Will the Democrats Block Steps Toward Peace?

By David Swanson

An Associated Press story on Sunday carried a predictably militant headline: “Iraq amnesty offer upsets U.S. lawmakers.” But the story did something very atypical: it led with and focused on the views of Democrats, rather than Republicans. And the Democrats’ views were unusually straightforward and decisive, while the Republicans’ were peculiarly vague and noncommittal. While the story quoted more Republicans, their views had nothing to do with the headline or the thrust of the article.

Here’s what the Democrats said:

1. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said extending amnesty to anyone responsible for killing U.S. troops was “unconscionable….For heaven’s sake, we liberated that country,” Levin said on “Fox News Sunday. We got rid of a horrific dictator. We’ve paid a tremendous price. More than 2,500 Americans have given up their lives. The idea that they should even consider talking about amnesty for people who have killed people who liberated their country is unconscionable.”

2. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged President Bush to get a commitment from al-Maliki that there will be no amnesty for anyone who has killed U.S. troops.

Here’s what the Republicans said:

1. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that while he opposes amnesty, the United States must respect Iraq’s sovereign right to decide its own future. He said the U.S. government will not dictate, but will consult with Iraqi officials on all aspects of the plan. “I want the Iraqi people to take this decision unto themselves and make it correctly,” Warner said. “And I hope it comes out … no amnesty for anyone who committed an act of violence, of war crimes.”

2. The White House welcomed the initiative, yet did not comment specifically on Iraqi plans to embrace certain insurgents, saying the plan was still being developed. “Reconciliation must be an Iraqi process, led by Iraqis,” White House spokesman Ken Lisaius said. “We, of course, stand by, ready to assist in this effort – if the Iraqis request our help. But it’s important to note that this is the first step, and it’s a process that will take time to fully develop.”

3. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on ABC’s “This Week” said he does not believe the Iraqi government intends to grant amnesty to people who killed Americans.

4. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said if there is to be peace in Iraq, al-Maliki must find a formula for moving forward that is acceptable to all. “I’m hopeful that one of [sic] elements of the formula that he presents to the Sunnis is not amnesty because that is going to run into solid opposition, obviously, in the United States,” Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

These few quotes are not a lot to go on, but do you get the impression that the Republicans have been advised to support the plan, whereas the Democrats have simply been advised – as always – to out-macho the Republicans in hopes of turning off the Democratic base and losing some more elections?

(My local newspaper in Virginia today carried none of this news but did report on former-Republican and now Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate Jim Webb waving a toy nuclear missile over his head at a campaign event in order to brag about his father’s role in developing the things – so I’m a bit touchy.)

The BBC claims the plan that Iraq’s Prime Minister has proposed is part of a U.S. Republican Party election strategy, pointing out that it does NOT contain a date for withdrawal of the occupying forces.

A key point in the plan is “Amnesty for detainees not involved in terrorist acts, war crimes or crimes against humanity, as long as they condemn violence and pledge to respect the law.”

While Warner and McConnell try to blur the distinction between such acts and all “acts of violence,” the plan is apparently clear in general outline. If you fought against the illegal occupation of your country but you agree to live peacefully and lawfully once that occupation ends (or changes?), then you get amnesty. If you attacked civilians or engaged in tactics illegal even as acts of war, then you do not get amnesty.

Unless you are on the side of the occupation committing war crimes against Iraqis. Then you are not a detainee at all, and amnesty goes without saying. Or, almost without saying. The plan includes these points:

–Negotiations with the US-led coalition to prevent the violation of human and civil rights in military operations.
–Compensation for those harmed by terrorism, military operations and violence.
–Preventing human rights violations, reforming prisons and punishing those responsible for acts of torture.
–Ensuring that military operations take place in accordance with judicial orders and do not breach human rights.
–Return of displaced people to their homes and compensation for any losses they have suffered.

While this plan has no intention or ability to include Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld among those punished for acts of torture, neither does it have any ability to grant them amnesty. That sort of amnesty, amnesty for those who launched this international crime is what should concern us.

Amnesty for those who fought a foreign occupation should come very naturally to us, especially as we approach the Fourth of July. Somebody should tell the Democrats.


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