"One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: tortures, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing-down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning. …"
* * *
"…[T]here had been a moment … of luminous certainty, when each new suggestion …had filled up a patch of emptiness and become absolute truth, and when two and two could have been three as easily as five, if that were what was needed. …"
* * *
"Almost unconsciously he traced with his finger in the dust on the table: 2 + 2 = 5. ‘They can’t get inside you,’ she had said. But they could get inside you. ‘What happens to you here is forever…’ "
– George Orwell, 1984
On May 18, John Philo and I sent a letter to Congressman John Conyers, asking that he begin the process of seeking appointment of a special counsel to investigate the top figures in the Bush/Cheney Administration, as well as a few of their most notorious co-conspirators, for war crimes, conspiracy, and cover-up. Specifically, we suggested that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Cambone, Douglas Feith, Lewis Libbey, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Michael Ledeen, James Woolsey, Newt Gingrich, and John Ashcroft should be investigated.
At least two out of the many Internet responses to this modest proposal should be shared here. One writer suggested that we add Tony Blair and Ariel Sharon to the list. And a Canadian correspondent, who will remain unnamed, but who admits to the questionable personal information of being a Calgary Flames professional hockey fan, cited the letter to Congressman Conyers as proof that "not all Americans are morons."
Only 2 days later, on May 20, the ever-responsive People’s champion on Capitol Hill Rep. Conyers of Detroit, along with all the other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Ashcroft, requesting that he "appoint a special counsel to investigate whether high ranking officials within the Bush Administration violated the War Crimes Act, 18 USC 2441, by approving the use of torture techniques banned by international law."
On May 24, a journalist in Detroit asked me whether I expected any of this to actually happen. This is the full answer.
2 + 2 = 4
There are two big things going on simultaneously, they are related, and they are a basis to believe that accusing the US Government’s top-ranking morons of war crimes is worth the time and effort. They are:
1. The issue of war crimes and US responsibility in the so-called "war on terror," in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, immigration sweeps here at home, and elsewhere, has clearly taken on a life of its own in mass corporate media and in the public mind. There have been countless articles and leaks of major secret government documents (such as Major General Antonio Taguba’s report with pictures regarding tortures employed at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, ongoing investigations of prisoners’ deaths in US custody, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez’ memo referring to the Geneva Conventions as "obsolete" and "quaint"). The publication of such damning evidence indicates that there are those in the US Government and the military who are now apparently trying to stop the Bush regime by revealing its sordid secrets. This is something we in the peace movement should be taking full advantage of by demanding justice. <2.Meanwhile> the imperial crusade for oil and world domination via
Iraq is completely falling apart. The occupation of Iraq now lacks any shred of credibility it ever had, with increasing violence and assassinations in the run up to the fraudulent June 30 "transfer of sovereignty." After the torture revelations, massacres of Sunnis in Fallujah, and the uprising of Shia in the south around the cities of Najaf, Karbala, Kufa, and the extreme fundamentalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, it can truly be seen by anybody with eyes that the emperor has no clothes. The idea that George W. Bush can give a series of speeches and put this turkey back in flight only reveals the vast distance between his administration and the reality of the world we live in at this point. News flash to Dubyah, Rove and their mind control apparatus spinning out of control: two and two does not equal three, or five. Imperial occupation is not "sovereignty," "liberation, "freedom" or "democracy." You can’t fool all the People all the time, and your act is wearing very thin.
In the above context, the letter John Philo and I sent to Congressman Conyers raised two closely related key issues that deserve special attention, in addition to the ugly reality of torture throughout the secret dungeons of the US gulag:
<1.The> full criminal responsibility lies with officials at the very top of the US Government for these war crimes, not just with "the seven morons who lost the war" by posing for sadistic photographs in Abu Ghraib, or even with the generals and other command officers who supervised the torture; and <2.The> illegal war against Iraq is itself a crime, and the major source of torture as well as all the other war crimes of the US Government and military in the so-called "war on terror." In other words, it is not "merely" the use and approval of "torture techniques banned by international law" (as horrifying and critical as this issue in fact is), that should constitute the full war crimes scandal, properly understood. Rather, unilateral preemptive war in Iraq raises the issue of personal criminal responsibility of top US Government policy makers, under the Nuremberg Principles, the UN Charter’s prohibition of aggression, crimes against peace and crimes against humanity.
What’s the Use?
I don’t know, and neither can anybody else, if Ashcroft’s Justice Department after one of their daily prayer breakfasts, or an awakened majority of congresspersons, or perhaps even a court presented with a petition seeking an investigation, can be persuaded to actually order appointment of a special counsel to investigate war crimes at the top of the US Government. With the stakes this high, there are obviously no guarantees of anything. But there are at least four reasons why the peace movement, its sister movement for global justice, and others should loudly take up this call:
1. Condemning the war crimes of Bush, Cheney & Co., as described above, even without appointment of a special counsel, could help deprive the Bush pirates of what tiny remnants of credibility they may still possess in some isolated pockets of US public opinion, which they desperately need to continue their policies. The catastrophic failure of the Iraq fiasco pretty much accomplishes this all by itself for the vast majority of the world’s People. Especially if they continue to prosecute and punish military underlings, while Ashcroft and his bosses refuse to subject their own misconduct to any independent official investigation, this issue frames the pirates’ humiliating defeat not only with their monumental arrogance of power and their staggering incompetence, but with their systematic and continuing criminality & hypocrisy as well.
