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February 17, 2004

Government Withdrawal of Drake Protest Subpoenas as Targeting National Lawyers Guild is Victory for Free Speech

Apparently for the first time since the dark days of J. Edgar Hoover, the government has tried to use the grand jury to harass and intimidate anti-war protestors. Drake University and four peace activists were recently subpoenaed to produce records about the National Lawyers Guild before a federal grand jury in Iowa. But in response to the Guild’s opposition and widespread outrage throughout the country, the subpoenas were withdrawn on February 10. This is a major victory for the National Lawyers Guild and the peace movement.

The subpoenas constitute a flagrant attack on constitutionally protected speech and association. They signal George W. Bush’s strategy to make national security a centerpiece of his election campaign, and send a blunt message that dissent will not be tolerated. Bush also likely seeks to intimidate Democrats and shore up his Republican base in Iowa, which he lost in the 2000 election by a slim margin.

Served on February 3 by a Polk County deputy sheriff who works with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the subpoenas ordered Drake University to turn over documents relating to a November National Lawyers Guild conference. The conference presented nonviolence training for people planning to demonstrate the next day at an anti-war rally at the Iowa National Guard headquarters. Twelve protestors were arrested at the peaceful rally titled, “Stop the Occupation! Bring the Iowa Guard Home!”

These subpoenas requested the agenda and purpose of the meeting, the identities of attendees and Guild officers, and observations of campus security. The individuals served with subpoenas include the leader of the Catholic Peace Ministry, the former coordinator of the Iowa Peace Network, a member of the Catholic Worker House, and an anti-war activist who visited Iraq in 2002.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said that the sole intent of the subpoenas was to gather information about a solitary demonstrator who scaled a fence on federal property on a different day than the anti-war conference/training. Why then did the government issue five subpoenas calling for information about peaceful activists and the National Lawyers Guild? Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was right when he said, “I don’t like the smell of it…It reminds me too much of Vietnam when war protestors were rounded up, when grand juries were convened to investigate people who were protesting the war.”

The gag order slapped on Drake employees before the subpoenas were withdrawn confirms the government’s intention to conduct its witch hunt in secrecy. John Ashcroft, traveling the country to drum up support for the USA PATRIOT Act, claimed it was not intended to authorize political surveillance of lawful dissent. Yet the Act lowered standards for government surveillance and created a crime of “domestic terrorism,” which Ashcroft will likely use to target other organizations that criticize government policies.

This is not the first time the National Lawyers Guild’s support of activism has made it a government target. In the 1950s, Guild members were subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee for defending people accused of associating with communists during the McCarthy era.

Years later, the Guild filed a lawsuit against the FBI for unlawful surveillance. The FBI had put agents in Guild meetings, wiretapped lawyers’ offices and homes, and built dossiers on those perceived as critical of governmental policies. In 1989, the FBI finally admitted it had tried to disrupt the Guild even though it had no proof the Guild was a subversive organization.

After the Iowa subpoenas were withdrawn, Guild President Michael Avery said, “The government was forced to back down in this case and it shows that people can and should stand up to the government when it is abusing its powers … the American people cherish their right of free expression and the right of political groups to dissent from government policies.”

The National Lawyers Guild is calling for congressional hearings to determine the extent to which the government is gathering information on student political groups. In the face of Bush’s request that Congress make the PATRIOT Act permanent, we call on Congress to sunset the PATRIOT Act now.

January 16, 2004

The Concentration Camp at Guantánamo: Wrong Treatment in the Wrong Place

Anyone who has traveled to Cuba or listened to mariachis sing in myriad Latin restaurants is familiar with the lovely song, Guantanamera – the little girl from Guantánamo. Based on a poem by Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence, the song is narrated by “an honest man from where the palm tree grows,” who speaks of the beauty of Cuba. In stark contrast, the post 9/11 Guantánamo Bay is home to a veritable “concentration camp,” in the words of the Cuban government, the National Lawyers Guild, and the American Association of Jurists.

More than 600 prisoners have been incarcerated there for nearly two years. They are kept in small cages, with no charges against them, without access to the courts to challenge their confinement.

The United States government illegally occupies that part of Cuba’s territory. It is held under a lease negotiated between Cuba and the U.S., which gave the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay “exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose.” Nowhere does Cuba give the United States the right to utilize this land as a prison or a concentration camp.

President Fidel Castro, who calls the Guantánamo base “a dagger plunged into the heart of Cuban soil,” refuses to cash the rent checks the U.S. government sends annually. He says: “An elemental sense of dignity and absolute disagreement with what happens in that portion of our national territory has prevented Cuba from cashing those checks.” The United States, according to President Castro, has transformed Guantánamo base into a “horrible prison, one that bears no difference with the Nazi concentration camps.” In December, Cuba’s National Assembly decried the Guantánamo “concentration camp,” saying: “In the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo naval base, hundreds of foreign prisoners are subjected to indescribable abuses.”

