of mass destruction, thousands dead, resistance, terrorism, inevitable regional unrest, bloody religious strife and the certainty, sooner or later, of civil war: that was the miserable bet. Democracy, peace and stability were not on any of the cards. Instead, for answer, we got astounding complacency, remarkable military incompetence and a series of deceits. What we did not get was a surprise.

As the fifth anniversary of shock, awe and invasion rolls around with no plausible end to the occupation of Iraq in sight, that detail is too easily forgotten. These days the culprits gladly confess their errors (always well-intentioned, of course), but they overlook this part of the tale.

They were warned, warned repeatedly, warned when they were hustling Hans Blix's inspectors from the scene, warned when they mounted the charade of seeking a second UN resolution. Anti-war protests were the visible, public aspect of a global argument in which every serious question went unanswered and every prediction went unheeded. Five years ago, as the bombs began to fall, it was already clear that the conquest of Iraq had been part of the George Bush game-plan from the start. Even the hunt for Osama bin Laden - this piece of cynicism remains breathtaking - was rendered a secondary issue. Bush wanted his war.

By that time, many people on both sides of the dispute were reduced to repeating themselves. Positions were established even before the killing started, even before the excuses for the invasion had become a kind of regressive series of increasingly incredible untruths. Before the shooting, remember, Tony Blair was telling the Commons that regime change in Iraq formed no part of Britain's desires.

In November of 2002, in any case, I wrote the following: "The argument, to hear the White House and Downing Street tell it, runs like this. Saddam is a monster; Saddam is probably a dangerous monster; therefore, somehow, numerous Iraqi dead are the price we' must pay to see him off. It's his fault, not ours, and we're really very sorry. But nothing remotely resembling a crime could possibly be involved."

Most damning, Bush and Blair had no plan for the aftermath

It was a crime in the making even then, by all the usual standards. Britain and America were not under attack. Having spent years bombing Iraq in a piecemeal way, they had no evidence that an attack against them was imminent. And they lacked the UN's endorsement. Those, crudely, are the rules.

As time went on, however, the two governments began to prefer the monster theory, the humanitarian justification. They began, in fact, to heed self-styled liberal interventionists who had derived an ad hoc policy from a simple observation. Saddam was a beast: no-one disputed it. The western powers, therefore, had a moral obligation to end his tyranny after years of encouraging and tolerating the thug. Intervention might not be strictly legal, but it would be wholly legitimate. Why should a divided and disreputable UN have a veto over justice?

It was, and remains, the only good argument ever mustered for the war. Even today it is still deployed as a last resort, as the moral clincher that excuses an entire catastrophe. Would you rather, they ask, have preferred for Saddam to stay in power?

The liberal interventionists knew what they were about. They understood public opinion. They still do. Who has not demanded that "something must be done" when the latest warlord commences the latest unspeakable act? Who opposes an end to ethnic cleansing, mass murder and genocide? The sole excuse for the Iraq war - and Blair himself grasped for it in the end - was the Hitler parallel, the Pol Pot comparison. Who talks of democracy and then stands aside?

It was not enough, five years ago, to point out that the United States and its coalition were selective indeed in their choice of enemies. The liberal interventionists, the smart ones, would grant you that. Yes, they would concede, there is hypocrisy at work. Yes, it's true, the west has tolerated and fostered some filthy regimes. But does any of that matter when the prize is Saddam's downfall? The end, some alleged, matters far more than the motives of George Bush.

Five years on, with the commanders of America's Iraq "surge" fearing - an exquisite euphemism - a "reverse surge", we can see where high-minded war-mongering took us. International law means precious little to any government, least of all the most powerful government of them all. The UN is relevant only in so far as it assists US presidential candidates with their promises, if any, to remake their country's image.

Elsewhere, a Nobel economics laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, puts the cost of Iraq to the world at $6 trillion (and asks if the money might just have been better spent). In Britain, meanwhile, on-the-books spending on two wars leaps by 94%, to £3.297bn while The Herald's Ian Bruce reminds us of all the other, vastly greater, human costs. The official figure is disclosed - who didn't see this coming? - just after a young royal has been repackaged as Prince Valiant.

The price to the Iraqis that some worried about in 2002 and 2003 is in dispute still. In dispute, that is, if you really require to attach precise numbers to grim adjectives. For the survivors, there is nothing resembling a functioning society. In July, when the American surge abates, the slide towards civil war will continue. Meantime, in addition to the 16,000 US casualties Bush never mentions, there are various figures to account for the nameless and innocent.

As of October last year, the Iraq Body Count project said 74,000 to 81,000 dead. As of July 2006, the Iraqi Health Ministry was estimating 100,000 to 150,000. Others have come up with vastly greater totals, totals you could reduce by half and half again while still applying the word massacre. Opinion Research Business, a British outfit, has concluded that by September of last year 1.2 million Iraqis had perished.

