February 6, 2006
It was a historic moment at the National Press Club in
Washington, only blocks from the White House. On February 2, the
preliminary findings of the International Commission on Crimes Against
Humanity were read out by Ajamu Sankofa, executive director of the
Physicians for Social Responsibility-NY and former national secretary
of Blacks for Reparations in America.
Listening to the verdicts, Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and
founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, exclaimed:
"This is what our German forbearers in the 1930s did NOT do. They sat
around, blamed their rulers, said 'maybe everything's going to be
alright.'... That is something we cannot do. Because I don't want my
grandchildren asking me years from now, 'why didn't you do something to
stop all this?'"
The findings were based on five days of public testimony in New York
in October and January. The work of the Commission brought together a
unique combination of former government officials, experts in
international law, human rights monitors in the relevant areas, and
victims of the crimes under investigation. It was a Commission of great
legal, ethical, and moral credibility based on its integrity, its rigor
in the presentation of evidence, and the stature of its participants.
On the first charge of committing wars of aggression, the Commission found: "The
evidence is overwhelming that the Bush Administration authorized and is
conducting a war of aggression against Iraq in violation of
international law, including The Nuremberg Principles, Geneva
Conventions of 1949, the United Nations Charter, and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. In doing so, the Bush Administration has
committed war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was a
compelling witness before the Commission on this issue. Ritter led the
investigation into the defection of Sadam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein
"Dick Cheney said because of Hussein Kamel's defection the United
Nations, indeed the United States, received evidence that Iraq was
actively reconstituting its nuclear weapons program... Dick Cheney was
lying. Dick Cheney knew that he was lying.... But it is evidence that
the Bush administration willfully exaggerated the threat posed by
Iraq's WMDs, thereby negating any case they might make about the
existence of a clear and present threat that warranted pre-emptive
The actual conduct of the war was also a major issue investigated by
the Commission, especially the destruction of the city of Fallujah
using white phosphorous and hyperbaric bombs. The Commission saw film
of the bombing of civilians in Fallujah that was truly damning. Shown
was the pilot's camera trained on the ground where people were running
in the street. The pilot asks his controller, "shall I take them out?"
And the controller says, "Yes." The pilot kept a laser focused on the
crowd until a guided bomb exploded in the middle of the running crowd.
The destruction of Fallujah, a city of over 300,000 people, in
retaliation for the death of four U.S. mercenaries, was a vivid
reenactment of a historic war crime Ś the destruction of the
Czechoslovakian village of Lidice in 1942 by the Nazis in retaliation
for the assassination of a high Nazi official.
On the indictment for illegal detention and torture, the Commission found: "There
was substantial evidence submitted through testimony and documents that
the Bush Administration committed war crimes and crimes against
humanity in conducting its 'War Against Terror.' It did this by
developing and implementing policies and practices that violated
international law and international human rights to force information
from detainees and to punish those whom it believes may be 'enemy
Barbara Olshansky, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, told
the Commission of an August 2002 memo written for Alberto Gonzales, now
Attorney General: "It talks about what the traditional definitions of
torture are... and it says that a very good case can be made for
redefining torture. And the definition that is recommended in that memo
is that torture really is only when someone is at the risk of complete
organ failure or death. And that is a new definition of torture in the
United States according to this administration. Then the memo proceeds
to...examine all the ways that the government could avoid liability,
even if its actions meet that definition of torture. It is a staggering
The results of such "legal theories" by the U.S. government at the
very top were described by Brig. General Janis Karpinski (U.S. Army
ret.), the former commandant of the infamous Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq.
After photographs of the torture of prisoners there were revealed, Gen.
Karpinski entered the cell block where this happened and found a memo
attached to the wall calling for harsher interrogation techniques and
signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the margin was
handwritten: "Make sure this happens!!" Karpinski went on to testify
that a high-ranking general demanded that Iraqi prisoners be "treated
Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, provided
particularly chilling testimony on the horrible forms of torture used
by the U.S.'s 'Coalition of Willing' and declared, in a very moving
moment, "I'd rather die than have someone tortured to save my life."