Indeed, nearly half the prisoners are interrogated each week in sessions lasting up to 16 hours. A prisoner released in May told Amnesty International that the interrogations “were like torture.” Australian lawyer Richard Bourke asserted on ABC Radio that prisoners had been subjected to “good old-fashioned torture, as people would have understood it in the Dark Ages.” He reported: “One of the detainees had described being taken out and tied to a post and having rubber bullets fired at them. They were being made to kneel cruciform in the sun until they collapsed.”

Shortly after September 11, the Cuban government did not oppose housing the U.S. prisoners at Guantánamo: “Although the transfer of foreign war prisoners by the United States government to one of its military facilities – located in a portion of our land over which we have no jurisdiction, as we have been deprived of it – does not abide by the provisions that regulated its inception, we shall not set any obstacles to the development of the operation.”

Cuba, which boasts one of the most advanced medical systems in the world, offered to provide medical services and sanitation programs for the Guantánamo prisoners. The Cuban government, in its January 2002 statement, expressed satisfaction at “the public statements made by the U.S. authorities in the sense that prisoners will be accorded an adequate and humane treatment that may be monitored by the International Red Cross.”

But the Red Cross, which recently concluded a two-month visit to the Guantánamo camp, “observed a worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number of them.” The Red Cross reported that “the US authorities have placed the internees in Guantánamo beyond the law. This means that, after more than eighteen months of captivity, the internees still have no idea about their fate, and no means of recourse through any legal mechanism.” Indeed, The New York Times reported 32 suicides in 18 months and several detainees being treated for clinical depression as a direct result of the uncertainties of their situations.

The Bush administration has denied these prisoners access to U.S. courts to challenge their detention, disingenuously claiming that the U.S. is not sovereign over Guantánamo Bay. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which decided last month that U.S. courts do have jurisdiction to hear the prisoners’ complaints, said that by employing Guantánamo as a prison camp, “our government has purposely acted in a manner directly inconsistent with the terms of the Lease and the continuing Treaty, [which] … limit U.S. use of the territory to a naval base and coaling station.”

However, the appellate court was perhaps most alarmed at the government’s assertion during oral argument that these prisoners would have no judicial recourse even if they were claiming the government subjected them to acts of torture or summary execution. The Ninth Circuit said: “To our knowledge, prior to the current detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, the U.S. government has never before asserted such a grave and startling proposition.” The court said this was “a position so extreme that it raises the gravest concerns under both American and international law.” During its present term the Supreme Court will decide whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over these prisoners.

An editorial in The New York Times described the Guantánamo situation as a “scandal,” saying: “Whoever they are, their treatment should be a demonstration of America’s commitment to justice, not the blot on its honor that Guantánamo has become.” The United States government must immediately close its concentration camp, and release or try the prisoners in accordance with international norms. It should return Guantánamo Bay to its rightful owner, the Republic of Cuba.

December 22, 2003

UN Should Convene Hybrid Court to Try Saddam

Will Saddam Hussein really “face the justice he denied to millions,” as promised by George W. Bush the morning after Hussein’s arrest? Although President Bush has said Hussein will receive a public trial with Iraqi participation, he refuses to identify the venue, perhaps because his advisers are still undecided about the politically propitious course to take.

There is no doubt, however, that Bush will determine where, when and how Hussein is tried, and probably ultimately, executed. We can also expect the timing of the “justice” Hussein receives to be pegged to the U.S. election next November.

A public trial for Hussein, while providing cathartic effect for many Iraqis, poses certain risks for Bush. In defending himself against charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, Hussein would bring up the United States’ support of his government while he was gassing the Kurds and the Iranians.

Indeed, Hussein received these chemical weapons from U.S. corporations with the blessing of the U.S. government. Shucks, Hussein may even subpoena Donald Rumsfeld to question him about his 1983 visit with Hussein, after which U.S. intelligence was provided to Hussein while Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran.

The question is whether Hussein will be tried in an Iraqi tribunal, a U.S. military commission, or a tribunal set up by the United Nations with international and Iraqi participation. As Bush and his people ponder how Hussein is likely to embarrass them, we may see them backtrack from the promise that the proceeding will be public.

Bush’s preferred venue may well be one of his new military commissions. People who appear before them will enjoy only the rights Bush or Rumsfeld decide they should have. The accused can be tried in secret with the use of secret evidence, with limitations on his choice of counsel, and he can be executed with no judicial review. He would, however, have the right to appeal to Bush.

The new Iraqi criminal tribunal statute, which was enacted on Dec. 10, was established with $75 million of U.S. money by the United States’ handpicked Iraqi Governing Council, and approved by the Pentagon and the State Department. It will have jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as some offenses under Iraqi law.