A price worth paying to salve the guilt of westerners determined to challenge tyranny? Or just a reminder that sometimes intervention can make a dire situation worse? Perhaps, equally, the revolting statistics that form our limited understanding of western activities in Iraq and in Afghanistan offer a very simple answer: motives always matter.

After all, the one truth that no-one guessed five years ago was perhaps the most damning of all. Bush, with Blair in tow, had no plan for the aftermath. Reconstruction and a country's recovery were somehow meant just to happen. Liberty's balm would heal all. But neither Britain nor the US ever meant to take responsibility for its application.

The result has been five years of occupation, death and misery, with no end in sight. At this point in a previous, better war we already knew that Hitler was done and Europe saved. Liberal interventionists no longer make the comparison. They no longer have much to say, in fact. Some of them are as silent as the countless graves.

Posted by: Brian D Finch, Brigadoon on 12:17am Wed 12 Mar 08

QUOTE: After all, the one truth that no-one guessed five years ago was perhaps the most damning of all. Bush, with Blair in tow, had no plan for the aftermath.

Actually, there was a plan - an excellent one. Let us call it Plan A. It may be read in all its sensible glory at:

The failure of the Clinton administration to stop the Rwandan genocide or to lead an international effort to do so was indeed tragic, enabling the murders of several hundred thousand innocent victims. Bill Clinton himself apologized for this failure, which is a rarity in US national politics today. That doesn.t excuse it of course. But there is plenty of blame to go around, and I see the failure to respond to this tragedy as more of a systematic national and international problem than as the fault of any one individual or small group of individuals. For the sad fact of the matter is that, while genocide and related crimes is one of the most terrible problems confronting our modern world, effective action against it is rare, on the part of this country or any other country. In fact, the Clinton-led effort against the genocide in Kosovo in 1998 is one of the very rare exceptions to the general rule of inaction. If world civilization is ever going to progress to the point where it poses a significant barrier against these crimes, we would do well to consider why we currently have such a long way to go to reach that point.


The origins of the seeds of the international effort against genocide began with the Charter to the United Nations, which was created in 1945. Related excerpts from the Preamble to the Charter read as follows:

We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

And for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.

What a great start! To follow that up, in 1948 the United Nations came up with the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in which genocide was defined as acts .committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.. The Convention stipulates that genocide shall be tried by a competent tribunal (either within the nation where it occurs or by an international tribunal) and appropriately punished. The Democratic US Congress finally ratified the UN Convention on genocide nearly 40 years later, and it was signed by Ronald Reagan.

Unfortunately, like many great UN ideals, the Convention on genocide has been far less effective than its authors intended. Following the creation of the United Nations and its Genocide Convention, genocides have claimed perhaps 30 thousand lives in Bangladesh in 1971, 1.7 million lives in Cambodia from 1975-9, 200 thousand in Bosnia from 1992-5, 800 thousand in Rwanda in 1994, several hundred thousand in Zimbabwe periodically over a couple of decades beginning in the 1980s, and 350,000 in Darfur beginning in 2003.

Needless to say, international response against this tragic crime has been abysmal, notwithstanding the ideals of the United Nations. Samantha Power describes in detail how the world and our own country has stood by and done nothing, time and again, as genocide has proceeded unabated, in .A Problem from Hell . America in the Age of Genocide.. It.s a book well worth reading. Here.s a list of several reviews. Those providing letter grades gave 9 As and one A+ to Power.s book.

Problems in defining genocide and related crimes

The motivation for specifically defining genocide and making it a specific international crime was to so educate and shock the conscience of mankind that pressure would build to combat genocide effectively. But there are at least a couple of problems with the above noted definition. Those definitional problems in no way detract from the need to combat genocide, yet it is important to recognize them.

First is the fact that motivations for .genocide. are technically confined to racial, ethnic, religious, and nationalist motivations. But those are not the only reasons that large groups of people are systematically murdered. For example, the so-called Cambodian .genocide. was directed against a group of people defined more by political ideology than any of the traits that formally define genocide. The same can be said about the systematic murder and torture conducted by the Pinochet regime in Chile starting in 1973. And what about the Reagan administration.s support for the Central American right wing deaths squads in the 1980s? And finally, consider the 1.3 million Iraqi civilians killed in the process of George Bush.s invasion and occupation of Iraq. That war is largely motivated by quests for profit and imperial expansion. In my view, wholesale murder of huge civilian populations is just as bad whether it is based on racial motivations, political motivations, or simply the quest for power and profits.

Secondly, genocide, like almost all other complex phenomena, is not a black and white issue. There are many shades grey, especially with respect to quantity. The part of the genocide definition that reads .in whole or in part. makes no distinction with respect to quantity. It is almost as if the murder of 10 people shares the same definition with the murder of 10 million.

Why has there been so little international response to genocide?

