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The Cowards’ Wars

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods.

They kill us for their sport

— Edgar in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear”

[The condemnation of Radovan Karadzic to forty years of imprisonment by the International Crime Tribunal-Yugoslavia occasions these reflections.]

They come; they see; people die. They laugh. Or say it was worth it. Their maps are not a territory inhabited by living beings; they are military targets. They bomb from safe altitudes, no lower than 15,000 feet (Yugoslavia, 1999, for example) to protect their own volunteer warriors. In 38,000 sorties and 22,000 tons of bombs in three months (Yugoslavia, 1999), they never lost a plane. They promise the people their bombs will not harm a hair on their heads; then, they bomb markets and bridges at noon, when people are at their thickest; the say they are as careful at noon as they are at midnight. They claim they have nothing against the people—only against their leaders; then they bomb water supplies, electrical grids, schools, hospitals, churches, libraries, museums. They hold civilians in their power, hostages to their air force, their cluster and phosphorus bombs. They poison the land with depleted uranium and raise whole crops of human cancers for generations. They send drones. They fund, train, and arm cutthroat armies. They terrorize civilians for their political ends. They are the humanitarians of the “international community,” and they have nothing to envy the conquistadores, the exterminators of native people, the enslavers, the imperialists of times gone by. They are the agents of collateral genocide.

They are the terror they claim to fight, and they dress it in noble words.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” (9 March to 9 April 2003) claimed from 40,000 to 100,000 Iraqi military deaths. “Insurgent” deaths (April 2003 to January 2009) amounted to between 26, 320 and 27, 000. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated from between 190,000 and one million. The death toll for “Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan” (2001-2014) adds up to 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. By contrast, the NATO British contingent in Afghanistan, a total of 134, 780 troops, lost 447. At a conservative estimate the total deaths caused by the “war on terror” in these three war zones alone are 1.3 million (estimates from Iraqi Body Count, The Lancet, Physicians for Social Responsibilities). But these estimates include only deaths resulting from violent conflict. They do not include deaths resulting from the aftermath of war—destroyed infrastructure and support institutions. From sanctions: the regime of sanction in Iraq, August 6th (Hiroshima Day) 1991 to 2003, claimed 1.7 million Iraqi lives, according to UN data.

How do they get away with it? By thwarting, strong-arming, co-opting, bribing, rewriting, and abusing international law: the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1976 amended Geneva Conventions (on the laws and customs of war, which the US did not sign), the Charter of the United Nations, and their own constitutions. They wage wars of aggression in the name of abstractions or noble causes—“the war on terror,” R2P, “human rights,” and the prize, “genocide,” debasing the term, if convenient, to a street rumble between two ethnic groups.

What if the United Nations issued a resolution banning wars on abstractions? The “wars on terror” would become illegal (and, no, they didn’t end with Obama; they just became the “humanitarian wars”). The Security Council could order a “global police action” to sweep up and “neutralize” the army of cutthroats. So far, only Russia has shown, with actions in Syria, that it is willing to act to remove the terrorist scourge, whose atrocities proliferate and extend from the Middle East, through the heart of Africa, to European capitals. As I write, the Syrian Army, backed by Russian airstrikes, has retaken Palmyra, a significant strategic victory, opening the way to liberation of Raqqa, the IS stronghold, in the east of Syria.

But, in fact, there is no need for such a resolution. The UN Charter forbids wars of aggression. It specifies that breaking the peace to wage a “war of choice” is the “supreme international crime.” The provisions of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC) include jurisdiction over crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes but exclude the “supreme international crime,” the crime of aggression. This exclusion resulted at the instigation of the US in 1998-99, just as it prepared to attack Serbia in the Kosovo War. The US signed (Clinton) and then unsigned (Bush) the statute, without ever intending to ratify it, but it meddled, bullied and coerced so as to make it clear who was in charge of writing and unwriting the laws, who had the right to impunity ad infinitum, based on its assumed altruistic morality of intervening to adjust the affairs of the world.