Although it has the power to hire international experts as advisors, all judges would be Iraqis, who have scant experience trying complex war crimes cases.

Neither the International Criminal Court nor the Yugoslav or Rwanda tribunals allow for the death penalty; yet, the new Iraqi court would probably permit capital punishment. Moreover, its decisions would be tainted because it was created while Iraq was under occupation.

Bush has consistently thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which was developed over a 50-year period by international legal experts and scholars to try the most heinous crimes. It would have jurisdiction only over crimes committed after it came into effect in July 2002. But Bush has said Hussein will be charged with crimes committed since his Baathist Party came into power in 1968.

Thus, the International Criminal Court could not be used to try these charges.

Hussein should be tried in a special hybrid tribunal established by the U.N. Security Council, like the one in Sierra Leone. It would utilize international standards of due process and have significant Iraqi participation.

Major Nazi leaders were tried and convicted in public proceedings in which the defendants were able to hear the evidence against them. But, U.S. leaders were never held accountable for incinerating 100,000 Japanese civilians with the atomic bomb. This “victors’ justice” is likely to repeat itself in the trial of Hussein. Bush and his advisers will not be tried for their war of aggression against the people of Iraq.

December 16, 2003

Capture of Saddam Hussein: Pyrrhic Victory?

The “capture” of Saddam Hussein is being hailed as a great victory for President Bush. After all, who needs to worry about the missing weapons of mass destruction or the lack of ties between Hussein and the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, now that we’ve caught the “Butcher of Baghdad”?

Bush is likely to gain some political mileage from Hussein’s arrest. But the terrorism Bush’s war has unleashed in Iraq is likely to continue or increase, and Hussein can no longer be blamed for it now that he’s in custody.

The media have treated us to wall-to-wall coverage of Hussein’s arrest — including shots of a doctor looking into Hussein’s mouth as he grimaces. This violates the Geneva Convention, which forbids subjecting prisoners to humiliation and public ridicule. We have not, however, been reminded that Hussein was one of the United States’ main allies in the 1980s when he used chemical weapons given to him by the United States.

Will Hussein really “face the justice he denied to millions,” as promised by Bush the morning after Hussein’s arrest? The new Iraqi criminal tribunal statute under which Hussein will likely be tried was established with $75 million of U.S. money by the administration’s handpicked Iraqi Governing Council and approved by the Pentagon and the State Department. It is the first criminal tribunal that has no international or U.N. involvement. Its decisions will also be tainted because it was created while Iraq was under occupation.

Bush has once again thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, which was developed during a 50-year period by international legal experts and scholars to try genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. None of the three existing tribunals — the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals — allow for the death penalty; yet, the new Iraqi court may well permit capital punishment. Will Hussein be executed right before the U.S. election next November?

Moreover, Iraq must afford defendants the fair trial rights guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iraq has ratified. It requires that the accused be brought promptly before a judge, informed of the charges against him, and be afforded a speedy, public and fair trial with the presumption of innocence, counsel of his choice and the privilege against self-incrimination. The United States, which has also ratified this covenant, has denied all of these rights to the prisoners at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison camp.

Fortuitously, Hussein’s arrest came right after the Bush administration was put on the defensive by the revelation that Vice President Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, overcharged U.S. taxpayers $61 million for delivering oil to Iraq. The arrest of Hussein is also likely to deflect criticism from Bush’s preferential awarding of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts to countries that backed his war on Iraq, in violation of the rules of the World Trade Organization.

Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this media spectacle is that it distracts us from the hell our troops are facing for no good reason in Iraq. Not only has the Bush administration denied us the right to mourn with the families of dead soldiers as the caskets return shielded from media cameras, it has withheld some Purple Hearts so the hundreds of wounded cannot be accurately tallied.

Notwithstanding the arrest of Hussein, we must call on our government to turn the administration of Iraq over to the United Nations and bring our troops home immediately.

October 15, 2003

Bush Gunning for Regime Change in Cuba

In a brazen move to solidify his electoral support among Cuban-Americans in Florida, George W. Bush is gunning for another “regime change.” Last week, Bush announced the formation of a commission to “plan” for a Cuban change in government.

No country has the right to change the regime of another. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of the supreme law of the land under our Constitution, recognizes self-determination as a human right and guarantees all peoples the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

One need only look at the mess Bush has created in Iraq to understand the wisdom of this principle. Iraq is completely destabilized, the infrastructure has been demolished, thousands are without work, water, electricity and medical care. Many say they were better off under the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. That choice was up to the Iraqis, not the United States.

What if Sweden decided that the United States needed a regime change, because of the high number of people living below the poverty level, without jobs or health care, the police brutality on our streets and in our prisons, the execution of innocent people, and the indefinite detention and inhumane treatment of 600 people in Guantanamo for nearly two years? Would Sweden have the right to impose “regime change” on the United States?

