War Crimes

Interviewing Jeremy Brecher about the new book IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY: AMERICAN WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ AND BEYOND edited by Jeremy Brecher, Jill Cutler, and Brendan Smith (Metropolitan/Holt, 2005)

Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY: AMERICAN WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ AND BEYOND,” is about?  What is it trying to communicate?

There are a lot of bad things in the world, but a global consensus has singled out certain of them as war crimes – things like aggressive war, attacks on civilians, and torture.  And unfortunately, there is massive evidence that the U.S. is committing war crimes in Iraq and other places around the world – and that the Bush administration is planning to commit even more in the future.

The purpose of the book is to help Americans face up to what our country has been doing in Iraq and more broadly in the war on terror – and to face up to the responsibilities those realities entail for the rest of us.  It explores the evidence for U.S. war crimes.  It addresses the question of who is responsible for them – a few “bad apples” at the bottom or high officials of the Bush administration?  It examines the plans to continue them in Iraq and also in relation to countries like Syria and Iran and in secret detention centers around the globe.

But the book does more than just present an indictment of U.S. policies.  It opens up the historical, legal, and moral questions that American war crimes pose. It presents the story of those who have refused to participate in them.  And it looks at the responsibility of ordinary citizens to halt war crimes and how that responsibility might be met.


Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book?  Where does the content come from?  What went into making the book what it is?

The book draws on a wide range of documents – from the protocols of the Geneva Convention, to FBI e-mails about treatment of detainees, to executive branch papers justifying the circumvention of international law.  It includes eyewitness accounts, victim testimonials, and statements by soldiers turned resisters and whistle-blowers.  We prepared introductions to these materials to bring out their significance for the overall story of American war crimes abroad and their implications for democracy at home.

What are your hopes for “IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY?  What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically?  Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success?  What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking?  What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

The international law of war crimes provides “red lines” of criminal behavior that no nation may cross.  We hope the book will help Americans to hold accountable those who have committed, ordered, and condoned war crimes in our name.

Justice Robert Jackson, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal that tried Nazi leaders for war crimes after World War II, said in his opening statement, “The ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law.”

The democratic institutions that are responsible for law enforcement have been paralyzed in the face of the Bush administration.  But we are now beginning to see their revitalization.  The indictment of Lewis Libby and the demand of Senate Democrats for investigation of the intelligence that led the U.S. into the Iraq war are just two examples.

But that is just a beginning.  And further steps will depend primarily on what we the people do.  As Richard Falk puts it in our book, “global civil society” must “extend the reach of criminal accountability to include those leaders acting on behalf of dominant states.”  We’ll be happy if the book helps Americans – and people around the world – move toward that goal.

IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY: AMERICAN WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ AND BEYOND edited by Jeremy Brecher, Jill Cutler, and Brendan Smith (Metropolitan/Holt, 2005)

More information at: http://www.americanempireproject.com


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