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Iran, Bush & Nuremberg

By Peter Dyer
May 15, 2006

Editor's Note: What has been perhaps most mind-boggling about George W. Bush's presidency is its consistent inconsistency on the application of law, both at home and abroad. Bush demands respect for the law from U.S. citizens and lectures foreign countries on the need to abide by international norms, while simultaneously flouting the rules when they apply to him or his administration.

For instance, Vice President Dick Cheney upbraided Russia for its use of economic power -- i.e. control of energy -- to coerce a neighbor, but Bush goes even beyond economic power, to include military might, to force countries to do what Bush wants, with the unprovoked invasion of Iraq the most notable example, followed now by the implicit threat of an attack against Iran.

All the while, the mainstream American news media acts as if nothing's amiss, that it's entirely normal for the United States to attack nations that are perceived as somehow presenting a theoretical future threat to U.S. interests -- and for Bush self-righteously to adopt contradictory positions for other countries. In this guest essay, Peter Dyer reminds us that there have been rules and principles set through time that prohibit violence except in immediate self-defense:

There is an old and cynical maxim: “The more people one kills, the less likely one is to be punished.”

One of the most pernicious consequences of the invasion of Iraq is that in the United States it is now apparently accepted virtually without challenge that aggressive war is a legitimate tool of American foreign policy.

I have seen nothing in the mainstream American media discussion of the pros and cons of a “preemptive” assault on Iran by the United States which deals with the possibility that this may be illegal or even morally wrong. So far this is simply not part of the debate.            

We Americans are afflicted with historical, legal and moral amnesia. It used to be that most of us thought it was wrong to invade a country which had neither harmed us nor was imminently ready to harm us. There is a solid legal and moral foundation for this belief. Crucial to this foundation are:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution: “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land...”

Chapter 1, Articles 3 and 4 of the United Nations Charter: a treaty which the U.S. not only signed but had a major role in bringing to life: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

This language was incorporated into the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty which the U.S. also signed and had a major role in bringing to life.

The Nuremberg Charter, Section II Article 6: “The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility: (a) Crimes Against Peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties...”

In 1946, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Resolution 95 (1), affirming “the principles of International Law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal.”

The Bible: Exodus Chapter 20, Verse 13: “Thou shalt not kill”.

Unfortunately, it couldn’t be more clear that those people who are responsible for the war in Iraq, and who are now calculating the cost/benefits analysis of an American attack on Iran, leaving “all options on the table”, are operating on the premise that they are allowed to start killing other people any time they want.

And it couldn’t be more clear that they are wrong. It boils down to two fundamentals: 1) Nobody is above the law and 2) Thou shalt not kill.

The calls for impeachment of President Bush and other architects of the war of aggression in Iraq are growing. What we really need to do though, in my opinion, is to arrest them and put them on trial for this crime.

Again, from the Nuremberg Charter, Section II, Article 7:  “The official position of defendants, whether as Heads of State or responsible officials in Government Departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.”

In November of 1945 in his opening statement at the first Nuremberg trial, chief American prosecutor U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson said: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.”

The men and women in the Bush administration are not possessed of  any unusual innate or acquired characteristics or privileges which render them above the law. To the contrary, they are public servants and we hired them to preserve, protect and defend the law.

And while many Americans may have difficulty visualizing these people under arrest and on trial, the legacy of the Sixth Commandment, of Nuremberg, of the U.N. Charter and of the U.S. Constitution is clear.


Peter Dyer is a machinist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. (This essay was originally published in the Winters Express.)


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