Since Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution in 1959, every U.S. President from Dwight D. Eisenhower through George W. Bush has maintained a cruel economic embargo–now a blockade–against Cuba. The embargo began as a means to foment unrest among Cubans in the hopes they would overthrow the Castro government. More recently, it has been maintained as a vehicle to pander to the anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in Florida who wield tremendous political clout in the U.S. electoral system.

The Association for World Health found that the embargo had “caused a significant rise in suffering–and even deaths in Cuba.” The Cuban people are denied access to half the new medicines on the world market, and are unable to buy some life-saving medical supplies because the U.S. punishes countries which trade with Cuba. Fatal heart attacks have increased because the U.S. pacemaker monopoly refuses to sell to Cuba.

In spite of the punishing blockade against it, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas and one of the highest in the world. The life expectancy in Cuba is the longest in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Cuba’s universal health care system puts ours to shame.

To further its political agenda, our government is in denial about the advances Cuba has made in rates of literacy, health care, and low infant mortality.

Cuba is not a threat to the United States. Yet, Bush is opportunistically setting the stage for a regime change in Cuba. The people of Cuba have the right to determine their own system of government, free from the “plans” of George W. Bush.

September 24, 2003

Bush & Co. Fear Prosecution in the International Criminal Court

Overcoming Impunity with the International Criminal Court

Non-governmental organizations and individuals from sixty-six different countries have filed 499 “communications” – or complaints – with the International Criminal Court (ICC), between July 2002 and July 2003. Many of them urge the ICC to investigate the United States conduct in the war on Iraq. The primary charge is that the U.S. committed an act of aggression against Iraq. The ICC has jurisdiction to punish the crime of aggression. However, this crime remains undefined in the ICC’s statute due to disputes among the states parties about how to define it.

The United States is not a party to the ICC treaty. The Bush administration has vigorously opposed it, for fear that U.S. military officials and personnel could be subject to “politically-motivated” prosecutions for war crimes.

In an unprecedented move last year, George W. Bush removed Bill Clinton’s signature from the treaty. A few months later, Bush signed into law the American Serviceman’s Protection Act, which restricts U.S. cooperation with the ICC and prohibits military assistance to states parties to the treaty unless they sign bilateral immunity agreements with the U.S. States which sign these “Article 98” agreements – referring to the section of the ICC statute that addresses treaties between countries – pledge not to hand over U.S. nationals to the ICC. The United States has reportedly extracted these agreements from 60 countries – primarily small nations, or fragile democracies with weak economies. And the U.S. has withdrawn military aid from 35 nations that refused to be coerced into signing Article 98 agreements.

The U.S. has also demanded express immunity from ICC prosecution for American nationals. This demand delayed the passage of several peacekeeping resolutions in the Security Council. But in 2002, the Security Council capitulated when it unanimously passed Resolution 1422, which called for one year of immunity for peacekeepers from countries not party to the ICC statute, and provided that immunity could be renewed in subsequent years. The resolution was renewed in June. But this time, the U.S. was unable to achieve unanimity. France, Germany and Syria abstained from the vote.

Ninety-one countries have signed on as parties to the ICC treaty. So why has the Bush administration resisted it so vehemently? Bush’s handlers were likely prescient about how the world would react to the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq, which was not executed with Security Council approval or in lawful self-defense. They evidently knew they and their boss might be vulnerable to prosecutions for the unlawful killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the destruction of the civilian infrastructure, and the use of weapons of mass destruction – cluster bombs and depleted uranium – by “coalition forces.”

A Preemptive War is a War of Aggression

The United States has sought to ensure the ICC’s legal processes do not jeopardize its role as global superpower by subjecting U.S. leaders to prosecution. It has consistently resisted definitions and jurisdictional provisions that may challenge U.S. impunity for wars of aggression.

Many ICC parties favor a definition of aggression set out in 1974 in General Assembly Resolution 3314, passed in the wake of Vietnam: “Aggression is the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this definition.”

Bush’s new doctrine of “preemptive war” is a license to prosecute wars of aggression. It runs directly counter to the United Nations Charter’s prohibition on the use of armed force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. A preemptive war is a war of aggression. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” falls squarely into this category.

More than 50 years ago, Associate United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunal, wrote: “No political or economic situation can justify” the crime of aggression. He added: “If certain acts in violation of treaties are crimes they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” An impartial international criminal tribunal is necessary to prevent “victor’s justice,” where only the vanquished are subject to prosecution.

Universal Jurisdiction for International Crimes

Under the treaty, the ICC can take jurisdiction over a national of even a non-party state if he or she commits a crime in a state party’s territory. The U.S. vehemently objects to this. But it’s nothing new. Under well-established principles of international law, the core crimes prosecuted in the ICC – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression – are crimes of universal jurisdiction.

