May 17, 2006
The Nazis who were sitting in the dock in Nuremberg, Germany, on November 21, 1945, heard the following charge when US Chief of Counsel Robert H. Jackson addressed the International Military Tribunal:
"We have also accused as criminal organizations the High Command and the General Staff of the German Armed Forces. We recognize that to plan warfare is the business of professional soldiers in all countries. But it is one thing to plan strategic moves in the event war comes, and it is another thing to plot and intrigue to bring on that war. We will prove the leaders of the German General Staff and of the High Command to have been guilty of just that. Military men are not before you because they served their country . . . They are not here because they lost the war, but because they started it."
The lies and deceptions of Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush, his Cabinet, and his military leaders were part and parcel of the "plot and intrigue to bring on" the war against Iraq. It has been a war that "they started." The guilty verdict rendered at Nuremberg surely informs us as to what the primary indictment in the impeachment of George W. Bush ought to be.
The Downing Street Memo confirmed what was already known: "the facts and intelligence [were] being fixed around the policy." Two sentences further on in the Memo are even more revealing because they tell us WHY Bush lied: "It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin."
What was the case that Bush was trying to make? Bush knew that under the United Nations Charter there are two circumstances that permit a nation to declare war. One is that the nation must be under attack, or threat of imminent attack. Therefore, Bush claimed that Saddam had WMD and was planning to use them against the United States. But the facts could not substantiate this claim.
A country may also go to war if it is part of a collective effort sanctioned by the United Nations. Bush dispatched Colin Powell, his Secretary of State at the time, to New York in a vain attempt to persuade the organization to endorse such an effort. Since Bush failed to achieve a legal cover for his plans, the US invasion of Iraq is nothing short of naked aggression.
The truth is that under the international treaties that have been signed by US presidents and have become part of the US Constitution under Article VI, launching an aggressive war is the supreme international crime. Our president and his subordinates are already war criminals (and the projected assault on Iran simply compounds their criminality). All the other charges that can be — and should be — leveled at Bush pale in comparison to this most heinous transgression against humanity.
We have become fixated on the fact that Bush lied to get us into this war. But we leave hanging in limbo a follow-up question: If Bush had not lied, had simply said that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed from power because he was a bad guy, would it have been okay for him to invade Iraq? The anti-war movement needed to ask that question and to provide the answer.
In a similar spasm of fuzziness, we read that the pollster Zogby has been asking people, "Do you agree or disagree that the president has the right to use military force against Iran without the support of Congress?" Again, this misleads people because it gives the impression that the president could have this right or could get it if Congress agreed. That is simply not the case. Our country has to observe the law or it is a rogue nation.
Why is it, then, that this charge that the war itself is illegal is not on anyone’s list of impeachable offenses? A recent symposium on impeachment convened on C-Span by Harper’s Magazine is a case in point. The symposium brought together five prominent people, well-suited to the task, to discuss impeachment — Rep. John Conyers, ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee and lead sponsor of a bill, asking that a Select Committee be established to look into the advisability of impeaching the president, Michael Ratner, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Elizabeth Holtzman, a member of the House Judiciary Committee when it voted to recommend impeachment of Richard Nixon, John Dean, former White House counsel to Richard Nixon, and the well-respected Lewis Lapham, the editor emeritus of Harper’s.
In reviewing what these knowledgeable participants said at the symposium and what they have written, they have all agreed that Bush should be charged with misleading the American people into war, with violating the constitutional rights of Americans through illegal wiretaps, by violating the international prohibitions against torture, rendition, and illegal imprisonment. Yet not one — NOT ONE! — spoke of this major criminal act on the part of Bush.
Is there a tacit agreement that it would be too painful for us Americans to own up to the fact that a US president is a war criminal? Are we to go on living in our bubble, insulated (we had thought) from any dangers from abroad, or blowback from the numerous military interventions throughout the last century that have brought death and devastation to millions of human beings outside our borders? Is it because we are reluctant to tie the hands of the next US president in the event of the need to expand America’s global reach?
In the lexicon of "high crimes and misdemeanors" there is none higher than launching an aggressive war. Yet Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader in the House, recently reassured Corporate America that if her Party won control of the House next November there would be no impeachment proceedings. This is a matter, Pelosi et al notwithstanding, that cannot be subjected to a political calculation. It is a matter of law and as such must be done regardless of the consequences to any political party.
Author of Discovering America: A Political Journey and a booklet on Patriarchy; a feminist and poltical activist.