The armchair warriors who directed the American-led conquest of Iraq would like us to believe that the estimated 10,000 innocent civilians who died in the invasion were simply unfortunate, inadvertant, unavoidable, accidental victims of a just and noble action. No one wanted these innocent people to die. Surely no American leader ever knowingly ordered a mission with the certain knowledge that innocent people were going to be killed by it. These deaths just happened; no one is to blame for them.
That’s what the armchair warriors tell the world — and themselves too, no doubt, when they look into the mirror every morning. But like almost every other statement issued by the Bush Regime on the subject of Iraq, this comforting fairytale is a cynical, blood-soaked lie. To take just one example: American military commanders revealed last week that up to 1,500 civilian deaths were personally approved by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
In a debriefing for American and “Coalition” brass, U.S. Lieutenant General Michael Mosley confirmed that all air war commanders were required to get Rumsfeld’s direct approval for any airstrike that would likely kill more than 30 innocent people, the New York Times reports. That certainly sounds like admirably strict oversight for such a momentous battlefield decision. In practice, however, Rumsfeld’s management of the process was based on the same philosophy that his boss George W. Bush applied to death-penalty cases when he was governor of Texas: “What the hell, let ’em fry!”
More than 50 times, Rumsfeld was approached with mission plans likely to leave at least 30 innocent people vaporized and mutilated by unstoppable high-tech weaponry crashing down on them without warning, without the slightest chance of escape. More than 50 times, Rumsfeld signed his name to these multiple death-warrants: every such mission was approved, said Mosley.
Of course, an accurate count of the civilians killed at Rumsfeld’s direct order is impossible to obtain. In the fiery chaos of the invasion, hundreds, perhaps thousands of dead civilians were buried in makeshift graves, unmarked graves, even mass graves, often by strangers. These corpses may never be fully accounted for. So we must make do with estimates. We could lowball it–an average of, say, “only” six civilian deaths per mission instead of the likely 30–and come up with a figure of 300 innocent men, women and children eviscerated at Rumsfeld’s personal command. A more contentious high-balling–an average of 50 civilian deaths per mission–would give us at least 2,500 innocent men, women and children burned to death and blown to bits on Rumsfeld’s order: a number approaching the death toll of the September 11 attacks.
Bushist minions would doubtless say that this “collateral damage” is the unintentional by-product of actions designed to achieve strictly military objectives. What’s more, American forces placed unprecedented restraints on their rules of engagement precisely to avoid civilian casulties.
True enough. But when the overall military action itself is unjust–based on the calculated perversion of public trust by lies invoking an “imminent threat” which was patently non-existent, and on the constantly insinuated blood libel that Iraq was somehow complicit in the September 11 massacres; when, furthermore, the military action is illegal–an act of unilateral aggression unsanctioned by international law, the UN Charter or the Constitution of the United States (which does not give Congress the authority to delegate its warmarking powers to the personal whim of the president)–then the innocent deaths that result from such an action cannot be “justified” as the result of “normal” wartime operations.
In this context of illegality, the Bushists are left with nothing but the logic of gangsterism–an “Al Capone” Defense: “I tried real hard not to kill too many innocent bystanders when I robbed that bank.” No court would accept such “restraint” as mitigation for murders committed in the course of criminal activity.
It’s clear that the civilian deaths caused by the invasion of Iraq cannot be ascribed to some bloodless abstraction–“the fortunes of war,” etc.,–but are instead the direct personal responsibility of all those in the national leadership of America and Britain who concocted and promulgated this illicit enterprise. And the greatest share of guilt must go to those who wield the greatest authority. The blood of hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent people is thus smeared across the snarling visage of Donald Rumsfeld.
But the ultimate responsibility must be laid at the ultimate authority, the man who indeed insists that it was his imperial will alone that launched the invasion: George W. Bush. True, it’s painfully obvious that he is the witless mouthpiece of ideological extremists like Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney–those Bolsheviki of the boardroom. In fact, Bush is apparently ignorant of the actual events that led up to the war: in one of his very rare unscripted remarks, he panicked and told reporters last week that he invaded Iraq only after Saddam Hussein “wouldn’t allow UN inspectors into the country”–a breathtaking display of disassociation from reality.
Nonetheless, this fatuous delusionary willingly placed himself at the head of the extremist junta that is now bankrupting his own country and killing thousands of innocent people as it runs roughshod over the world. His carefully-cultivated ignorance doesn’t excuse his guilt. He may hope, as his accomplice Tony Blair pathetically declared last week, that “history will forgive us” for waging war under false pretenses; but in their unmarked graves, the murdered dead will forever call him to account
CHRIS FLOYD is a columnist for the Moscow Times and a regular contributor to CounterPunch. My CounterPunch piece on Rumsfeld’s plan to provoke terrorist attacks came in at Number 4 on Project Censored’s final tally of the Most Censored
stories of 2002. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org