That means that an alleged perpetrator can – and always could – be arrested anywhere. Indeed, the United States itself has asserted jurisdiction over foreign nationals in anti-terrorism, anti-narcotic trafficking, torture and war crimes cases. Even Resolution 1422 notes that states not party to the ICC statute “will continue to fulfill their responsibilities in their national jurisdiction in relation to international crimes.”

However, the U.S. has not fulfilled its responsibilities to seek justice for international crimes. It has refused to extradite four terrorists – right-wing Cuban exiles trained by the CIA – who were convicted more than 20 years ago in Venezuela for blowing up a Cuban airliner in 1976. The U.S. similarly refuses to extradite John Hull, an American CIA operative indicted in Costa Rica for the 1984 bombing of a press conference which killed five journalists in a Nicaraguan border town. It has also refused to extradite former military officer Emmanuel Constant for trial in Haiti. Constant, who worked closely with the CIA, is believed to be responsible for the murder of more than 5000 people under the Haitian dictatorship in the early 1990s.

The ICC statute adds a special safeguard to the venerable principle of universal jurisdiction. It promises the ICC will only prosecute when the alleged perpetrator’s native country cannot, or will not, prosecute one of its nationals. The U.S. should not then fear ICC prosecution, especially in light of the Article 98 agreements it coerced – and continues to coerce – from a multitude of countries. Unfortunately, however, these agreements contain no guarantee that an American national accused of an international crime would be tried if handed over to the U.S.

In June, Belgium indicted Bush, Tony Blair, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, and Condoleezza Rice for war crimes during the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan, which predated the effective date of the ICC. The indictment was issued under Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law, which gave Belgian courts the right to judge anyone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, regardless of where the crimes were committed. Four Rwandans have been convicted in 2001 under Belgium’s law for their participation in the 1994 genocide which left more than one million dead.

The government of Belgium, fearing a backlash, decided to refer the cases against Blair, Bush and the others to London and Washington, making trials unlikely. Even so, Donald Rumsfeld threatened to move NATO out of Brussels unless Belgium changed its universal jurisdiction law. Belgium capitulated, and its Court of Cassation has asked for the dismissal of the war crimes indictments.

Belgium isn’t alone in indicting Bush and Blair for war crimes. In July, Greece’s Athens Bar Association filed a complaint in the ICC against the two for crimes against humanity and war crimes, this time in connection with their war on Iraq. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” began after July 2002, the effective date of the ICC.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks occurred before the ICC went into effect. Two years later, a Spanish judge charged Osama bin Laden and nine alleged Al Qaeda members with terrorism and murder under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

U.S. Undermines War Against Terrorism

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Argentine Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, has decided to begin the work of the Court by investigating possible genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for the recruitment and use of children as soldiers and sex slaves in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moreno-Ocampo’s selection of the Congo for his maiden investigation was made partly with an eye to the credibility of the ICC because, he says, “the Congo was a clear case.”

But, John Shattuck, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, wrote in the Washington Post in September that the United States has “so far played a passive and sometimes negative role in the region.” Just two days after the Security Council adopted a resolution on July 28 which imposed an embargo on “the direct or indirect supply” of arms or assistance to “armed groups and militias operating in the territory,” the U.S. lifted its own embargo on weapons sales to Rwanda, which has armed its clients in eastern Congo.

Moreno-Ocampo, who has described the genocide in Congo as the “most important case since the Second World War,” plans to investigate businesses in 29 countries, including the United States, suspected of financing ethnic violence in Congo.

Ironically the Chief Prosecutor, an attorney with extensive experience investigating atrocities and prosecuting officials in Argentina, says that the United States’ refusal to work with the ICC will undermine the International Criminal Court’s role in the U.S. efforts to fight terrorism.

August 29, 2003

The Thin Blue Line: How the US Occupation of Iraq Imperils International Law

The day after the truck bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan remarked, “The blue flag has never been so viciously assaulted as it was yesterday.” Whether executed by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, or foreign jihadis, or both working in concert, the attack was the result of a steady evisceration of the United Nations and international law by the United States.

“Preemptive War” Violates the U.N. Charter

One year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, George W. Bush invoked that tragedy to announce his new national security strategy of “preemptive war.” Citing Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and warning that Hussein would likely share them with al-Qaeda terrorists, Bush built his case for waging war on Iraq.

It was clear to the millions of people who marched in the streets before the war began, and it is now evident to most people, that there was no danger to “preempt” in Iraq. Severely weakened by the first Gulf War, 12 years of punishing sanctions, and intrusive weapons inspections, Hussein’s military forces mounted little resistance to the U.S.-U.K.’s “almost biblical force” against the Iraqi people.

Moreover, Bush’s preemption doctrine violates the Charter of the United Nations, which specifies that only the Security Council can sanction the use of force and it can only be used in self-defense. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was not undertaken in self-defense and it was never authorized by the Security Council.

