By David Swanson
Pretending to end a war and occupation, while stationing 50,000 soldiers, 18,000 mercenaries, and 84,000 support contractors in massive and permanent military bases in Iraq is a far cry from what candidate Barack Obama described as ending “the mind-set that got us into war in the first place.” It fits better with Nobel Peace laureate Obama’s description of war as “not only necessary but morally justified.”
Over the past 20 years, the United States has imposed on Iraq two intense wars and many years of bombing and deprivation, the death of millions, and the displacement of more millions now left desperate and abandoned in Iraq and around the region. Violence in Iraq is common and increasing, sex trafficking is on the rise, the basic infrastructure of electricity, water, sewage, and healthcare is in ruins, life expectancy has dropped, cancer rates in Fallujah have surpassed those in Hiroshima, anti-U.S. terrorist groups are using the occupation of Iraq as a recruiting tool, there is no functioning government, and most Iraqis say they were better off with Saddam Hussein in power. And this is all prior to the hell to come when the agreed upon complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces at the end of next year turns out to be a fraud.
But the greatest damage of the ongoing War on Iraq, as with the War on Afghanistan or the War on Pakistan or any wars our planet has known, is its contribution to future wars. During the past century, war has become far more deadly. Its victims are now primarily non-participants. And its victims can be almost exclusively on one side. Even the participants from the dominant side can be drawn from a population coerced into fighting and isolated from those making the decisions or benefitting. Participants who survive war are far more likely now to have been trained and conditioned to do things they cannot live with having done. In short, war ever more closely resembles mass murder, a resemblance first put into our legal system by the banning of war in the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact in 1928. The United States Senate, that same institution that on a good day can now get three percent of its members to vote against funding war escalations or continuations, 82 years ago voted 85 to 1 to bind the United States to a treaty it is still bound by in which we “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in [our] relations with” other nations. In 1945 our nation became party to the United Nations Charter, which also binds us, through Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, to using war only in actual self-defense. And earlier this year the International Criminal Court, despite U.S. opposition, established the policy of prosecuting future crimes of aggression.
If our government were busily ending the mind-set that makes wars possible, we would be withdrawing our military from Iraq, making reparations to the Iraqi people, and building peaceful cultural ties with them. Instead, we’re using this ongoing war as a means to legalize aggressive warfare through the immunity being granted its architects. And we’re establishing the dangerous precedent whereby a permanent occupation, whether hot or cold, can be defined as a war that has ended. War is thus peace. Meanwhile, repeated drone bombings and troops on the ground in Pakistan, secret military operations in other nations, wars by proxy, and official — if illegal — policies of assassination and regime change are establishing that wars can be launched and indefinitely continued, not only without public or legislative support, but without ever being identified as wars at all. What the tribunal at Nuremberg called the supreme crime is ceasing to be a crime, not because we have new weapons or face different enemies or elect the wrong leaders or organize the wrong peace movements, but because the masters of war face no prospect of accountability for what they’ve done and what they may potentially do.
The past couple centuries of wars has not been a really bad run of luck. We haven’t accidentally empowered the very worst people we could have found. Electing new presidents and congress members, first of this party, then of that other party, doesn’t change a thing. Whether the blame falls on systemic pressures from the permanent bureaucracy and what Nick Turse calls the military industrial technological entertainment academic media corporate matrix, or whether the problem is a psychological flaw in the character of individuals likely to be elected, or some of each, it is clear that our wars are not a case of the best laid plans going awry. These are evil plans all the way through. That we so often hear about mistakes made in wars is sometimes a result of conflict between stated and real intentions, sometimes a result of war planners’ almost unfathomable lack of concern for human costs, sometimes a result of an ineffective culture of accountability in the military, or of the hopelessness of expecting people conditioned in hatred and murder to engage in only acceptable atrocities, and sometimes a result of wars failing on their own terms. That they so often do fail on their own terms may be an indication of less than rational motivations behind them. But the motivation is always criminal, and crimes need to be both prevented and deterred.
