FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

America’s Criminal Occupation

by ROGER NORMAND

Eeach new revelation of torture, abuse, lies and cover-up exposes the American occupation of Iraq as a criminal enterprise masquerading as liberation.

There has been much speculation as to whether Washington’s neoconservative rulers actually believe the nonsense about freedom and human rights or whether they are driven solely by power and profit. It makes little difference to the people of Iraq. After 30 years of Western-sponsored domestic tyranny, they must now suffer the brutal depredations of foreign occupation. As the popular Iraqi saying goes, “the student is gone; the master has come.”

The American script portrays all Iraqi opposition–not just attacks against civilians–as terrorism, even though international law recognises the right to resist occupation through armed struggle. The same script dismisses U.S. abuses as isolated excesses. But the dehumanisation of Iraqis evident in the photos from Abu Ghraib prison is not the handiwork of a few “bad apples.” It is part and parcel of an American policy that seeks to justify imperialism in an explicitly post-imperial world order. In this respect, torture is only the visible tip of a vast iceberg of lawless behaviour. In the routine grind of maintaining occupation, U.S. forces are committing war crimes and human rights violations on a daily basis.

The laws of occupation–derived primarily from the Hague and Geneva Conventions and the International Bill of Human Rights–impose two fundamental obligations on Occupying Powers. First and foremost is to withdraw military forces and end the occupation as soon as possible. Second is to safeguard the rights of the occupied population during the temporary period before the occupation is ended. The occupier gains no sovereign rights and is prohibited from manipulating the country’s future, plundering its resources, and repressing its people.

As documented in a recent report by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, U.S. occupation policy stands in contradiction to these basic legal principles. The report’s major findings can be summarised as follows:

Failure to Allow Self-Determination. The U.S. is appointing Iraqi leaders without elections or popular participation (the handpicked Prime Minister is a known CIA asset), retaining control over security matters, building an extensive network of military bases throughout the country, and transforming the economy along free market lines. Under these conditions, the purported “transfer of sovereignty” on June 30 is a form of political theatre without legal effect, regardless of the fig leaf of legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council. Genuine self-determination requires the free exercise of political choice, actual control over military and security affairs, and authority over social and economic policy. Until this happens, Iraq will remain an occupied country, and the U.S. will remain accountable as an occupying power.

Failure to Ensure Public Safety. The U.S. created a climate of unchecked lawlessness by eliminating the entire army and police forces without a back-up plan to maintain public safety–predictably resulting in a dramatic increase in violent crime throughout the country, especially directed against women. The U.S. also violated international law and caused untold damage to the people and heritage of Iraq by allowing the wholesale looting of cultural institutions, private businesses and governmental offices–with the notable exception of the Oil Ministry. This occurred in plain view, and at times with the active encouragement, of American troops.

Detention and Torture. The Red Cross estimates that up to 90 per cent of Iraqis in detention are innocent civilians swept up in illegal mass arrests and held incommunicado from family members without charge or due process. U.S. forces also hold family members of wanted suspects as hostages. Once detained, prisoners may be subject to a range of abuses, including physical and sexual torture, rape, and murder. The Bush Administration continues to cover up command responsibility and deny that these abuses meet the legal definition of torture, even though a number of secret government reports have surfaced explicitly authorising the use of torture against alleged “terrorists”.

Collective Punishment. Taking lessons from Israeli war crimes in occupied Palestine, the U.S. has imposed collective punishment on Iraqi civilians. Tactics include demolishing civilian homes, ordering curfews in populated areas, preventing free movement through checkpoints and road closures, sealing off entire towns and villages, and using indiscriminate force in crowded urban areas, causing widespread and unnecessary civilian casualties. Moreover, ambulances, medical staff and facilities, and journalists–given special protections under the Geneva Conventions–have been frequently targeted.

Failure to Protect Economic and Social Rights. Already damaged by war and 12 years of sanctions, essential public services such as electricity, water, and sanitation have only deteriorated under the American occupation, leading to increased poverty and widespread violations of the rights to life, work, health, food, and education. The U.S. exacerbated joblessness by summarily dismissing workers with any association to the former Baath regime, including civil servants, teachers, engineers, and other professionals; 60 per cent of Iraqis are now unemployed. The health infrastructure is a shambles, drugs and medical supplies are in short supply, and medical staff report disease outbreaks and increased mortality throughout the country. Over 70 per cent of the population depends on a monthly food ration and 11 million Iraqis are classified as food insecure. The education system has broken down, with two-thirds of school-age children in Baghdad skipping school because of dilapidated conditions, lack of teachers, and fears of crime.

Fundamentally Changing the Economy. The U.S. is violating the prohibition against changing Iraq’s economic structure by imposing drastic free market “reforms” through executive fiat. These orders permit privatisation of state enterprises, 100 per cent foreign ownership of Iraqi firms, tax-free repatriation of all investment profits, 40-year leases on contracts, a flat tax rate of 15 per cent, and the abolition of all tariffs and protective trade measures. In effect, the entire reconstruction process has been run as a form of thinly disguised plunder, with politically-connected American (and some British) corporations pocketing billions of dollars in bloated contracts while Iraq slides into chaos and poverty.

To top it off, the U.S. has granted its occupation forces blanket immunity under local law for any and all crimes committed in Iraq, no matter how egregious. This is the modern version of legal extraterritoriality formerly enjoyed by the British in their colonial holdings.

The pervasive and systematic lawlessness underpinning the occupation of Iraq is no accident. The neoconservatives in Washington understand that the rule of law stands as an obstacle to unleashing the full force of the U.S. war machine. They understand that the “New American Century” requires new rules of engagement, that the endless war against evil and terror requires dividing the world into “us and them” according to the dictates of American power rather than universal standards of legality. So George Bush repackages unilateral aggression–defined as “the supreme international crime” by the Nuremberg Tribunal–as preventive war, while his top lawyer derides the Geneva Conventions as “quaint and outdated.”

This appears to mark a radical break from past American policy. But it is more accurately understood as an extension and intensification of the longstanding tradition of “U.S. exceptionalism”–the doctrine whereby every country in the world except the U.S. (and favoured allies like Israel) is bound by international law. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is merely the gold standard of U.S. exceptionalism, an attempt to elevate double standards to the status of law itself rather than a privileged exception to the law. In a sense, the Bush Administration has attacked not only Iraq but the entire United Nations system of post-colonial sovereignty.

The manipulation of legal language to serve unlawful ends is, of course, not a uniquely American position. Throughout history, powerful nations have stood above the law and claimed the right to liberate “less civilised” peoples through the use of military violence disguised as humanitarian intervention. The rhetoric of freedom masks the reality of conquest, subjugation, pillage, and torture. Occupied peoples have resisted such unwelcome liberation by all means at their disposal, from non-violent mass action to guerilla war, until either the invader is thrown out or the population is conquered and subdued.

The occupation of Iraq is proving to be no exception to this time-tested paradigm. The American empire, which appeared invincible only a year ago, is floundering in the sands of Mesopotamia. The only question remains how many people will have to die before Iraqis are allowed to exercise genuine self-determination.

ROGER NORMAND is Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, a human rights organisation based in New York. He has led fact-finding missions to Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan in recent years.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail