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Genocide in Iraq?

Despite the precipitous plunge in his popularity and growing criticism of his competency, character, and style, George W. Bush is not really that much different from other presidents with respect to his hegemonic ambitions or his proclivity to use force to achieve foreign policy objectives.  Continuing historical patterns, President Bush and all presidents since World War II have committed horrendous crimes against humanity in order to protect and advance American interests under the guise of liberating people from under the jackboot of brutal dictators or communist subversives, bringing democracy to totalitarian states, improving the lives of those who are suffering and eradicating terrorism.

These are laudable goals reflecting prevailing shibboleths domestically.  These goals are an alluring mantle for the real paradigm governing foreign policy which is the pursuit of American interests with total indifference to the consequences to people victimized by American “ideals”.

The gaping discrepancy between the stated goals of American foreign policy and its praxis is best exemplified by the apogee of war crimes: genocide.  In its pursuit of these lofty goals, the United States has committed genocide in Iraq.  Intervention resulting in genocide at the very minimum proves that American government’s professed motives for foreign policy decisions are altogether specious.

Rationalizations for the application of military force have been based on euphemistic doctrines which have no basis in American or international law.  George W. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war was not new to foreign and defence policy strategists but can be traced back to Dean Acheson’s doctrine dismissing the applicability of international law to the United States as outlined in a speech to the American Society of International Law in 1963 in which he argued that:

The power, position and prestige of the US had been challenged [Cuban Missile Crisis] by another state and the law does not deal with such questions of ultimate      power – power that comes close to the source of sovereignty. [1]

In other words, national interests including meretricious threats to the sovereignty of the American State supersede international law despite the fact the United Nations Charter makes provisions for these exigencies.

The growing appetite for the unilateral application of force resulted in the “humanitarian intervention” or “illegal but legitimate” doctrine during the Clinton and Bush presidencies.  This doctrine validated acts of preemption that justified the use of force whenever a threat was neither imminent nor substantial but necessary to defend the security interests of the United States against a perceived threat easily manufactured through the propaganda of fear.

Invading and occupying Iraq under the pretext of a preemptive war, a country already decimated by Dessert Storm, sanctions and no-fly-zones, represents the quintessential tragedy and hypocrisy of American foreign policy.  To verify that the American Government is guilty of genocide in Iraq, I will establish a set of criteria based on the United Nations Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and apply them to Iraq.

The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide sets out a number of criteria to evaluate whether or not a war crime attains the magnitude of genocide.  These criteria are not without controversy but by examining the scholarly literature on the subject and the judgments of the International Criminal Court, I have established conservative standards to assess whether or not the American Government is responsible for genocide in Iraq.

According to the Convention:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:

a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm;
c) Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Although the phrase “in whole or in part” sounds ambiguous, its ambit has been restricted by judgments of the International Criminal Court.  According to the Rapporteur for the Preparatory Commission of the International Criminal Court, “The accused aimed to destroy a large part of the group in a particular area.”

The International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia concluded that “The killing of all members of a group within a small geographical area” was tantamount to genocide.

Notwithstanding the imprecision of these definitions of “part”, the area in Bosnia referred to in the ruling sets a baseline for future cases.  The architect of the Convention, Raphael Lemkin, intended to define “in part” as a level of destruction sufficiently substantial to imperil the existence of the group.  Shedding even further light on this problem, the Convention itself considers attempted genocide to be punishable under the Convention implying that intent alone is sufficient to establish guilt.

“Intent” is another term in need of clarification.  Apart from direct evidence through orders, statements, or coordinated acts, intention can be shown if “Acts of destruction that are not the specific goal but are predictable outcomes or by-products of a policy, which may have been avoided by a change in that policy.” [2]

The Genocide Convention defines two basic levels of guilt: the direct commission of genocide and complicity to commit genocide.

Complicity in genocide must embody:

Intentional participation; Knowledge of the genocidal intent of the perpetrators; Organizing, planning, supplying arms, training intelligence, or direct military support.

One example of direct American genocide, Iraq, has suffered massive destruction to its infrastructure, the economy and human life, particularly since the imposition of American sanctions in 1990 and the bombing in 1991.  UN Resolution 661 mandated sanctions against Iraq originally to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.  The resolution was worded in such a way as to grant the United States a veto over which products could be traded with Iraq.  The American government exploited that veto to severely punish the people of Iraq in the hope that they would overthrow Saddam Hussein themselves.

According to a 1993 UNICEF study, “What has become increasingly clear is that no significant movement toward food security can be achieved so long as the embargo remains in place.” [3]

Declassified documents divulge the fact that the Americans were aware of and responsible for a humanitarian crisis caused by the sanctions.  A Defense Intelligence Agency report on January 18, 1991 concludes that:

Failing to secure supplies [for Iraq] will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population.  This could lead to increased incidences; if not epidemics of disease…Current public health problems are attributable to the reduction of normal preventative medicine, waste disposal, water purification and distribution electricity, and the decreased ability to control disease outbreaks.[4]

On January 15, 1991, B-52s were flying towards their targets in Iraq and cruise missiles were fired from ships in the Indian Ocean.  Iraqi defences were incapable of offering any resistance.

Restricting the bombing to only military targets was not part of the U.S. war plan whereas targets included hospitals, electric utilities, schools, factories, water treatment plants, irrigation systems, food storage facilities and community health centres.  Over 200,000 people died, the majority of whom were civilians.

In 2003, George Bush Junior inflicted further atrocities on the devastated people of Iraq and on a country virtually bombed back into pre-industrial times by another so-called war.  As of today, Iraq has suffered a further one million casualties and four million refugees.

Whether or not the administrations of Bush Senior, Clinton, and Bush Junior intended to commit genocide in Iraq is irrelevant because the consequences of the bombings and sanctions could have been predicted by any reasonable person.  The actions of these administrations clearly resulted in mass killing, serious bodily and mental harm, and the infliction of conditions calculated to bring about Iraq’s physical destruction in whole or in part.  Iraq is a clear-cut case of genocide.

The carnage resulting from this genocide clearly exposes the disparity between the professed principles of American foreign policy and its manifest practice.  This hypocrisy betrays the indifference of American leaders to basic democratic principles and to respect for both domestic and international law.

DAVID MODEL is a Professor of Political Science at Seneca College. He is the author of States of Darkness: US Complicity in Genocides Since 1945. He can be reached at: david.model@senecac.on.ca

Notes

[1]   Acheson, D. (1968). Dean Acheson’s remark is quoted in Louis Henkin: “How Nations Behave: Law and Foreign Policy.” Columbia University Press. P. 265-266.

[2]   Gellately, R., and Kiernan, B. (Eds.). (2003). The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press. P. 15.

[3]   UNICEF Report. (1993). Children, War, and Sanctions. Cited in Ullrich, G. (1998)  “The effects of Sanctions on the Civilian Community of Iraq.”

[4]  Defense Intelligence Agency. (1991, January 8). Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities.

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