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Back when the Bush administration filed a brief in federal court opposing the decision to award almost a billion dollars in damages to 17 Americans who had been captured and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s government during the Gulf War, it appeared to be a strange move.
Granted, the Bush administration claimed that Iraq was no longer a terrorist state, and thus didn’t fall under the U.S. law that allowed such suits, but then, a country ordinarily is liable for the obligations incurred under earlier regimes (the US has usually been among the most insistent on this principle). Iraq, for example, still owes much of the foreign debt accrued under Hussein to build his palaces and monuments, and will continue to do so unless the creditors forgive it. Besides, at the time the administration was making its argument against the judgement against Iraq, there was no government in Iraq–just the U.S. occupation authority. And there was this huge pot of reconstruction money voted by Congress which was just sitting around waiting to be transferred into the coffers of Halliburton and other U.S. companies. A billion wouldn’t have been missed, and it would have been such a nice gesture to the soldiers who had suffered so at Saddam’s hands.
Now, of course, after all the disclosures about American torture of captured prisoners, the administration’s move makes more sense. If Americans could effectively sue a foreign terrorist regime for abusing them in violation of the Geneva Accords, so could those hundreds of victims of American torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
And the U.S. government wouldn’t even have the excuse that the Iraq government was able to use, that it is no longer a terrorist regime. America under George Bush fits that definition very nicely, from its "shock and awe" bombardment campaign at the start of its unprovoked invasion of Iraq to the invasion itself, to its use of anti-personnel weapons in crowded urban environments, and to its its indiscriminate use of maximally toxic depleted uranium weapons.
It is even supporting the request for asylum of a Cuban exile who was responsible for killing over 70 people in the bombing of a passenger aircraft. Of course, America has been a terrorist state for decades: what, if not terror, was the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which saw tens of thousands of South Vietnamese killed–often along with innocent family members–simply because they supported that country’s nationalist revolution?
What else besides terror was the illegal CIA-directed Contra campaign against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government?
What else was the U.S.-backed coup against the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile and the subsequent execution of thousands of Chileans?
The list of such terrorist acts is endless, but at least prior governments had enough of a sense of shame to try to hide them from the American public. But now the Bush administration openly espouses and defends such terrorist policies, including the illegal kidnapping of foreign nationals who are shipped off ("rendition" is the term of choice, the same word used to describe what they do to old horses) to other states and handed over to the tender mercies of their secret police for purposes of torture.
How could such a government as ours support the idea of terror victims suing nations for their pain and suffering, without inviting such lawsuits against itself?
And so we have the sorry spectacle of American veterans betrayed by their own government after an American court has ruled that they are owed
compensation for their suffering.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org