They Broke the Law and People Died

A five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has declared, in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling handed down late last month, that President Bush and his administration were in violation of the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Now let’s think about that for a moment.

If a judge said that you had broken the state law against driving over the speed of 65 miles per hour, that would mean you were being declared a “”speeder,” right? Similarly, if a judge or jury found that you had violated the law against using a gun to threaten someone on the street and to take his wallet, you were being called an armed robber. If a judge said that you had planned out and then killed someone you didn’t like, you were being called a first-degree murderer.

So what were the justices doing when they said that Bush had violated the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War? They were calling him a war criminal.

It’s pretty clear really.

The president has responded by going to Congress in an effort to get the compliant Republicans and probably some cowed or fawning Democrats (like embattled Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, no doubt), to retroactively declare that the captives at Guantanamo are exempt from the protections of the Geneva Convention, but that doesn’t change the fact that as of today, and in the eyes of the world, he is a war criminal, and has been declared such by the nation’s highest court.

What should happen, of course, at this point, is that someone–the Attorney General, or perhaps special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald–should move to indict those who have perpetrated this heinous and shameful crime against humanity, and against the people of the United States. That would mean indictments on war crimes charges of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Former AG John Ashcroft, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House Counsel and now AG Alberto Gonzales, former terrorism prosecutor and now Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and President and Commander in Chief George Bush, the Decider. Of course, because the president is protected against indictment while in office, his indictment would have to be served after he leaves office.

At the same time, there should be a bill of impeachment submitted to the House immediately demanding the impeachment of the president on war crimes charges. Instead of entertaining discussions on how to do an end run around the Geneva Conventions, Congress should be initiating impeachment proceedings to restore America’s sorry reputation abroad on this issue. The American government is quick to call for war crimes charges against the likes of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic or Pol Pot, but when it comes to the criminals in our own government, we change the channel.

This would be an easy hearing. No need to subpoena lots of low-ranking people and grill them about what the president was “really” up to. We know. He was brazenly asserting the right of a dictator: to shove aside the nation’s Constitution, and the international treaties his predecessors had negotiated and signed, and to simply ignore the rule of law, declaring that people captured in Afghanistan or Iraq, or kidnapped by U.S. forces in other countries abroad, as part of the bogus “war” on terror, would not have even the minimal rights and protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions. The House Judiciary could just call in Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote quite clearly in his opinion in Hamdan, that the president was in violation of provisions of the Third Geneva Convention.

At that point, the president could be tried in the Senate, where, if the Senators were honest, they’d have to agree that he was a war criminal, and remove him from the White House.

Then he could be added to his indicted cabinet officers, and they could all face war crimes charges together.

I’m not in favor of the death penalty, so I don’t think Rumsfeld, Rice, Chertoff & Co. should face capital punishment for their role in this gross crime. But as for Bush and his legal lackey, Alberto Gonzales, I could make an exception. Bush, after all, oversaw and approved the execution of a record 152 people on Texas’s death row while serving as governor of that benighted state. Gonzales, as Gov. Bush’s legal counsel, had the job of looking over the clemency petitions of most of those men and women, and in only one case was clemency recommended and granted. The blood of all those people, many or most of whom were never afforded fair trials under Texas’ notoriously shoddy and biased legal system, which has allowed poor defendants in capital cases to have lawyers who slept or drank their way through their trials, is on Bush’s and Gonzales’ hands.

Gonzales, in a memo to the president which my co-author Barbara Olshansky and I include in the appendix of our new book, The Case for Impeachment, pointedly warned Bush that at some future date, he and his advisers could face prosecution for war crimes on grounds of the torture of detainees which he was approving at Guantanamo Bay. Gonzales further noted that where death of captives occurred, the punishment could be death. Knowing that, I say,if a court were to determine that Bush and Gonzales are liable for deaths in Guantanamo or elsewhere where POW’s have been illegally held and tortured at the president’s direction, they probably should get a taste of their own deadly medicine, as is called for in the Geneva Conventions, and in the U.S. Criminal Code, into which those Conventions as were incorporated by act of Congress.



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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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