The Security Council Stands Up to Bush…Sort Of

In spite of the Bush administration’s threats and bribes in its attempts to secure the passage of a resolution putting the U.N.’s imprimatur on an armed invasion of Iraq, the Security Council held firm. Bush then cobbled together prior Council resolutions, none of which authorized force in Iraq, to justify his illegal war.

But the Security Council did not condemn the invasion. And the Council legitimized the U.S. and the U.K. as the occupying “Authority” of Iraq when it passed Resolution 1483.

The resolution also provided for the appointment of a U.N. Special Representative to coordinate, in conjunction with “the Authority,” humanitarian assistance and reconstruction activities in Iraq. In effect, the Special Representative would function in a secondary capacity; the occupying power maintained ultimate authority over the occupation and the awarding of the lucrative reconstruction contracts.

Kofi Annan appointed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights, as Special Representative. Mr. Vieira de Mello was one of the 23 people killed in the bombing of the Baghdad U.N. headquarters last week.

On Monday, the U.S. blocked the adoption of a Security Council resolution which would enhance the protection of U.N. and other humanitarian aid workers, because it called for the prosecution of war criminals in the International Criminal Court. The Council then adopted the resolution without reference to the ICC.

Bush removed the United States’ signature from the ICC’s statute last year out of fear that he and other officials could be prosecuted for war crimes, even though the ICC would only act if the national courts were unwilling to do so. The U.S. also pushed a resolution through the Security Council which provides immunity from jurisdiction to peacekeepers from countries which have not ratified the ICC’s statute.

The U.S. has extracted immunity agreements from 37 countries and cut off military assistance to 35 others who refuse to sign such accords. This defiance by the U.S. further undercuts the international rule of law.

Why Was the United Nations Targeted?

In the wake of the worst attack on the U.N. in its 58-year history, people are asking why the world’s premier peacekeeping organization was targeted. There is understandable resentment against the United States for the devastating bombings and military attacks against the people of Iraq. The occupiers have been unable to deliver safe streets, clean water, electricity and jobs, and they have conducted heavy-handed searches during the occupation.

The U.N. is in Baghdad, in the words of Mr. Vieira de Mello, “to assist the Iraqi people and those responsible for the administration of this land to achieve freedom, the possibility of managing their own destiny and determining their own future.”

Sergio Vieira de Mello sympathized with the Iraqi people. “It must be one of the most humiliating periods in their history,” he observed. “Who would like to see their country occupied?”

But, to many in the Arab world, the United States and the United Nations are indistinguishable. They see the U.N. as a tool of the U.S.

Mohammed Hindawi, an engineer in Cairo, said, “The U.N. did nothing for the Iraqis during the war. They arrived in Baghdad when the coast was clear. People expected the U.N.’s support, and they didn’t get it. It’s payback time.”

Mohsen Farouk, a carpenter in Cairo, noted, “It was just a matter of time. The U.N. is just a puppet of the U.S., and anyone who is angry with the U.S. is likely to consider the U.N. a target.”

The people responsible for the attack on the U.N. are also likely mindful of the devastation wreaked upon Iraqis by 12 years of sanctions.

Following the first Gulf War, the United States manipulated the Security Council into imposing a harsh regime of economic sanctions, which have led to the deaths of an estimated one million Iraqis.

Give U.N. Authority in Iraq

The Bush administration is lobbying for a new Security Council resolution which would urge other countries to send troops to help stabilize Iraq. The U.S., however, would maintain military control over all forces. Such a resolution would, in the words of The New York Times, provide “United Nations cover to the American operation.”

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” has opened a Pandora’s Box of terrorism in Iraq. The only hope for restoring peace and security is for the United States to step aside and allow the United Nations to take over the reconstruction. If the U.S. continues to insist on unilateral authority in Iraq, it will be sucked deeper into a quagmire from which there is no exit. And it will further weaken the U.N. and international law.

August 20, 2003

Sergio Vieira De Mello: Victim of Terror, Or U.S. Foreign Policy?

But for George W. Bush’s illegal and misguided war on Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, would be alive today. Mr. de Mello devoted most of his life to the U.N.’s mission to protect human rights and achieve international peace and security. He served in some of the toughest trouble spots in the world, including Lebanon, East Timor, Yugoslavia, Peru, Bangladesh, Cyprus, Sudan, Cambodia and Mozambique.

Sergio Vieira de Mello went to Iraq at the request of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for a four-month humanitarian commitment. One month short of his return to Geneva, Mr. de Mello was buried alive in rubble from a suicide truck bomber who targeted the United Nations in Baghdad.

Ignoring the pleas of millions of people around the world and most of the United Nations members, Bush had persisted in his march to war. Contrary to Bush’s assertions, Saddam Hussein never posed an imminent threat to the United States. Until Bush unleashed “almost biblical” firepower on Iraq, al Qaeda was not operating there. Yet since the U.S./U.K. became the occupying power, Iraq has become fertile ground for outside jihadis.