Nothing has changed in the thinking of those in power during the decade since the Project for the New American Century declared that our country needed to “perform the constabulary duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions” of the world. Nothing has changed in the mind-set of Washington war makers in the nine years since Donald Rumsfeld, according to Wesley Clark, put out a memo proposing to take over seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. When information on what our government is doing gets leaked, the only people prosecuted for crimes are still the whistleblowers. When an ally like Israel commits crimes with weapons we’ve provided, our government’s only interest is in expressing its support. The rarest of prosecutions for war crimes in the United States are exclusively for those of lowest rank and least responsibility. This doesn’t look like ending the mind-set that gets us into war.
Yet we have ended that mind-set before. We’ve ended it in Germany and Japan. And we began with individual accountability. We prosecuted the crime of aggression and lesser war crimes, starting with the worst crimes and starting with the highest authorities. Then we purged those two nations’ governments of all militarists. We forbid the development of industries that would profit from war. We banned war in national constitutions. The closest thing Washington, D.C., has seen to a purging of its bureaucracy was President George W. Bush’s spree of political and religious based hiring, firing, and re-assigning. Needless to say, that process — still largely not corrected for — did nothing for peace. If there is going to be any prosecuting or purging of war makers and war mongers, it’s going to have to come from us. Expecting elected officials to take the lead on their own will bring us only eternal war.
Of course, way back in 2005 and 2006, a lot of Democrats in Congress behaved as if they really wanted to hold war makers accountable. Had those same people been recognizable during the past four years, the world might look very different. Great Britain and other nations are investigating their bit parts in this particular illegal war, but our own country is not. Italy has convicted a couple of dozen CIA operatives of kidnapping a man to have him tortured. Spain and other nations are investigating U.S. war crimes and/or their own complicity in illegal U.S. imprisonments. Canada has apologized to a victim of U.S. crime. But in this country, the White House still claims the power to torture or rendition and has claimed the additional privilege to assassinate foreigners and U.S. citizens alike.
Pursuing local and state prosecutions of war crimes remains a viable option with no statute of limitations for those crimes that have resulted in deaths. Taking the money out of our system of government remains a sensible step toward gaining public influence over our so-called public servants, and while states will probably need to circumvent Congress to get this done, there are bills in Congress that would start the constitutional amendment process if passed, including an excellent one from Congresswoman Donna Edwards. But I want to highlight two approaches that I think might advance the agenda of permanent peace most effectively.
First, while our elections are enormously corrupted by money and media and political parties, we can still determine their outcomes sometimes, especially in House elections, and even more so in House primaries. And while it is the application of pressure in between elections that has the greatest impact, that pressure is far more effective when tied to a credible threat of unelection in the next cycle. If we can, in November, and in primaries between now and then, unelect some war funders and elect some new people who have committed to never funding aggressive wars, our voices will ring much more loudly during the following months.
On July 27, 2010, 115 congress members behaved as if they might be worthy of keeping their jobs. These include 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans who voted no on dumping $33 billion into escalating the war in Afghanistan, plus one more Democrat, Alan Grayson, who publicly lobbied his colleagues to vote No in an unprecedented manner but was unable to be there to vote. Another 317 congress members clearly indicated their worthiness for being unelected, 308 by voting for the money and 9 by not voting. Their names and background on how the vote worked and what it meant can be found, along with a list of 96 challengers committed to not funding war in Iraq or Afghanistan, at http://warisacrime.org
There is absolutely no excuse for not having, and we have no right to accuse anyone else of corruption if we cannot create, a movement publicly and noisily dedicated to voting only for candidates who will stop taking our money and dumping it into wars. Of course, this principled and necessary stand depends on understanding that no candidate can be much worse than someone who funnels our money — so badly needed for so many things — into wars. We have to be willing, in some districts, to vote for candidates who stand little chance of winning, even if the result may be electing someone even worse than the incumbent or someone from our less preferred political party. In some districts, there’s not even a decent peace candidate on the ballot, and we have to write a name in. But someone can certainly be found to write in, and maybe next time they’ll run. In the absence of such a write-in prospect, I recommend writing in the name Gandhi. Of course, the point is not to unelect people for its own sake, but to influence them and those who come after them by establishing that a serious and growing block of voters will only vote for people who never fund aggressive war — or at least not in supplemental bills of the sort 115 did the right thing on in July.