The US exercised every political muscle to subordinate the ICC to the authority of the Security Council, where it could exercise its veto power to deep-six any prosecution of crimes it opposed. It favored ad-hoc tribunals such as the International Tribunal for Crimes in Yugoslavia (ICTY), instituted by the Security Council in 1993, at the request of the US. A virtual kangaroo court, it abducted and tried Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague in a show trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes—without any substantial evidence, limiting time for cross-examination by the defense, using pseudo-legal pretexts to harass and obstruct it, treating the defense contemptuously, and in every way demonstrating that the tribunal was politically motivated, a feature contrary to the spirit and purpose of criminal law. The tribunal refused to investigate credible evidence charging NATO with war crimes, though it was charged with investigating crimes committed by all parties in the tragic secession wars of Yugoslavia. An example will suffice to demonstrate the political bias of the tribunal: Milosevic was indicted, among other spurious charges, for murdering 374 people; NATO killed 500 civilians. Only one of the two was investigated.

Failing to secure impunity for aggression by placing the ICC under the authority of the Security Council, the US insisted on an amendment, preventing the court from exercising that jurisdiction, until seven eights of ratifying states agreed on a definition of aggression and the means by which it could be prosecuted. Until the angels stop dancing on the pin of that prevarication, the US and its junior partners in the “international community” can freely exercise their right to crimes of aggression. This is how the ICC lists the crimes of aggression it is prevented from prosecuting:

*Invasion or attack by armed forces against territory

*Military occupation of territory

*Annexation of territory

*Bombardment against territory

*Use of any weapons against territory

*Blockade of ports or coasts

*Attack on the land, sea. Or air forces or marine and air fleets

*The use of armed forces which are within the territory of another state by agreement, but in contravention of the conditions of the agreement

*Allowing territory to be used by another state to perpetrate an act of aggression against a third state

*Sending armed bands, groups, irregulars, or mercenaries to carry out acts of armed force

Tell me one crime of aggression the “international community,” the dogs of war, has not committed with impunity since the unfortunate downfall of the Soviet Union in their unopposed quest for recolonizing the world? Do you wonder that Putin is garnering so much global popularity for insisting on acting within the law? How many Security Council resolutions have authorized actions by the “international community” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen—not to mention actions in martyred Africa or the underhanded counter-reform chicaneries in Latin America? None. This is a period of American absolutism, which is wiping clean the rule of law off the face of the earth. The result is creeping barbarism. No one is safe from Timbuktu to Brussels. Anarchy is indeed loosed upon the world.

Take Libya: now that it is not even a functional state, does any law there even apply? Why do the cowards who destroyed it bother to twist themselves into knots, like serpents in a pit, to justify a second intervention? Why don’t they maraud right in—like ISIS does? Because cowards cannot admit to cowardice, much less submit to judgment–and because the tatters they made of the law are the last cover for these scoundrels’ moral nakedness. They drag others into their bolgia of deepening Hell. Right now, for NATO member Italy, it’s a question of complying with US request, already approved in late February, to use the military base at Sigonella, Sicily, to send drones to Libya to protect American Special Forces while they clear out ISIS. Since when have Special Forces required the assistance of a mechanical Mary Poppins? They’re supposed to be in dangerous situation, by definition. It’s not conscience that “makes cowards of [them] all.” It’s criminality. If Qaddafi had not been sadistically and illegally removed (check list of crimes of aggression above) there would be no ISIS in Libya.

Never mind: Sigonella will be used for American drone raids in Libya. Opposition in the Italian Parliament and public opinion are vocally against this use, so the Italian government is presenting the project as “defensive,” just as in 1999 the formula of “integrated defense” was deployed to justify the use of Italian Tornadoes bombing Yugoslavia. Drones in this case will not be “defensive.” Contrary to the idea of protecting Special Forces, drones depend on precisely those forces on the ground to furnish the exact coordinates of the target the drone must hit and destroy. Precision attacks will be launched from Sigonella not “integrated defense.”

And then what? Retaliation— Paris, Istanbul, Beirut, Brussels in Rome or Milan? State of siege in Italy? Suspension of civil liberties? Hecatombs of dead civilians? Well may the Italian government resent the publicity the United States has bestowed on the accord over the use of Sigonella. They would have preferred to keep the accord secret, hoping that ISIS wouldn’t notice Italy’s collaboration with US forces in Libya. Fat chance, but cowards and gangsters think like that—make it look like an accident or construct “plausible deniability.”

“Your wars; our dead” is a popular poster in protests against wars in Italy. It expresses the consciousness of the ultimate cowardice of these wars, and, indeed, of all aggressive wars.

More articles by:

Luciana Bohne is co-founder of Film Criticism, a journal of cinema studies, and teaches at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. She can be reached at: lbohne@edinboro.edu

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