War Crimes, Us and Them


“If you do not like the image in the mirror do not break the mirror, break your face.”

—Persian proverb

Although the deceits and the corruption of the mainstream media is no secret, the ironies of the New York Times can never cease to amaze. Take the Times’ story, “Crossing Paths: Albright Testifies in War Crimes Case,” by Marlise Simons [December 18, 2002]

Simons is reporting on former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright’s testimony at the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Mrs. Biljana Plavsic at International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). Simons quotes Albright as saying: “I found it repugnant and I didn’t understand why she would be involved in things like that to eradicate various groups of people.”

Simons, of course, does not say a word about Mrs. Albright’s own endorsement of sanctions against Iraq and periodic bombings of that country. The price that the people of Iraq are paying for the sanctions is colossal. At least half a million children have died as a result of the increase in child mortality due to sanctions. Child mortality in Iraq has risen from a level that was comparable to advanced industrialized countries to that of least developed countries with chronic shortages of food or being devastated by civil war, such as Sudan or Somalia. Approximately one million people have died due to the sanctions. Iraq’s water supply facilities and waste disposal systems are in ruins because the sanctions prevent Iraq from importing spare parts required to operate them. The country’s environment and agriculture are in shambles. Sanctions have strengthened the Iraqi ruling elite. Iraqi regime had long denied civil and political rights to its population, but economic and social quality of life for the majority was high before the Gulf War. With the imposition of the sanctions, the economic opportunities and social capabilities of Iraqis are being systematically downgraded and destroyed.

The following exchange between Lesley Stahl and Mrs. Albright is worth recalling: Lesley Stahl: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” [60 Minutes (5/12/96)]

Perhaps Mrs. Albright’s role in extending sanctions on Iraq whose effective targets have been the people of Iraq makes her a worthy expert witness for an international war crimes tribunal because of her direct experience in taking measures that were bound to cause poverty, pain and panic on an anguished people living under a dictatorship. It is not as if the consequences of sanctions and bombing are unknown. The horrific effects on the bombing and the sanctions are widely known and have been carefully documented by UN studies and independent researchers. Anthony Arnove’s edited book Iraq under Siege provides an accurate picture of the deadly effects of decade of sanctions and war on Iraq.

A decent person would find it repugnant and fail to understand why Mrs. Albright would be involved in things like imposing a deadly sanction of mass destruction and destitution on the Iraqi people. Surely no one forced Mrs. Albright to join the War Party. She did so on her own free will. Mrs. Albright may remind herself that it is always easy to condemn the crimes of others, while forgetting one’s own crimes. It is easy to place all the blame on Iraq’s dictator for the plight of the Iraqi people because it avoids the question of the responsibility of imperial powers, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom.

Getting back to Simons’ story: Nobel Laureate Mr. Elie Wiesel reported to have told the court, “How could she [Mrs. Plavsic] remain silent in the face of so much spilt blood?” However, Mr. Wiesel himself has been the master of “silence.” In fact, he has been a consistent supporter of violence when it comes to Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and the illegitimate and immoral Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of West Bank and Gaza and Syrian territory of Golan Heights.

As can be expected of a New York Times reporter, Simons reports without any mention of the utter hypocrisies of Mrs. Albright and Mr. Wiesel. That these men and women can be witnesses in war crimes tribunal is quite amazing. There is no question that those responsible for war crimes in former Yugoslavia, such as Mrs. Plavsic, should be brought to justice. However, it is indecent and grotesque to ignore and erase out of public deliberations the crimes and the “silence” of our own political and “moral” leaders.

ABU SPINOZA is a pseudonym for an economist. This article appeared first in pressaction. He can be reached at: spinoza@counterpunch.org

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