Many Saudi Arabian Islamists have crossed the border into Iraq to prepare for a holy war against the U.S./U.K. forces, according to The Financial Times. The Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya broadcast a statement purportedly from al Qaeda, which urged Muslims around the world to travel to Iraq to fight the U.S. occupation, and claimed that recent attacks on U.S. forces had been carried out by jihadis.

The blast that killed Mr. de Mello and 19 others, and wounded more than 100 in the U.N. compound in Baghdad Tuesday, was likely the handiwork of the same forces that bombed the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad 12 days before, killing 11 people. Osama bin Laden has long decried the United States’ role in the first Gulf War, the punishing sanctions against the people of Iraq, and the United Nations for “supporting the oppressive, tyrannical and arrogant America [in Afghanistan] against those oppressed who have emerged from a ferocious war at the hands of the Soviet Union.”

In the twisted minds of the terrorists who likely executed the worst attack on a U.N. civilian operation in its 58-year history, the United States and the United Nations are linked. Yet Bush’s new doctrine of “preemptive war” is a clear violation of the U.N. Charter. And in spite of intense pressure by Bush, including threats and bribes, the members of the Security Council refused to hand him a resolution sanctioning his war on Iraq. Bush accused the United Nations of becoming “irrelevant.”

When he was sent to Baghdad, it was Sergio de Mello’s dream “to assist the Iraqi people and those responsible for the administration of this land to achieve … freedom, the possibility of managing their own destiny and determining their own future.” He empathized with the Iraqi people who resented the foreign occupiers. “It is traumatic,” he said. “It must be one of the most humiliating periods in their history. Who would like to see their country occupied?” He wanted “to make sure that the interests of the Iraqi people come first” as they rebuild their country.

Sergio de Mello’s death is an unspeakable tragedy for the cause of world peace. “I can think of no one we could less afford to spare,” observed Kofi Annan. And Salim Lone, Mr. de Mello’s spokesman in Baghdad, said, “He was a wonderful guy. He was the U.N. in a way.” Mr. Lone added, “I grieve most of all for the people of Iraq because he was really the man who could have helped bring about an end to the occupation. An end to the trauma the people of Iraq have suffered for so long.”

We must emerge from this tragedy by redoubling our support for the United Nations. As Iraqis, Americans, and many from other countries continue to die in Iraq, Bush must relinquish control of Iraq to the United Nations. It is the arrogance of occupation that creates roiling hatred against the occupier. Mr. de Mello was confident that Iraqis distinguished between the U.N. and the foreign occupiers. The end of the occupation would empower the people of Iraq to take control of their own destiny. Then Sergio Vieira de Mello will not have died in vain.

July 30, 2003

Why Iraq and Afghanistan? Cheney Tells All: It’s About the Oil

Now that the rationale provided by Bush & Co. for attacking Iraq is unraveling, it’s time to ask what the true motivation was for the rush to war. Many dismissed the signs of antiwar protestors, which read “No blood for oil.” But if we connect the oily fingerprints, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney’s, it appears those protestors were right.

Cheney’s energy task force, in a May 2001 report, called on the White House to make “energy security a priority of our trade and foreign policy” and encourage Persian Gulf countries to welcome foreign investment in their energy sectors. In August 2002, Cheney warned a meeting of veterans that Saddam Hussein could seek to dominate the Middle East’s vast energy supplies, and said “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.”

Before the invasion of Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sought to decouple oil access from regime change in Iraq, which, he said, had “nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil.” Rumsfeld, Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice all invoked Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and his ties to Al Qaeda, neither of which has materialized to date, as imminent threats to the security of the United States. Three days before the attack on Iraq, Cheney said, “we believe he [Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” That claim, and Bush’s Niger uranium statement in his State of the Union address, were bogus.

When U.S.-U.K. forces took control of Iraq, their first order of business was to secure the oil fields, instead of the hospitals and antiquities museums. Meanwhile, Kellogg Brown & Root was awarded a controversial $7 billion no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq’s oil fields. KBR is a subsidiary of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil services company, formerly headed by Cheney before he was tapped for vice president. In a 1998 speech to the “Collateral Damage Conference” of the Cato Institute, Cheney said, “the good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States. Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go. But, we go where the business is.”

The business is in Iraq. Since April 2001, the public interest group Judicial Watch has sought public access to the proceedings of Cheney’s energy task force meetings, under the Freedom of Information Act. Yet Cheney has fought tenaciously to keep them secret. On July 17, however, Judicial Watch secured some of the documents from the task force, which contain the smoking gun: “a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects” and “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.” The documents are dated March 2001, two years before Bush invaded Iraq.