A broad discussion of the war crimes of Bush, Cheney & Co, on the Internet and in other media, is a classic "win-win." If a special counsel is appointed, the advantages are obvious. If not, any opportunity they might otherwise have to rehabilitate their credibility is even further undermined. Turning up the heat on those ultimately responsible for the Iraq disaster by calling for them to be prosecuted for war crimes could be one of the most promising ways to keep this mess from getting even worse.
2. It makes strategic sense to take advantage of the logic of scapegoating that’s been adopted by the pirates themselves to deal with the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal and their broader failures in Iraq. The administration has clearly stated for years, and demonstrated by their actions that they have nothing but contempt for any restrictions the rule of law places on their power. That contemptuous attitude and the policies that flow from it are the source of the crimes, which they are now trying to limit to a handful of scapegoats. The top would-be scapegoat himself, the "splendid" secretary of defense, has ridiculously tried to distinguish "abuse" in Abu Ghraib from "torture." Under these circumstances, they should not be heard to claim that the documented misconduct of their subordinates does not fairly represent acts and policies of those at the top.
Responsibility for human rights abuses should clearly extend far beyond and above a few "bad apples" in one military police unit. Spc. Jeremy Sivits plead guilty to participating in the prison abuse, and was given a year in prison and dishonorable discharge. SSgt. Camilo Mejia went AWOL because he refused to continue participation in the atrocities he witnessed in Iraq, including abuse of prisoners. He too was given a year in prison and dishonorable discharge (subject to appeal, based on the court martial’s refusal to let him challenge the illegality of the war and the atrocities he refused to participate in). How long can the chickenhawk high command and their partners in crime maintain both that kind of harsh punishment regime against their own troops, and also deny and escape legal scrutiny of much more authoritative contributions they personally made to the same crimes? Write your congresspersons and editors, raise hell about it and see if we can find out.
3. This is the "exit strategy," folks. It’s impossible to tell when the rapidly escalating bloodshed, cost, and moral & intellectual bankruptcy of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" will result in its liquidation. At this point it seems virtually certain that this will eventually happen. Carping in the US corporate media about the supposed "lack of an exit strategy" reflects the spinelessness of those who still seem unwilling to hold the Bush Administration’s feet to the fire of accountability, for what has come to be seen in many quarters as one of the most remarkable, appalling and massive failures of judgment and power in history. The politically expedient sacrifice of Rumsfeld’s office would serve only as a last-ditch attempt to insulate Bush and Cheney themselves from the fallout. If the American People are to firmly stand apart from this administration’s crimes, and begin the long-term process of getting out of the quagmire of terrorism and Iraq, much more will be required. What John Philo and I said in our letter a week ago on May 18 bears repeating in this connection, again and again until it is heard by everyone and judged on its merits:
"Everywhere today we hear the question: "How will America regain its credibility?"… Investigate their crimes pursuant to law, indict them based on the massive record of facts supporting such an indictment, and put the top architects of this illegal and deadly policy of permanent, "pre-emptive" war on public trial."
In light of the utter fiasco in Iraq, the incredible pain and suffering of the Bush/Cheney administration’s many victims, and the resultant devastating damage to US credibility virtually everywhere, it may well be that nothing less will do the trick.
4. This is the message: It’s the Bush/Cheney Administration, not the American People, who declared, in their "National Security Strategy" in September 2002 what is, in effect, a policy of systematically and intentionally flouting laws. It’s the Bush/Cheney Administration, not the American People, who planned, propagated, executed and are responsible for the military and political disaster that is Iraq. It’s the Bush/Cheney Administration, not the American People, who need to be seen by the rest of the world and by future generations as responsible. And it’s the Bush/Cheney Administration, not the American People, who should personally pay the full price for their moronic, racist and hateful policies. If we let them get away with what they have done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and in our own backyards, the consequences will be even more horrible, and we deserve whatever we get.
The power of the Bush/Cheney administration depends on a manufactured reality. This sophisticated illusion can be effectively fought by exposing the many intimate connections between: 1) the tortures and other human rights abuses that have recently come to light; 2) the criminal wars of aggression that led directly to these crimes; and 3) their criminal motivations for control of oil and imperial power projection, by establishing strategically located military bases. Both the command responsibilities for the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, and the dramatic unraveling of the Iraqi occupation over the past couple months, have the quality of "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," an unsurpassed "teachable moment." The levers and sources of illegitimate power are being revealed. Whether the-powers-that-think-they-be have the guts to take action is a separate point. It’s up to us as the opponents of such power to publicly and insistently call its proponents to account for their many crimes.
This result may not be achieved, one way or the other, before the election in November, and (ugh) maybe not even then. It may not ever be achievable through criminal prosecutions of the lead henchmen. It will certainly take a while, at best. Americans too often want instant results, which in view of the powerful and entrenched interests behind these horrendous crimes of State, is a patently unreasonable expectation. But at least the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are asking the right questions, which is a good start. By actively and persistently seeking to hold those truly responsible for some of the most horrible misdeeds of our times fully accountable under law for their actions, we can begin to give meaning to the concept of "justice" for a world that sorely needs it.
"…[Orwell’s 1984] was, as many have noticed, a warning: a warning about the future of human freedom in a world where political organization and technology can manufacture power in dimensions that would have stunned the imaginations of earlier ages. … And we hear echoes of that warning chord in the constant demand for greater security and comfort, for less risk in our societies. We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered for whatever good reason are freedom lost."
– from Walter Cronkite’s Preface to 1984
TOM STEPHENS is a lawyer in Detroit. He can be reached at: lebensbaum4@earthlink.