War Crimes

Three years ago, after having totally fabricated a crisis over Iraq, the Bush regime, with the support of the British government, most of the Congress, and a majority of U.S. citizens launched an illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. US military forces destroyed the Iraqi state, wrecked its civilian infrastructure, mistreated its Sunni population, and set ethnic groups against one another, thus preparing the ground for the civil war that now threatens to become full-scale.

From these supremely evil U.S. acts, countless violations of international law followed: the killing and maiming of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians, the wanton destruction of cities like Fallujah, the use of banned munitions such as napalm and DU, and the torture and mistreatment (both physical and mental) of captured resistance fighters and civilian detainees who were mostly innocent bystanders.

Why do American presidents and senior military leaders so consistently lie? Why do they act so arrogantly in defiance of international law? Why do they assume the superiority of their methods of warfare while repeatedly demonstrating their contempt for the UN Charter, the Nuremberg principles, the U.S. Constitution, and the rule of law itself? And why have so many citizens stood by passively and allowed matters to take this course? Are we all caught in the grip of a mindless nationalism that causes us to lose sight of ourselves, our values, and our world?

President Bush’s former speech writer, David Frum, the man who crafted the term “axis of evil,” believes that “America” stands for compassion and is a force for good, chosen by God to lead the world. Bush has often said the same: only the U.S. can spread “democracy” and secure world peace. The Jonathan Edwards professor of religious history at Yale University also writes that “America” is “the world’s last best hope.” Not only on the extremist fringe but across the entire spectrum of respectable opinion one encounters these ideas about American exceptionalism, virtue, and moral superiority.

I do not wish to belittle people who believe these dangerously false ideas. If they want to worship the national state, as Americans have been doing ever since the Civil War, let them. But let them also face up to the practices that go along with the ideas.

A fourth year of illegal warfare opens before us, and most Americans no longer support the invasion, the occupation, or the Bush administration. They know Bush’s distinguishing marks are lying, secrecy, disrespect of treaties, contempt for the values and preferences of other nations, and reliance on military force. Moreover, they see that the gap has never been greater between the U.S.’s professed ideals and its actual practices.

The cruelties and atrocities visited on Allied POWs during World War II by Axis troops and police are more than matched by what U.S. troops and CIA agents practice today against helpless Iraqi prisoners and civilian internees. Just as the Axis powers once trampled on the laws of war and the laws of occupation so also do U.S. forces under executive branch authorization. The record of some Americans running amok in Iraq is incontrovertible and almost speaks for itself. Not only has the U.S. military exposed the innocent civilians of Iraq to depleted uranium and other hazardous materials, it has subjected them to the following —hands on (list 1) and “no hands” (list 2)– tortures:



*  Beating, kicking, and treading on the bodies of helpless       prisoners

* Face and stomach slapping

*  Extraction of nails, burning skin with cigarettes, stabbing or cutting the bodies of prisoners

*       Murder

* Rape and sodomy

* Water torture, a U.S. Army practice since the Indian wars 

* Hanging prisoners, whose arms are bound behind their back by shackles or handcuffs, from cell doors, windows, and ceilings until their limbs pop from their sockets—a medieval technique known as “strappado.”

 *  Shocking with electrical instruments, a method of interrogation once used by the Nazi Gestapo, the French military in Algeria, U.S. troops and CIA personnel in Vietnam, and the British in Northern Ireland 


*  â€œHooding” or blindfolding for extended periods in order to totally control the detainees environment

* Sleep deprivation and isolation to induce disorientation

* Forced injection of drugs—CIA and U.S. Army techniques copied from the Russians and Chinese, and since refined  

* Tight handcuffing and close-shackling to reinforce the sense of powerlessness 

* Forced stripping of Muslim male and female prisoners; keeping them naked for long periods 

* Religious humiliation 

* Sexual humiliation, insult, and debasement, including smearing with feces, urine, and what appears to be menstrual blood 

* Screaming racial insults before, during, and after unleashing violence against captives 

* Threatening with dogs or allowing dogs to actually assault prisoners before or during interrogation.

* Prolonged exposure to extremes of light and dark, heat and cold, and noise so deafening as to rupture the eardrums 

* Forcing prisoners to inflict pain on themselves by making them stand or remain in stress positions for extended periods 

*  Isolation in claustrophobic cells, cages, wooden boxes, and barbed wire-enclosed trailers for prolonged periods 

*  Depriving prisoners of food, water, drink, and toilet facilities

*  Threatening prisoners or their relatives, both old and young, with death, or by having them watch other victims being tortured

* “Extraordinary rendition,” the illegal practice of “outsourcing” by “gangster methods” the torture of prisoners to countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East where the CIA has spread its interrogation methods. Here proxies perform the mental and physical torture, often with CIA supervision.[i]

So where do the differences lie between behavior prosecuted sixty years ago as enemy war crimes, and the crimes and cruelties that U.S. military officials, Special Forces, and CIA personnel committed regularly during the Cold War, and that they have been committing in Iraq, Afghanistan, and globally ever since 2001? How does the American torture and abuse of prisoners compare with Germany’s or Japan’s treatment of prisoners?

During the Nineteenth-Century the “law of nations” equated slavery with piracy but the American defenders of slavery refused to conform to the law of nations. Today the “exceptional nation” has institutionalized torture, an evil as great as slavery. Once again the U.S. finds itself out of step with international law. By inflicting mental and physical torture on untold numbers of POWs and detainees, then publicly and successfully asserting a legal right to torture, the Bush administration, aided by the leaders of Congress, have trampled on the lofty (but never realized) ideals that are supposed to serve as the moral basis of U.S. foreign policy. 

We need to demand criminal punishment for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld–the individuals who conspired to unleash aggression and refused to comply with the international laws of occupation. It is they who issued the orders from above that loosed the worst instincts of ordinary Americans, who, acting collectively, then became the actual perpetrators of torture and other war crimes. Unless we subject our own Class-A war criminals to domestic trial and have them suffer legal liabilities under a doctrine of command responsibility, the U.S. military will continue to commit war crimes with impunity, and our dysfunctional system of governance will never be adequately reformed.

[i] See Herbert P. Bix, “Torture, Racism, and the Sovereign Presidency,” in Z-Magazine, Vol. 18, No. 7 (July/August 2005).


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