On the indictment for destruction of the global environment: "The
testimony of scientists and the scientific reports and other documents
submitted during the inquiry support a conclusion that the Bush
Administration has committed crimes against humanity by its
environmental policies and practices."
Daphne Wysham, from the Institute for Policy Studies and the
Sustainable Energy and Economy Network gave a searing example: "On June
8, 2005, the New York Times, through whistle-blower Rick Pilz,
exposed [White House official Philip] Cooney as the primary censor of
climate change policy documents at the highest levels of government.
Two days later, Cooney resigned... Cooney and his staff's edits were
pervasive with 100 to 450 changes per report, and shameless. Among the
topics the government doesn't want you to know about are the national
and regional impacts from climate changes, consequences like glacial
melting and floods."
On the indictment for the destruction of New Orleans: "The
evidence of the Bush Administration's conscious and deliberate failings
in preventing the foreseeable devastation, including death toll, caused
by Hurricane Katrina, particularly in New Orleans, and its failure to
respond efficiently and appropriately after the Hurricane was
overwhelming. Its failures constitute crimes against humanity."
The Commission heard stunning testimony that the government knew
full well that New Orleans would be inundated in a major hurricane, and
the President himself knew two days in advance that Katrina would hit
New Orleans. But no efforts were made to evacuate the predominantly
poor and Black masses of the city. As a result, over 1,300 people died
on the Gulf Coast with over 3,000 still missing.
Annette Addison, a Katrina survivor, told her personal story to the
Commission: "So many Army trucks just was driving past us. We even
waved for the Army trucks to help us because we were so desperate. We
was dehydrated. They did not give us any assistance. We even asked the
police for water, and where we could get gas to get out of the city.
The police just looked at us like we was nobody, as though we were
nothing. Many were going into the stores, and they said they were
looters. But to be honest, they was going into stores to survive. It
was people helping people.It was not the Army, it was not
the police. It was not the ones that were in authority to help us. It
was just the community helping each other to survive."
At the February 2 press conference to release the Commission's
preliminary findings, three of the five Commission judges were present,
along with Commission Convener C. Clark Kissinger. In presenting the
preliminary findings (more findings will be presented later), the
judges were emphatic about the criminality of the Bush administration.
Judge Ann Wright, 29-year Army reserve colonel with 16 years in the
State Department as former deputy ambassador in Afghanistan, Mongolia,
Sierra Leone, and Micronesia:
"I believe the Commission is incredibly important for the future of
the United States and really the world, because it's the people of
America who are speaking to these very serious indictments. It's the
people who are coming forward with evidence, their personal testimony
in many cases of things that have happened to them, or cases of their
lawyers, cases they have worked, the human face of what torture is all
about, what detention is about, what war is all about Ś a war that's
conducted the invasion and occupation of a country that did nothing to
the United States of America."
Judge Abdeen Jabara, board member of the Center for Constitutional
Rights and past president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination
"People who launch a war of aggression are in violation of
international law, have committed crimes against humanity, and that is
the kind of discourse we need to introduce into the United States...
the use of torture in the press often reported as "abuse" rather than
torture. Of course, there is no international convention for the
prevention of abuse, but there is an international convention for the
prevention of torture. So we need to change the way in which these
items are talked about in order to get people to face up to the fact of
what this government is doing."
Judge Jabara closed by pointing to the profound significance of what
Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, had said. Murray
testified that his government and the American government were OK with
receiving intelligence reports that had been obtained by torture in
Uzbekistan. His superiors in the British foreign service said to him
that, "we don't mind as long as we didn't ask them to do that. We can
still receive this information." Murray then added, "After I heard
that, I understood how some clerk could sign off on these cattle cars
that were going to Auschwitz." That's really what is at stake, Jabara
pointed out. "The use of this torture, the beginning of all these black
sites Ś all of these things are the road to Auschwitz."