The Bush administration’s October 2001 bombing of Afghanistan, although justified as a response to the September 11 attacks, was also part of U.S. oil strategy. Afghanistan never attacked the U.S. Yet, the U.S. and U.K. ousted the Taliban and secured Afghanistan for the construction of an oil pipeline from Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan, to the Arabian Sea. Bush had been uncritical of the Taliban’s human rights record when Unocal oil company was negotiating for the pipeline rights before September 11. After assuming control of Afghanistan, Bush conveniently installed Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal official, as interim president of Afghanistan. “Operation Enduring Freedom” will allow oil corporations freedom to exploit Afghanistan for profit, while the Afghans continue to live in squalor.

Likewise, “Operation Iraqi Freedom” has enabled U.S. corporations to exploit Iraq’s oil, while thousands of Iraqis continue to die, lose their jobs, and live without electricity. American soldiers are still dying while U.S. taxpayers foot the $3.9 billion monthly bill. Oil has proven to be the most terrible weapon of mass destruction.

July 29, 2003

Assassination and Display in Iraq: The Killings of Uday and Qusai Hussein in International Law

Last week the US military assassinated Uday and Qusai Hussein in a villa in Mosul, Iraq. Hundreds of troops armed with automatic weapons, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, and tow missiles, and dozens of vehicles and aircraft, attacked four people armed with AK-47 automatic rifles. Mustapha, the 14-year old son of Qusai, was also killed in the operation, along with another individual who was apparently a bodyguard.

The subsequent firestorm of media coverage momentarily diverted public attention from the Bush administation’s failing Iraq war – its vain attempts to find any weapons of mass destruction or link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, the White House’s admission that the President used false information in his State of the Union address, and the continuing deaths of American soldiers in an occupation with no end in sight.

The assassinations prompted chest-thumping and back-slapping all around. Even Senator Ted Kennedy joined British Prime Minister Tony Blair, The New York Times and the Washington Post, in congratulating Bush on the good news. Then, after reportedly reflecting on the pros and cons, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave the go-ahead to display the grisly photographs of the Hussein brothers’ reconstructed bullet-riddled faces. The Pentagon didn’t want to appear to be “gloating,” but Rumsfeld thought the photos would convince skeptical Iraqis that Uday and Qusai were indeed dead, which would reduce the attacks on U.S. troops and encourage informants to come forward without fear of retaliation by the old regime.

Both the targeted assassinations and the photographic display violated well-established principles of international law. Targeted, or political, assassinations are extrajudicial executions. They are unlawful and deliberate killings carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework. Extrajudicial executions are unlawful, even in armed conflict. In a 1998 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions noted that “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty ratified by the United States, prohibits the arbitrary denial of the right to life, a right so fundamental, there can be no derogation from it even in “time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.” The U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Commission, as well as Amnesty International, have all condemned extrajudicial executions.

After the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed in 1975 that the CIA had been involved in several murders or attempted murders of foreign leaders, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. Although every succeeding president has renewed that order, the Clinton administration targeted Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, but narrowly missed him.

In July 2001, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel denounced Israel’s policy of targeted killings, or “preemptive operations.” He said “the United States government is very clearly on the record as against targeted assassinations. They are extrajudicial killings, and we do not support that.”

Yet after September 11, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer invited the killing of Saddam Hussein: “The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less” than the cost of war. Shortly thereafter, George W. Bush issued a secret directive, which authorized the CIA to target suspected terrorists for assassination when it would be impractical to capture them and when large-scale civilian casualties could be avoided. In November 2002, Bush reportedly authorized the CIA to assassinate a suspected Al Qaeda leader in Yemen. He and five traveling companions were killed in the hit, which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz described as a “very successful tactical operation.”

Nearly sixty years ago, the U.S. government opposed the extrajudicial executions of Nazi officials who had committed genocide against millions of people. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who served as chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, told President Harry Truman: “We could execute or otherwise punish [the Nazi leaders] without a hearing. But undiscriminating executions or punishments without definite findings of guilt, fairly arrived at, would … not set easily on the American conscience or be remembered by children with pride.”

Americans should not feel pride in the public display of the gruesome photos of the assassinated Hussein brothers. The First Geneva Convention requires combatants to ensure that the dead are not despoiled. Reconstruction of their faces violates this treaty, which also provides that the dead be honorably interred; Islamic law requires immediate burial. When Iraqis displayed images of captured U.S. troops, Bush demanded that the POWs be treated humanely, and he warned that anyone who mistreated them would be tried for war crimes. But Bush didn’t complain when American media outlets featured Iraqi prisoners down on their knees, blindfolded and handcuffed. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Uday and Qusai Hussein should have been arrested and tried in Iraqi courts or an international tribunal for their alleged crimes. George W. Bush cannot serve as judge, jury and executioner. This assassination creates a dangerous precedent, which could be used to justify the targeted killings of U.S. leaders. The display of the photographs may backfire and turn the brothers into martyrs who stood against the foreign invaders. It could also result in even more violence against U.S. troops.