By Mike Ferner
During the rush to get the Nuremberg Tribunals underway, the Soviet delegation wanted the tribunal’s historic decisions to have legitimacy only for the Nazis. U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Robert Jackson, serving as the chief prosecutor for the Allies, strong-armed the Soviets until the very beginning of the tribunal before changing their mind.
In his opening statement Jackson very purposely stipulated, “Let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.”
Can there be a better reason for prosecuting George Bush and his administration for war crimes than those words from the chief prosecutor of the Nazis, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, with the full support of the U.S. government? Robert Jackson’s words and the values this nation claims to stand for provide sufficient moral basis for putting Bush and Cheney, their underlings who implemented their policies and the perverted legal minds who justified them all in the dock. If those are not sufficient reasons, there is a long list of binding law and treaties — written in black and white in surprisingly plain English.
Bush imagined, and his attorneys advised, that he could simply wave aside these laws with “they don’t apply.” Imagine how a judge would treat even a simple traffic court defendant who brazenly stated the law was only a quaint notion, just “words on paper?”
Masses of people and an embarrassingly small number of their elected representatives in this country read the law for themselves and demanded otherwise, only to be silenced by the Guardians of Reality in the corporate news media.
But it’s all there, where it has been for 220 years, the Constitution’s “supremacy clause,” Article II, section 4, and in the War Crimes Act of 1996 (18USC §2441). They provide the authority to make additional treaties legally binding — no matter how much former White House lawyers David Addington and John Yoo may object.
Those additional treaties include among others, the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg rulings, the Laws and Customs of War on Land and UN General Assembly Resolution 3314. To give just a snapshot of how serious these laws are, consider this portion of 18 USC 2441 which defines a war crime as “a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party…” The guilty can be “fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”
Here, Justice Jackson answers another question about war crimes — who bears the greater responsibility: those who committed barbaric acts in the field or those who created the conditions for barbarism?
The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank that does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.
And yet it is not just because Bush violated the Constitution and federal law that he and his lieutenants must be prosecuted.
At Nuremberg, the foremost crime identified was starting a “war of aggression,” later codified by U.N. Resolution 3314, Art. 5, as “a crime against international peace.” Launching a war of aggression, as Hitler did against Poland, is considered so monstrous that the nation responsible can then be charged with “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity,” spelled out in detail in the Geneva Conventions. As Tom Paine said long before the U.N. formalized the definition of aggression, “He who is the author of a war lets loose the whole contagion of Hell and opens a vein that bleeds a nation to death.
A small sampling of the contagion of Hell let loose by Bush includes illegally invading a sovereign state, using banned weapons such as white phosphorous and napalm, bombing hospitals and civilian infrastructure, withholding aid and medical supplies, terrorizing and knowingly killing civilians, torturing prisoners, killing a million people and displacing four million more in Iraq alone.
Following World War II, humanity resolved that wars do more than spark a series of loathsome, individual crimes. Leaders responsible for a war actually commit crimes against the entirety of humanity. They inflict harm on every human being, something that must be put right before humanity can be restored.
There is a final reason why we must prosecute Bush and Co. It is not what some argue, although they point to a serious danger: that Bush trashed the law and usurped powers, encouraging future presidents to expand where he left off. Such reasons are about George Bush and those who hold the office after him, but in the final analysis this is about us.
We are complicit in the horrors of this administration. We can claim neither ignorance nor innocence. We are complicit by the very fact that we are citizens of the United States, more so because we paid for the war, and even more so for this reason. Listen to a village sheik I met in Iraq describe it better than I ever could.
I met this man in a small farming village one afternoon in early 2004. He described how he and a dozen others were swept up in a raid by the U.S. Army and detained on a bare patch of ground surrounded by concertina wire. They had no shelter and but six blankets. They dug a hole with their hands for a toilet. They had to beg for water until one time it rained for three days straight and they remained on that open ground. He somehow found the graciousness to say he understood there was a difference between the American people and our government. Then through his tears he added, “But you say you live in a democracy. How can this be happening to us?”
Do we? Whether or not we bring our own government officials to justice for their crimes will determine the answer.