I can think of four major and related reasons why the US and international response to genocide has been so pathetic, even after the adoption of the Genocide Convention by the United Nations in 1948:

Power politics and greed
Notwithstanding the high ideals of those who contributed to the Genocide Convention of 1948, like many other UN programs there has been little enforcement power behind the
Convention. As it is presently constituted, the United Nations works only as well as its most powerful members want it to work. Unfortunately, its most powerful member, the United States, has often exhibited little interest in having the United Nations live up to its ideals.

The Cold War defined much of the geopolitical situation of the world for the first forty-six years of the United Nation.s existence. In this atmosphere the United States was generally much more interested in having its .free market. capitalist ideology prevail over Communism (the USSR was also against advancing many UN ideals, for the precise opposite reason) than it was in advancing the goals of the United Nations. Its overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, and its war against Vietnam are just four of many examples. This has had a severe dampening effect on achieving the high ideals of the United Nations.

During the George W. Bush administration the US has repeatedly subverted UN goals in the quest for power and profit. How can the UN achieve its ideals under such circumstances? Ideally (in my opinion), the world should combine forces against the United States to bring the pillaging and massive death toll in Iraq to an end. But it simply lacks the military power to do that.

The above discussion explains how our leaders have subverted UN goals in pursuit of their own interests. What about the rest of us? Why have the rest of us allowed this to happen?

Nationalism is often a very strong force, in this country as well as most others. If a country.s leaders want to secure the approval of their population for their war profiteering or anti-Communist agenda, nationalism has been one very effective way to do that. So they stir up fear and hatred against what they claim to be a common .enemy.. During the Cold War the leaders of the United States used Communism for this purpose. Opinions differ on why Communism was used. My own opinion is that by stirring up hatred against anything remotely resembling Communism, our leaders directed our country towards economic policies that served the interests of the few at the expense of the many. In particular they were interested in dismantling the policies of FDR, which served to bring a semblance of equality to our country for many decades. With Ronald Regain.s ascension to the presidency, the conservative elite of our country began to achieve much success in this endeavor.

Nationalism tends to work for two reasons. First, especially for people who have little direct knowledge or experience with other peoples, there is a prevailing fear of the unknown. Stirring up nationalistic fever can be used to exacerbate those fears. Secondly, there are many people who have a need to feel superior to other people. Nationalism plays right into their hands by making them feel that they are part of a nation that is superior to all others.

A good example of how this works can be seen by considering the interplay of slavery and racism (which is very similar to nationalism) in our nation.s history. The slave owners were the conservative elite of their time. They had a powerful economic interest in justifying slavery in a nation that was presumably founded on the principle that .All men are created equal.. They used racism for this purpose. The vast majority of southern people had no economic interest in slavery. But for the reasons I noted above they were highly susceptible to the racist rationalizations of the conservative elite slave owners of their time. They therefore supported the agenda of the slave holders, even to the extent of marching off to war in the absurd belief that they were doing so in the name of freedom.

Noam Chomsky puts the issue in perspective with respect to the Iraq War. Chomsky does not believe (or claims not to believe) that the Bush administration was complicit in the 9-11 attacks on our country. Chomsky believes that claims of that sort serve as a distraction from the more serious crimes of the Bush administration, as he explains in his book, .What We Say Goes . Conversations on US Power in a Changing World.:

What if they did blow up the World Trade Center? By their standards, that.s a minor crime. Increasing the threat of nuclear war and environmental disaster is a far worse crime, which might lead to extinction of the species. Take the invasions of Iraq.

Chomsky.s underlying point is that we consider the deaths of three thousand Americans in the 9-11 attacks on our country as infinitely more important than the deaths of over a million Iraqis. That.s because of the effects of nationalism . or racism, which is very closely related.

Lack of a systematic plan or precedence
Near the beginning of this post I objected to putting all the blame on Bill Clinton for the failure to stop or even attempt to stop the Rwandan genocide. My point is that he had precious little precedence to fall back on. Our country rarely has done that kind of thing.

Furthermore, some people have pointed out that the failure in Somalia largely conditioned Clinton.s cautious response to Rwanda. That is undoubtedly true. But why should it be? Why should Somalia have been considered such a terrible failure or tragedy that it should stop us from preventing the deaths of several hundred thousand Rwandans? A mere 18 Americans died in the cause of trying to carry out a humanitarian mission in Somalia. Since when do 18 American deaths constitute such a terrible failure in the context of a military mission? The fact of the matter is that Somalia was such an embarrassment to the Clinton administration because our corporate news media made it out to be so.

Our conservative elites had no interest in the humanitarian mission in Somalia, and furthermore they had an abiding interest in embarrassing Bill Clinton. End of story.

The bottom line is that the Rwandan genocide was not a major priority for Bill Clinton because it was not a major priority for the American people. This again is related to nationalism and racism. The deaths of several hundred thousand Africans are not considered as important as a handful of American deaths. That is the way our corporate news media presents these things, and most Americans simply accept the story line that they present.

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posted by u2r2h at 8:12 PM


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