In a lot of districts, serious peace candidates stand a good chance of winning, and we are also free to fund and volunteer for candidates in districts other than our own. Which brings me to my second recommendation, one detailed at http://impeachbybee.org One reason Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was forced to resign was the growing support for a bill in the House that read in its entirety:
“Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.”
For years now, the public and human rights groups have lacked any mechanism for compelling Congress to assert its existence as the power through which we can hold accountable torturers as well as architects of aggressive war. Jay Bybee signed memos authorizing illegal war, torture, and a variety of other war crimes. In July the House Judiciary Committee revealed that in May Bybee had testified in secret on the topic of torture, admitting to his criminal memos, placing blame on his former subordinate John Yoo and on the White House, and indicating that the CIA tortured prior to and in manners other than those supposedly legitimated by the memos. Even a serious movement to compel an impeachment hearing for Bybee would change the calculations of those considering the commission of future war crimes, including the crime of aggression. An actual impeachment could begin to bring numerous criminals to justice as each one pointed a finger at others.
The trick is getting one of the 435 existing members of Congress to introduce a one-sentence bill that we can build support behind. Thus far, none has been willing. David Segal is different. Segal stands a very good chance of winning a Democratic primary in Rhode Island and then the congressional seat. His mission, if elected to Congress, will be to help organize a progressive block of members that actually takes stands and even funds its members independently of a larger party. Segal has committed to voting against another dime for war, and he has also committed to introducing the one-sentence bill we need on Jay Bybee. No incumbent and no other challenger has made this commitment. But many incumbents would sign onto such a bill if Segal is elected and introduces it: http://votesegal.com
By suggesting that we elect the right people who will take such useful steps, please do not get the impression that those actions alone will be sufficient. The purpose of electing better people is to put greater weight behind our voices as we raise hell year-in and year-out. The purpose of getting a bill introduced is so that we have a specific demand to make when we sit-in congress members’ offices and prevent them from functioning. Wars will not end without a major cultural shift and massive nonviolent resistance, both by us civilians and within the military. But such a movement, if we can continue building it, cannot be formless and directionless. We must be able to make demands and hold those who fail to meet them accountable.
In this regard, the following event is planned for discussion of how we move forward. Please attend it if in the area, or watch for the video online:
Iraq: The Legacy of the 7-Year U.S. Occupation
When: Sunday, August 29th 2010
Location: Busboys and Poets, 5th and K Sts. NW, Washington, D.C.
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Is the U.S. military really leaving Iraq or just rebranding? What is the toll of seven years of occupation on Iraqis, U.S. soldiers and our economies? What is the status of Iraqi refugees around the world? Is it still possible to hold accountable those who dragged us into the war or committed crimes such as torture? What role did Congress and the media play in facilitating the invasion/occupation? We’ll also look at the role of the peace movement — its strengths and weaknesses — and draw key lessons to make our work for peace, including in Afghanistan, more effective.
Congresswoman Donna Edwards
Kymone Tecumseh Freeman, playwright, performer, reading Letters from Iraq
Head-Roc, hip-hop artist
Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies
Raed Jarrar, Peace Action
Manal Omar, author
Bill Fletcher, labor leader, scholar
Josh Stieber, Iraq Veterans Against the War
Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK and Global Exchange
Andy Shallal, Iraqi artist, owner Busboys and Poets
David Swanson, author
Gene Bruskin, US Labor Against the War
Felicia Eaves, activist
Sponsored by: CODEPINK, Peace Action, Institute for Policy Studies, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Global Exchange, Just Foreign Policy, Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), U.S. Labor Against the War, ANSWER, World Can’t Wait, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, War is a Crime, Rivera Project, Washington Peace Center.