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Time to Talk War Crimes

By Robert Parry
March 28, 2006

In a world where might did not make right, George W. Bush, Tony Blair and their key enablers would be in shackles before a war crimes tribunal at the Hague, rather than sitting in the White House, 10 Downing Street or some other comfortable environs in Washington and London.

The latest evidence of their war crimes was revealed in secret British minutes of an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 31, 2003, when Bush, Blair and their top aides chillingly discussed their determination to invade Iraq, though still hoping to provoke the Iraqis into some violent act that would serve as political cover.

Bush, who has publicly told Americans that it was Saddam Hussein who “chose war” by refusing to disarm, was, in reality, set on invading Iraq regardless of Hussein’s cooperation with United Nations weapons inspectors, according to the five-page memo described in detail by the New York Times. [March 27, 2006]

At the same Oval Office meeting, Bush cavalierly dismissed concerns that the U.S. conquest might not go as smoothly as he expected.

The President predicted that it was “unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups,” according to the British minutes written by David Manning, then Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser.

But Bush’s judgment would prove tragically wrong, as more than 2,300 U.S. troops have died along with tens of thousands of Iraqis – possibly more than 100,000 – in three years of invasion, occupation and now sectarian violence.

Conniving Bush

The memo also reveals Bush as conniving to deceive the American people and the world community. At the meeting, Bush floated ideas for how to rally U.N. support for the invasion by engineering a provocation that would portray Hussein as the aggressor.

Bush suggested painting a U.S. plane up in U.N. colors and flying it over Iraq with the goal of drawing Iraqi fire, the minutes said.

“The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours,” the memo said about Bush’s scheme. “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.”

Regardless of whether any casus belli could be provoked, Bush already had “penciled in” March 10, 2003, as the start of the U.S. bombing of Iraq, according to the memo. “Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” Manning wrote.

At the Oval Office meeting, Bush also discussed possibly assassinating Hussein, according to the memo. (Bush, it should be noted, assured the American people that he would restore “honor and decency” to the Oval Office where Bill Clinton had sexual dalliances with Monica Lewinsky.)

According to the British memo, Bush and Blair acknowledged that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, nor were they likely to be found in the coming weeks, but that wouldn’t get in the way of the U.S.-led invasion.

Blair, however, stressed the need for a second resolution from the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of force. Bush agreed to try but felt he had the authority to attack Iraq whether the U.N. approved or not.

“The U.S. would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would twist arms and even threaten,” the memo said about Bush’s plans. “But he had to say that if we ultimately failed, military action would follow anyway."

Averted Eyes

Parts of the Jan. 31, 2003, meeting memo were disclosed earlier this year by British attorney Philippe Sands, author of the book, Lawless World. But Sands’s disclosure received scant attention in the United States, where the major news media also has downplayed other revelations of Bush’s duplicity about the Iraq War.

In 2005, the U.S. press mostly averted its eyes when a British newspaper disclosed the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” which recounted the chief of British intelligence telling Blair in July 2002 that Bush was set on invading Iraq and that “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The major U.S. media also has failed to challenge Bush when he has claimed falsely that Hussein brought the war on himself by barring U.N. inspectors from his country.

“We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in,” Bush said when he began revising the pre-war history in July 2003, four months after invading Iraq. “And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”

Bush has repeated that lie in varying forms dozens of times since, including at a televised news conference on March 21, 2006. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Those Lies, Again.”]

Nuremberg Precedent

Beyond more proof that Bush has lied consistently about Iraq, the Jan. 31, 2003, memo represents striking evidence that Bush, Blair and their top assistants violated the Nuremberg Principles and the U.N. Charter by launching an aggressive war against Iraq.

While many Americans think of the Nuremberg trials after World War II as just holding Nazi leaders accountable for genocide, a major charge against Adolf Hitler’s henchmen was the crime of aggressive war. Later, that principle was embodied in the United Nations Charter, forbidding armed aggression by one state against another.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who represented the United States at the Nuremberg Tribunal, made clear that the intent was to establish a precedent against aggressive war.

“Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions,” Jackson said, adding that the same rules would apply to the victors in World War II.

“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,” Jackson said.

“We are able to do away with domestic tyranny and violence and aggression by those in power against the rights of their own people only when we make all men answerable to the law. This trial represents mankind’s desperate effort to apply the discipline of the law to statesmen who have used their powers of state to attack the foundations of the world’s peace and to commit aggression against the rights of their neighbors.”

The British memos, combined with public statements by Bush and his senior aides, represent a prima-facie case that Bush, Blair and others violated the Nuremberg Principles and the U.N. Charter, to which the United States was a founding signatory.

While Bush has insisted that his invasion of Iraq was “preemptive” – defined as an act of self-defense to thwart an impending attack – his argument is not only laughable in the case of Iraq, but has been contradicted by his own advisers, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice's Cultural Engineering

In a March 26 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rice offered a different rationale for invading Iraq. She agreed that Hussein was not implicated in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks nor did she assert that he was conspiring with al-Qaeda on another assault.

Instead, Rice justified invading Iraq and ousting Hussein because he was part of the “old Middle East,” which she said had engendered hatreds that led indirectly to 9/11.

“If you really believe that the only thing that happened on 9/11 was people flew airplanes into buildings, I think you have a very narrow view of what we faced on 9/11,” Rice said. “We faced the outcome of an ideology of hatred throughout the Middle East that had to be dealt with. Saddam Hussein was a part of that old Middle East. The new Iraq will be a part of the new Middle East, and we will all be safer.”

Rice’s argument – that Bush has the right to invade any country that he feels is part of a culture that might show hostility toward the United States – represents the most expansive justification to date for launching the Iraq War.

It goes well beyond waging “preemptive” or even “predictive” war. Rice is asserting a U.S. right to inflict death and destruction on Muslim countries as part of a social-engineering experiment to eradicate their perceived cultural and political tendencies toward hatred.

Despite the extraordinary implications of Rice’s declaration, her comment passed almost unnoticed by the U.S. news media, which gave much more attention to her demurring on the possibility of becoming the next National Football League commissioner.

Yet Rice’s new war rationale, combined with the British memo on Bush’s determination to invade Iraq regardless of the facts, should be more than enough evidence to put Bush, Rice, Blair and other U.S. and British officials before a war crimes tribunal.

But that would only happen if Justice Jackson were right about the universal application of the principle against aggressive wars  – and if all nations and leaders actually lived by the same rules.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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