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Condi, War Crimes & the Press

By Robert Parry
April 3, 2006

During the three years of carnage in Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has shifted away from her now-discredited warning about a “mushroom cloud” to assert a strategic rationale for the invasion that puts her squarely in violation of the Nuremberg principle against aggressive war.

On March 31 in remarks to a group of British foreign policy experts, Rice justified the U.S.-led invasion by saying that otherwise Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “wasn’t going anywhere” and “you were not going to have a different Middle East with Saddam Hussein at the center of it.” [Washington Post, April 1, 2006]

Rice’s comments in Blackburn, England, followed similar remarks during a March 26 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which she defended the invasion of Iraq as necessary for the eradication of the “old Middle East” where a supposed culture of hatred indirectly contributed to the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“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.”

But this doctrine – that the Bush administration has the right to invade other nations for reasons as vague as social engineering – represents a repudiation of the Nuremberg Principles and the United Nations Charter’s ban on aggressive war, both formulated largely by American leaders six decades ago.

Outlawing aggressive wars was at the center of the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II, a conflagration that began in 1939 when Germany’s Adolf Hitler trumped up an excuse to attack neighboring Poland. Before World War II ended six years later, more than 60 million people were dead.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who represented the United States at Nuremberg, made clear that the role of Hitler’s henchmen in launching the aggressive war against Poland was sufficient to justify their executions – and that the principle would apply to all nations in the future.

“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.

“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.

With the strong support of the United States, this Nuremberg principle was then incorporated into the U.N. Charter, which bars military attacks unless in self-defense or unless authorized by the U.N. Security Council.

Nervous Blair

This fundamental principle of international behavior explains why British Prime Minister Tony Blair was so set on a Security Council vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq or at least indisputable evidence that Iraq remained a serious military threat to other countries. Based on internal British legal opinions, Blair knew the invasion would be illegal.

This concern led the Bush administration to hype evidence of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, which included Rice’s famous declaration that she didn’t want the “smoking gun” evidence of Hussein’s WMD to be “a mushroom cloud.”

Bush even considered staging his own casus belli by tricking Iraq into firing on a U-2 reconnaissance plane painted with U.N. colors to win U.N. backing for attacking Iraq, according to minutes of a Jan. 31, 2003, meeting in the Oval Office that involved Bush, Blair and senior aides, including then-national security adviser Rice.

Despite Bush’s promise at that meeting to “twist arms and even threaten” other nations, the United States couldn’t bully a majority of the U.N. Security Council into supporting an invasion, especially with Iraq giving U.N. weapons inspectors free rein to search suspected WMD sites and with nothing found.

On March 19, 2003, Bush chose to press ahead with the invasion anyway, ousting Hussein’s government three weeks later but then stumbling into a bloody insurgency that has now pushed the nation to the brink of civil war. Tens of thousands of Iraqis – possibly more than 100,000 – have died, along with more than 2,300 U.S. troops.

U.S. arms inspectors also failed to find any caches of WMD. Other allegations about Hussein’s supposed collaboration with al-Qaeda also proved unfounded. Gradually, Rice and other senior Bush aides shifted their rationale from Hussein’s WMD to a strategic justification, that is, politically transforming the Middle East.

This new rationale – essentially an assertion of a special U.S. right to invade and occupy any country that is perceived as an obstacle to U.S. goals in the world – is a spin-off of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century of the 1990s.

“In neoconservative eyes, the Iraq war was not about terrorism; it was about the pivotal relationship between Saddam Hussein and the assertion of American power,” Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke observed in their book, America Alone. “Hussein provided, in effect, the opportunity to clarify American global objectives and moral obligations.”

The PNAC architects saw Hussein as a blot on American global dominance because he had survived standoffs with the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration. His removal would demonstrate that overt resistance to America’s permanent status as the world’s uni-polar power had dire consequences.

Hesitant Nation

But the American public was less eager to support, either in treasure or blood, such an open declaration of imperial designs. So, the invasion of Iraq was repackaged as defensive, to protect the American people from even a more devastating 9/11 attack.

In late 2002 and early 2003, the Bush administration and its media allies also demonstrated their dominance of the domestic political scene, unleashing a war fever inside the United States in support of Bush’s Iraq War claims.

The few voices of political dissent, such as former Vice President Al Gore, were drowned out in ridicule or under accusations of treason. When a singer in Dixie Chicks dared criticize Bush, trucks were driven over the group’s CDs.

Cautionary advice from longtime allies, such as France and Germany, was greeted with fury, too. “French fries” were renamed “freedom fries,” and Bush enthusiasts poured French wine into gutters.

The U.S. national press corps also bent under these waves of jingoism. The New York Times and the Washington Post put stories supporting Bush’s Iraq War claims on the front page while burying or killing articles that questioned the case for war. MSNBC’s Phil Donahue was fired for allowing too many war critics on his show.

Even when Bush’s pre-war WMD claims proved false, the U.S. news media played down disclosures that put Bush in a negative light. In 2005, major news outlets shunned revelations in the so-called Downing Street Memo, which quoted the chief of British intelligence as saying in July 2002 that the pro-war intelligence was being “fixed.”

Similarly, in early 2006, the big U.S. newspapers were slow to react to another leaked British memo of the Jan. 31, 2003, Oval Office meeting at which Bush plotted ways to trick and bully the world into supporting the Iraq invasion. The memo, which appeared in the British press in early February 2006, finally reached the New York Times’ front page almost two months later, on March 27, 2006.

Rice Infatuation

Now, the U.S. news media is turning a blind eye to Rice’s revamped war rationale. There has been virtually no commentary in the mainstream press about the extraordinary assertion by a Secretary of State that the United States has the right to invade other countries as a means to eradicate something as vague as “an ideology of hate.”

Far more press attention is paid to Rice’s stylish clothing and her future job prospects, from her professed interest in becoming National Football League commissioner to speculation that she will be part of the next Republican presidential ticket.

Indeed, the attitude of the major U.S. news media – by not objecting to Rice’s hazy doctrine – seems to be that there is nothing morally or legally wrong with invading a country that isn’t threatening the United States.

For instance, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, who beat the drum often for the Iraq War, penned an opinion piece criticizing congressional Democrats for not embracing Bush’s vision of striking out preemptively as part of “a long struggle” against “a new totalitarian ideology” in the Islamic world.

“The Democrats implicitly reject almost everything the Bush administration says about how Sept. 11 changed the world, or our perception of it,” Hiatt wrote in an article entitled “Democrats’ Narrow Vision.” [Washington Post, April 3, 2006]

Yet implicit in the U.S. news media’s non-coverage of Rice’s new rationale for war is that there is nothing objectionable or alarming about the Bush administration turning its back on principles of civilized behavior promulgated by U.S. statesmen at the Nuremberg Tribunal six decades ago.


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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